An­driy Olenyuk: A change in world­view

Kyiv Post Legal Quarterly - - CONTENTS - By Vy­ach­eslav Hnatyuk [email protected]­

In 2015, An­driy Olenyuk was at the top of his game.

He had stud­ied law at Lviv Univer­sity and Ge­orge­town in the United States, and prac­ticed law in Ukraine, the United King­dom and the United States.

He had han­dled ac­counts worth bil­lions of dol­lars from coun­tries all over the globe, in­clud­ing Eastern Europe and the Mid­dle East. He was poised to em­bark on the next stage of his ca­reer with a top in­ter­na­tional law firm.

But his ex­pe­ri­ences work­ing and study­ing abroad had changed him, and his world­view, he says. So when the in­ter­na­tional law firm he worked with in Kyiv closed its of­fice, and he was of­fered to stay with the firm, but in a po­si­tion abroad, he opted not to leave the coun­try.

In­stead, he took a leap of faith, got to­gether with some part­ners, and formed a le­gal startup called Ever­le­gal in Kyiv.

New vis­tas

Since his stu­dent days, Olenyuk had gone from strength to strength. He was a top grad­u­ate from the Fac­ulty of Law at Lviv Univer­sity, and from there walked straight into a job with a lead­ing Ukrainian law firm.

Soon af­ter that he was re­cruited by one of the top in­ter­na­tional law firms – Clif­ford Chance – to work at its Kyiv of­fice.

The ex­pe­ri­ence opened up new vis­tas of op­por­tu­nity for Olenyuk, who had reck­oned he had al­ready peaked in his de­vel­op­ment as a young lawyer in Ukraine.

At Clif­ford Chance he was plugged into an or­ga­ni­za­tion with direct con­tacts to in­ter­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions head­quar­tered in the U.S., the U.K., Ger­many and Rus­sia.

“I was faced with the task of find­ing out what more a young lawyer like me needed to know,” Olenyuk says. “What was my path to growth go­ing to be?”

Colos­sal ef­fect

Just six months af­ter he joined Clif­ford Chance, Olenyuk re­ceived an of­fer to study law as a Muskie Scholar at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity. This was ex­actly what he needed at that time in or­der “to put all the pieces of the puz­zle to­gether,” he says.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Ge­orge­town with a mas­ters of law de­gree, he in­terned at a Clif­ford Chance of­fice in the U.S., and later re­turned to the firm’s Kyiv of­fice to prac­tice.

Olenyuk found the ex­pe­ri­ence of study­ing in the U.S. trans­for­ma­tional, and much dif­fer­ent from his ex­pe­ri­ences in Ukraine. Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties teach “you other things, but also in an­other way,” he says. Stu­dents are ex­pected to read 1,000 pages a week, they in­ter­act closely with other stu­dents and lec­tur­ers, there is al­ways dis­cus­sion go­ing on, and stu­dents are re­quired to think in un­con­ven­tional ways.

“That’s all mul­ti­plied by the in­tense com­pe­ti­tion, so you can never rest,” Olenyuk says.

‘Study­ing in the United States had a colos­sal ef­fect on me,” he says, which he be­gan to ap­pre­ci­ate on his re­turn to Ukraine. The firm was now able to make more use of him, and his ca­reer be­gan to de­velop even more dy­nam­i­cally.

From ab­so­lute zero

Then fate in­ter­vened. Af­ter the 2013-2014 Euro­maidan Rev­o­lu­tion that drove Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych from power, trig­ger­ing the start of Rus­sia’s war on Ukraine in the Don­bas, Ukraine’s econ­omy nose­dived, and busi­ness for Clif­ford Chance dried up. By the end of 2015, Clif­ford Chance had closed its of­fice in Kyiv and spun off most of its busi­ness to a new firm, called Red­cliffe Part­ners, a bou­tique law firm which has since grown into a mar­ket pow­er­house. Other lawyers at Clif­ford Chance were of­fered jobs in var­i­ous of the firm’s of­fices around the globe.

But Olenyuk and Yevheniy Deyneko (who had ini­tially taken the role of one of the three part­ners at Red­cliffe Part­ners) had other ideas. To­gether, they de­cided to de­vote a year to the “su­per-in­ten­sive and su­per-risky en­deavor” of launch­ing a le­gal startup. They picked the name Ever­le­gal for the new firm.

That was in 2015, per­haps “the worst year for law firms in Ukraine due to the gen­eral eco­nomic down­turn,” Olenyuk re­calls.

Ever­le­gal's part­ners de­cided not to so­licit any clients from their pre­vi­ous jobs, as they wanted to start “from ab­so­lute zero.” The mar­ket re­sponded well, and they got re­fer­rals from friendly firms, which al­lowed them to break even af­ter just six months in busi­ness.

“The agri­cul­tural and IT prac­tices rock­eted from the very first days,” Olenyuk says. The firm also in­vested time and ef­fort into its en­ergy and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal prac­tices, which later on proved to be among its most suc­cess­ful spe­cial­iza­tions.

Stop sig­nal

Ever­le­gal serves strate­gic in­vestors who have been in Ukraine for at least 10 years, as well as fi­nan­cial in­vestors, whose plan­ning hori­zon doesn’t usu­ally ex­ceed five years. The sud­den in­tro­duc­tion of mar­tial law at the end of Novem­ber 2018 will have dif­fer­ent con­se­quences for these two groups of in­vestors, Olenyuk says.

The strate­gic in­vestors are not pan­ick­ing, he says: "They have seen such things hap­pen­ing around the globe many

times, and see the coun­try’s cur­rent switch to war foot­ing as a short-term event."

But the ex­tremely risk-averse fi­nan­cial in­vestors are much more skit­tish. They have to put the safety of their projects first, as fi­nan­cial in­vestors work ei­ther with their in­vestors’ money, or with bor­rowed funds. For them even the fact of “par­lia­ment con­sid­er­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of mar­tial law is a clear stop sig­nal,” Olenyuk says.

As a re­sult, all of the fi­nan­cial in­vestors who were eye­ing Ukraine as a tar­get put their plans on hold the mo­ment mar­tial law was in­tro­duced on Nov. 28 in 10 oblasts of Ukraine. Add to that Ukraine’s up­com­ing elec­tions, and in­vestors are not likely to re­turn un­til af­ter next spring.

“The in­flow of in­vest­ments can only re­sume af­ter the elec­tions,” says Olenyuk, as cap­i­tal only feels com­fort­able in pro­tected, stable economies with pre­dictable fu­tures.

Achiev­ing bal­ance

Le­gal start-ups should in­vest 60 per­cent of in­come into em­ploy­ees, 30 per­cent into busi­ness de­vel­op­ment and 10 per­cent go to founders, Olenyuk says

Olenyuk is coy about Ever­le­gal part­ners’ in­comes – ab­so­lute num­bers are off-lim­its. But he will talk about the dis­tri­bu­tion of in­come within the firm dur­ing its ini­tial stages of de­vel­op­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to him, it’s best to fol­low the “60-30-10 for­mula.” Good le­gal start-ups in­vest 60 per­cent of their in­come into their em­ploy­ees, 30 per­cent into busi­ness de­vel­op­ment, and dis­burse only 10 per­cent to founders, he be­lieves.

“This is how a firm should struc­ture its fi­nances in the first five years,” Olenyuk says. In the be­gin­ning, the part­ners had to econ­o­mize on them­selves and “they had to be ready for lower prof­its than their salaries were when they worked as hired lawyers,” he says.

To­gether with less money, the startup brings more hours of work, but Olenyuk doesn’t mind. Achiev­ing a work-life bal­ance is sim­ply a mat­ter of do­ing enough of ev­ery­thing, he says.

If a per­son’s life “in­cludes enough work, hob­bies and sports, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion with fam­ily, then the bal­ance is nat­u­rally there,” he says.

(Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

An­driy Olenyuk, part­ner at Ever­le­gal law firm, speaks with the Kyiv Post on Dec. 3, 2018 at his of­fice on Ryl­skyi Street in Kyiv.

View of Ge­orge­town Univer­sity cam­pus in the Ge­orge­town neigh­bor­hood of Wash­ing­ton, D.C. on Aug. 19, 2018. Ever­le­gal founder An­driy Olenyuk says that his ex­pe­ri­ence of study­ing at the U.S. univer­sity was 'trans­for­ma­tional.' (AFP)

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