Gra­ham Con­lon: A good staff en­vi­ron­ment means bet­ter ser­vice for clients

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

Gra­ham Con­lon, man­ag­ing part­ner at CMS Cameron Mckenna’s Ukraine branch, stresses that the ma­jor as­sets of his firm are the peo­ple and that it's most im­por­tant to make sure the work en­vi­ron­ment is at its best.

“We in­vest into our lawyers to make them as sharp as they can be when it comes to ad­vis­ing clients,” Con­lon told the Kyiv Post at his of­fice on Volodymyrska Street.

To do this the firm in­vests through var­i­ous ways into its hu­man cap­i­tal. For ex­am­ple, young lawyers are men­tored by ex­pe­ri­enced lawyers, while the more ex­pe­ri­enced spe­cial­ists at­tend re­gional sem­i­nars in Euro­pean capi­tals.

Con­lon says this is es­sen­tial since pro­fes­sion­als fresh out of univer­sity will only know the the­o­ret­i­cal part of law, whereas ap­ply­ing law is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent story.

Ad­vis­ing clients “can only be learned on the job through com­mu­ni­cat­ing” and by learn­ing from more ex­pe­ri­enced pro­fes­sion­als, Con­lon – who has been in the busi­ness for al­most 16 years – says. And this brings re­sults. “Dur­ing the last three years we have been ex­tremely busy,” Con­lon says.

And there has also been a shift in the na­ture of client work. About 1.5 years ago the firm used to be busy help­ing busi­nesses leave the coun­try. Now it’s the other way around. “(But) af­ter that we have been ex­tremely busy help­ing peo­ple come to Ukraine,” he says.

Re­cent projects

For ex­am­ple, his firm as­sisted U.S. agri­cul­ture gi­ant Cargill in a joint ven­ture with MV Cargo, a grain stor­age com­pany. It also as­sisted port com­pany P&O Mar­itime in its joint ven­ture with SD Cap­i­tal, a pri­vate eq­uity firm.

Other projects in­volved Nor­we­gian al­ter­na­tive en­ergy com­pany Scatec So­lar and sports equip­ment man­u­fac­turer HEAD N.V. to launch their ac­tiv­i­ties in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s big­gest at­trac­tion for po­ten­tial in­vestors, Con­lon says, is that the coun­try has mas­sive po­ten­tial be­cause it is still a de­vel­op­ing mar­ket econ­omy.

This is dif­fer­ent from his na­tive Eng­land, as it is a ma­ture econ­omy and it is hard to make good re­turns there, as “they have been al­ready made by peo­ple be­fore.”

Even com­pared to Poland, Ukraine of­fers great po­ten­tial re­turns on in­vest­ments, Con­lon says.

Cor­rup­tion re­sponse

But this also re­quires a quick re­sponse to Ukraine’s en­demic cor­rup­tion in all of its sec­tors of econ­omy. For in­stance, take the bank­ing sec­tor. Cur­rently the trust in Ukraine’s bank­ing sec­tor is quite low as at least $20 bil­lion have been stolen through var­i­ous schemes and pocket banks through­out the past years.

That trust can be re­built, but the coun­try needs to up­root cor­rup­tion, Con­lon says. This phe­nom­e­non de­vel­ops from the top gov­ern­ment lead­er­ship down­wards af­fect­ing each part of so­ci­ety.

“And the banks are no (ex­cep­tion),” Con­lon says. If there is cor­rup­tion in the coun­try, it is also there in the banks.

And over 90 Ukrainian banks were shut down be­cause of non-trans­parency dur­ing the past 3 years. And this lack of trans­parency still dom­i­nates in Ukraine econ­omy.

“Cur­rently we have the at­mos­phere of gen­eral ac­cep­tance of cor­rup­tion in Ukraine,” the Bri­tish lawyer says. “Ev­ery­body is do­ing it.”

Con­lon’s so­lu­tion is to of­fer in­cen­tives for busi­nesses to be trans­par­ent and fight cor­rup­tion. Then the sit­u­a­tion will change through­out so­ci­ety both in state-run or­ga­ni­za­tions and in pri­vate busi­nesses. The im­por­tant thing is to “get into the right di­rec­tion” as it will be a sign for for­eign in­vestors to en­ter the coun­try.

Had Con­lon been Ukraine’s fi­nance min­is­ter for a sin­gle day, he “would set up a mean­ing­ful fo­rum for try­ing cor­rup­tion and en­forc­ing an­ti­cor­rup­tion.”

For ex­am­ple, es­tab­lish­ing a func­tion­ing truly in­de­pen­dent anti-cor­rup­tion court is a good start.

So far his lead­er­ship has been bring­ing suc­cess to his firm.

There are sev­eral rea­sons that ex­plain the firm’s fi­nan­cial growth in Ukraine. One rea­son is sim­ply be­cause Ukraine’s econ­omy is do­ing bet­ter than it has been three years ago. It is also due to some “re­forms made in the coun­try.” He also at­tributes it to the ver­ti­cal struc­ture within the firm which “con­trib­utes to our growth too.”

But all this is built on the ba­sis of “putting the in­ter­ests of our clients first in our work.” For ex­am­ple, he as­signs teams on spe­cific projects “only af­ter tak­ing due care and un­der­stand­ing of the client’s in­ter­ests.”

His team tends to work on projects from the be­gin­ning to the very end in­stead of do­ing parts that would be sent to an­other team. “The projects last months and some­times years,” which he says, ex­plains why his firm re­leases so few press re­lease state­ments.

The lo­cal firms “will do small as­pects of work, some­times those con­nected with Ukrainian law as­pects of a larger trans­ac­tion, and is­sue a re­lease.” Hence do­mes­tic firms are more no­tice­able in the me­dia.

The Lon­don-head­quar­tered law firm has more than 1,000 part­ners, 4,500 lawyers and is present in 41 coun­tries with 73 of­fices.

Con­lon would not to dis­close the rev­enue of the Kyiv of­fice due to con­fi­den­tial­ity, but says that the global firm’s rev­enue was at around one bil­lion eu­ros last year. A frac­tion of this amount was made in Ukraine.

Con­lon says that his firm typ­i­cally pays its em­ploy­ees more than the av­er­age lo­cal salaries, mak­ing them com­pet­i­tive on the mar­ket.

But Con­lon and his man­age­ment team “know that salary is not the only as­pect that peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate.” For ex­am­ple, lawyers can work from home as long as the work is done on time and ac­cord­ing to the firm’s stan­dards.

Trust can be re­built in Ukraine, but re­quires up­root­ing cor­rup­tion from top to bot­tom, Con­lon says

(Oleg Pe­tra­siuk)

Gra­ham Con­lon, man­ag­ing part­ner at CMS Cameron Mckenna Nabarro Ol­swang, speaks with the Kyiv Post on Nov. 13, 2018 in Kyiv.

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