The enduring characteristic the Romanian legal market has displayed for the last 18 years or so could be represented by political scientist Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations coupled with an ongoing economic growth and institutional development process.
Although the Romanian economic structure after the regime change in 1989 was decaying, a legal system derived from a traditional French one had astonishingly survived 40 years of totalitarianism. The Romanian Civil Code from 1864 had been fully in force during these decades, preserving almost all of its classic institutions, while the Commercial Code, adopted in 1887, had been suspended rather than cancelled – perhaps due to a clairvoyant half-hearted communist lawmaker who thought that things might change some day and that something useful should be in place. Based on such traditions, many brilliant legal scholars and practitioners graduated from Romanian law schools in the year before the regime change. They displayed strong foreign language skills and a huge appetite for professional knowledge from outside the country’s borders.
In 1989 Romanian lawyers, many of them in their 30s and 40s, spotted the opportunity to establish and practise forms of legal business they had learnt from books. Meanwhile, the legislative process started to create the basic tools for a market economy, including a law regulating the legal profession similar to those in Western countries. Romanian lawyers then began to establish firms specialising in business law and foreign companies started to invest in Romania, focusing on privatisations and other complex transactions.
As Romanian lawyers where the only ones available, investors from abroad had little choice but to grant them full confidence. Their confidence was not misplaced. Their highly developed business cultures received a comprehensive and constructive response from Romanian law firms, which managed to live up to high expectations and achieve ambitious objectives. Through this, Romanian attorneys came in close contact with aspects of common law and the legal cultures that are dominant in the US and the UK. In many cases Romanian firms acted as subcontractors of Western law firms and a real clash between two legal civilisations occurred. However, this collision had beneficial outcomes for both sides.
Business lawyers in Romania quickly adapted to the Anglo-Saxon philosophy of deals – to the style and structure of hundred-page agreements, as well as to bargaining strategies. New York and London-based attorneys learnt to understand the Romanian legislative process and to outmaneuver obstacles. There was a reciprocal professional respect, as well as an eagerness to learn from each other.
The clash of legal civilisations in Romania also enhanced competition between local and foreign firms. Chasing mandates and responding to clients’ requests became a new national sport in Romania, in which both local and foreign law firms proved to be highly competitive.
After 2000 Romanian business lawyers gained momentum and, despite the presence of some major US and UK-based law firms such as CMS Cameron McKenna and Linklaters, they maintained very good positions in the market. The first three firms in a 2007 table showing top 10 turnovers are Romanian, with a further three of the top 10 being Romanian independent firms.
The value of the Romanian legal market is expected to exceed e200m (£158.86m) in 2008. So long as foreign law firms continue their usual practice of dispatching only a small number of foreign attorneys, mainly for management purposes, they will have to rely on local lawyers, particularly those with seven or eight years’ experience, but these are rather hard to find, as they hold senior associate positions in Romanian firms.
All this makes us look with confidence to a future period of achievements and growth in a marketplace that continues to offer plenty of opportunities for both Romanian and foreign law firms. With or without clashes. nCatalin Baiculescu is co-managing partner of Musat & Asociatii