Developing a new perspective

Lovell White Durrant solicitor Alexander Janes is sold on the value of secondments after spending six months with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Janes was working in the EBRD's legal department, the Office of the General Council, which includes 36 foreign lawyers and three from the UK.

The EBRD is a public organisation, established by international treaty, which has shareholders including 53 governments, the EU and the European Investment Bank.

“The EBRD's objective is to assist the countries of Central and Eastern Europe in their transition to open-market economies,” said Janes.

Janes was thrown straight into the thick of the action when he joined the EBRD's London office in November, at the height of the bank's busiest time of year.

“The bank's financial year runs from January to December and it had a phenomenal amount of work,” he said. “I was able to help them with the year-end rush to get projects signed up. I was assigned projects which were already well advanced and into the documentation stage. Getting up to speed on all of those projects was quite demanding.”

He handled 10 projects, based throughout central and eastern Europe, travelling primarily to Estonia and Russia. He spent a week in Estonia's capital Tallinn, handling an equity investment in a local bank.

“It is quite common [for the EBRD] to invest in a local bank, which can make loans to local businesses with the increased capital,” he said.

Janes was struck by how young the local lawyers and bank managers were in the country. “They were all very young; in their late 30s or early 40s,” he said.

“One got the impression that this was a new country and there was a feeling of energy and vitality, and that is a contrast really with what I saw in Russia.”

He said the feeling in Russia was much more subdued and the overriding concern was with the political issues to be faced with the June elections.

He added that the EBRD was looking to invest directly in a private company in the country which ran rail-tank cars designed to carry petrochemicals.

Working in-house offered the chance to see a project before it reached the stage of time sheets or documentation, said Janes.

“It has certainly increased my knowledge and understanding of project finance and how deals are structured and formulated at an early stage, which often as outside counsel you don't get to see.”

He also appreciated the distanced perspective he gained from seeing lawyers offering outside counsel.

“It's good to see both sides of the process to understand how the clients perceive external counsel and what makes external counsel good and bad,” he said.

“It's very important to be available and responsive and to think through the client's issues. You realise how important those things are.”