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US FIRM Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz has stolen a march on its larger compatriots and UK City firms with its appointment as legal adviser to the city of St Petersburg.
The agreement between the firm and officials representing St Petersburg was signed on 9 November.
The chair of Pepper Hamilton's 20-lawyer Russian and central Asian Practice Group, Edward Lieberman, says: "We are delighted to have been retained by the city. In this engagement, we will be focusing on sale of shares in St Petersburg's municipal enterprises as well as real estate development projects."
One of the three largest firms in Philadelphia, Pepper Hamilton was one of the first foreign law firms to establish a presence in St Petersburg in 1992, and also has offices in Moscow and Almaty, Kazakhstan.
The firm has worked for three years with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, advising on privatisations and post-privatisation investment projects.
Head of the firm's St Petersburg and Moscow offices, Sally J March, admits that although the firm is not seen as one of the major players in the US, it is one of the "main players" in Russia and the former Soviet Union.
She lists the firm's achievements as negotiating and drafting the first land lease in Moscow and obtaining the first USSR State Bank licence for an East-West joint venture.
She says: "The city's officials knew that they needed some help in packaging and selling property and shares, and they wanted a foreign firm which understood Russian business.
"Our firm is helping them to bridge that culture gap so that they can deal more effectively with foreign investors."