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Norton Rose Greece" />"There were lots of words of dire warning but the Games went off without a hitch," reports Chris Hobbs, who manages Norton Rose's Athens and Piraeus offices, of last year's Olympic Games. The cynics might have doubted the Greeks' ability to play host to a world-class tournament, but the reawakened interest has been good news for UK lawyers established in the country.
Norton Rose acted for the developers of the Attiki Odos ring road, which transformed the lives of Athens residents last year when it was fully opened, and was one of the firm's biggest billing jobs of the year. The firm also advised on the charter for the Queen Mary 2, the largest and most luxurious cruise ship in the world, which doubled as a floating hotel for visiting dignitaries and athletes during the games. On a personal note, Hobbs managed to see Matthew Pinsent and Kelly Holmes bag a few gold medals. "The Greeks can justifiably feel proud that they pulled it off and there was a real sense of anti-climax when it was all over," he says.
So have the past few months really been an anti-climax? Greece's centre-right New Democracy party came into power last March. "They are grappling with where to go next and how to take advantage of the momentum that has been created," says Hobbs. "The country has a lot of opportunities and certainly it has the ability to be the commercial hub of the Balkans."
There are more projects for firms to be involved in, including six more major roads to be built, and Norton Rose is involved in consortia bidding for two of them.
Norton Rose claims that its unique selling point is that it is the only international law firm in Greece offering a full range of services, both domestic and international. It is the largest non-Greek firm in the country and has been there since 1990. The firm has two offices - Athens and Piraeus - run by one UK and four local partners: Hobbs, Vassilis Koroxenidis, who joined the firm in January, Dimitri Sofianopoulos, and Elena Tsohou. There are 35 Greek and English qualified lawyers based in Athens and in Piraeus.
The offices are split into three main areas: a dispute resolution team (mainly shipping litigation) headed by Hobbs; a shipping finance run by Sofianopoulos, and a project and a corporate finance team headed by Tsohou, which Hobbs says is "the truest incarnation of our international law vision". Clients include the Norwegian clearing house (NOS), Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley. So why move from a shipping office to a full service office? "We felt that we were missing a trick by not doing it," Hobbs replies. "A lot of local law firms, while they are good, haven't hitherto done international work and don't necessarily have the expertise and we have a lot to offer the international community who are doing business in Greece."