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THE FIRST eastern European law practice to set up in London opened last week, promising to compete with UK firms based in Moscow.
Laptev & Partners, of Tyumen, Western Siberia, says it is probably the largest law firm in the former Soviet Union. It has 10 partners and 110 staff, an office in Madrid, and plans to open in Frankfurt this spring.
Partner and head of the London office Vasili Evdokimov said the London office would have departments specialising in: property, tax, corporate, insurance, securities and privatisation. It will comprise Evdokimov, one Russian lawyer, an assistant, and two administrative staff.
Evdokimov said: "A lot of our Russian clients are seeking financial support in London, but it works both ways and our client base will also consist of UK companies wishing to invest in Russia.
"The main reason we have set up the office is to serve UK clients seeking initial advice about their plans and we will save them going to Moscow."
Laptev, founded in 1991, served the Russian oil and gas industry and retains a strong specialism in energy matters, using a network of lawyers across the states which used to comprise the Soviet Union
Denton Hall's Moscow office also specialises in energy and has a growing telecomms practice. Head of its energy group David Moroney welcomed the opening of Laptev's London office. He said: "It's an interesting development. I think it's a good thing because there's the whole question of confidence in Russia.
"It's not negative for us because our strength is in energy law which is an international business and we are an international company. We have to work with local lawyers for documentation purposes, but that's not a problem for us."
Tim Steadman, partner at Baker & McKenzie's projects group, also welcomed the move. He said: "It's a terrific initiative on Laptev & Partners' part. The competitive element will raise awareness of the Russian market and stress the importance of getting good legal advice before investing there."
Allen & Overy's representative office in Moscow has been open since 1993. It specialises in energy, natural resources, finance, corporate and commercial, and litigation and arbitration, and has been involved in capital markets. Laptev's Evdokimov worked for Allen & Overy between 1991 and last year.
Capital markets have also provided work for Linklaters & Paines, which set up a full Moscow office in August last year. Recent work includes last December's public share offering in the Moscow confectionery maker Red October.