31 August 2009 | By Julia Berris
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Ignoring the lure of international expansion, the Greek legal market remains primarily made up of family-run firms focused on the local market.
The Greek legal industry has long been regarded as one of the most traditional in Europe, with local, family-run law firms dominating the market.
While Greek firms have long-served local companies and banks in corporate, banking and capital markets, this old-fashioned model has hindered developments and prevented Greek firms from breaking into the international arena.
“For a long time access to law has been very limited,” says Potamitis Vekris managing partner Stathis Potamitis. “Greek firms are passed down through generations and this has meant it’s very hard for people outside of these families to launch a career in law.”
Restricted access has meant Greek firms lack the depth of expertise and the size required for making moves in the international space.
While family-run firms are still prevalent in the country, developments in the past decade have made progress possible. Until the late 1990s Greek firms had to be run as a proprietorship; corporation or limited liability status was not legally allowed.
In 2000 there was a significant change: firms were able to become LLPs. This has enabled new firms to be created and Greek firms to develop modern partnerships rather than the family-run model.
But progress is slow. Developing small Greek firms and transforming them into large-scale enterprises with an international appetite takes time.
“While there are a growing number of partnership-run firms, they are still very small in size and dedicated to the local Greek market,” says Potamitis. “It takes a long time for a legal market to change and move away from its traditional roots.”
Several Greek firms have made some progress moving away from the traditional Greek model. Zepos & Yannopoulos, Potamitis Vekris and Tryfon J Koutalidis have all developed into partnership-run firms.
“Greek firms have become partnerships but not in the style of Anglo-Saxon firms,” says Paraskevas Law managing partner Dimitris Paraskevas.
“There’s very much a local mentality for Greek firms. The market is centred on serving clients in the Greek market.”
However, is there any enthusiasm to expand beyond the border? There is certainly a drive for local Greek firms to modernise to attract more people into careers in the Greek legal market, but competition on an international scale is less significant for local lawyers.
“There’s not such an appetite for expansion into international markets,” says Potamitis. “There’s a thriving local market and Greek firms cover the wide range of practice areas you would find in other markets. For us there’s not the incentive to embark on widespread expansion.”
Despite the partnership model becoming more prevalent, local firms are reluctant to export their brand across the globe. Unlike firms in most other jurisdictions, Greek firms seem content to ignore the race to international expansion.
US and UK firms have long-valued the Greek legal market. Several international firms have set up offices in Athens and Pireaus, centred mainly on international maritime and shipping practice areas.
Watson Farley & Williams, Norton Rose and Reed Smith have all opened in Greece. While Watson Farley and Reed Smith focus on serving clients investing into Greece, Norton Rose has attempted to branch out and develop a practice that serves both international and local Greek clients.
“Rather than being a niche practice we are an international firm with a base in Greece,” says Athens-based Norton Rose partner Marie Kelly. “We now have 60 lawyers based in Greece and we don’t just cover shipping finance. It’s a wide range.”
Norton Rose is focused on building Greek law capabilities on the ground. US firm Reed Smith has built a practice focused on life sciences clients doing deals in the Greek market.
“It was a natural progression for Reed Smith,” says Greece-based partner Anthony Poulopoulos. “We have a number of US-headquartered life sciences companies that have been active in Greece.”
In recent years international firms have bulked-up in Greece. In 2007, Watson Farley made a push into the energy market, hiring UK and Greek-qualified partner Virginia Murray and two associates from local firm IKRP Rokas & Partners.