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International law firms adapt to the new reality in Russia

The Russian legal market has had to adjust to the new reality against the background of continued sanctions and general economic slow-down in the country.

Whilst several of top 25 global law firms have cut back their Moscow offerings (e.g. capital markets practices in 2014) one international law firm, Kennedys, has bucked the trend by recently setting up a Russian base through an executive arrangement with a local firm and hiring of an insurance practice head.

This is apparently due to a rise in demand for insurance-related advice in the country from non-Russian insurers. Commenting on other general trends in the Russian legal market, some market players have said local legal sector has had to move towards more domestic finance and litigation work to survive in this reality.

It remains to be seen what other services will be in demand on the Russian legal market that international law firms can provide, but the news from Kennedys looks like a silver lining to this situation.

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Key challenges for Russian in-house legal departments

Alexandra Nesterenko, President of the Association of Corporate Lawyers, spoke at the V St. Petersburg International Legal Forum about the major challenges that in-house legal departments are now facing. She mentioned the following:

1.Due to the recent changes in Russian economy, heads of in-house legal departments are forced to play a role of crisis managers as they spend more time stabilising and developing their businesses.

2.One of the major issues here is protecting the business during the insolvency process as companies in Russia grow more accustomed to going into administration.

3.Russian businesses are getting “used” to and starting to adapt to sanctions. This is assisted by current changes in legislation, to make it more flexible. First and foremost, this is beneficial to Russian qualified lawyers that Russian businesses prefer over foreign lawyers.

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Equal Access to Top Jobs

The figures from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission are stark: 70% of top job offers in 2014 went to the products of selective or fee-paying institutions.

Lots of firms are leading the way on diversity, but clearly there is much more to do in terms of social mobility. Recruiting top talent will and should remain a priority, but in light of this report will firms examine more closely where they are recruiting that talent from?

In September, Byfield Consultancy is producing a comprehensive thought-leadership report on diversity in the legal industry. It will make a timely read.

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Smart Shoppers

With the introduction of smart phones the modern world has evolved drastically. Technology has filtered into almost every aspect of our lives and now shopping is no exception.

By September 2014 almost half of retail sales were influenced by digital, for example through social media posts. That is why retail real estate giant Westfield UK is investing heavily in digital shopping.

Photo booths which allow people to instantly upload their looks to social media, virtual reality headsets which transport shoppers into different worlds and virtual mirrors that allow you to try on clothes without actually wearing them - are all new ideas in modern digital shopping.

With all this development there is much to think about legally, intellectual property rights over the technology, planning permission to alter stores and data protection laws. The question is, is the law moving quick enough to keep up?

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Byfield Chairman Richard Elsen quoted in The Times

Byfield Chairman, Richard Elsen, was quoted in The Times at the weekend following former Lehman Brothers' chairman and chief executive Dick Fuld's expression of 'no regrets' over the bank's collapse which ignited the world economic crisis in 2008.

It is not unheard of for a business leader to demonstrate a complete lack of remorse following a crisis. More common, however, is an apology that is offered too late or seems disingenuous. Thomas Cook CEO Harriet Green's recent offer to pay her bonus to a charity some nine years after the deaths of two children - Christie and Bobbi Wood - while on a Thomas Cook holiday in Corfu was described by the children's mother as 'abhorrent.'

During a crisis, avoiding reputational damage should be high on a business's list of priorities. Acting with humility and, where necessary, apologising early on costs nothing but can go a long way to soften public opinion. After all, mistakes happen all the time, but it is how we handle them that matters.

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