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STEPHENSON Harwood has become the first UK law firm to form an association with a Croatian firm since the independent state was born five years ago.
The five-partner Zuric & Partners, founded in 1992, when private law firms were first allowed, has become one of the leading firms in Croatia. Based in the capital
Zagreb, it deals mainly in commercial, corporate, finance, banking, intellectual property and real estate law and has established a reputation for privatisations.
Stephensons senior partner David Slade has carried out shipping work in Croatia for more than a decade and for eight years the firm has had Croatian lawyer Zoran Tasic, who also advises on transactions involving Croatia, in its London office.
The firm's Croatian work now also involves project finance and privatisations. It has worked with Zurics in providing project finance for construction of a Croatian brewery and in arranging the buying of shares in a tobacco factory for a multinational.
Under the terms of the association, the two firms will introduce clients to each other and Zurics will send a young lawyer to its London office to train in UK law. Stephensons' lawyers will be able to use Zurics' office while in the country.
Slade said the war with Serbia had suppressed foreign investment since 1991 but there were now signs things would pick up.
Many of the firm's banking clients formed part of a CBI trade delegation to the country two weeks ago.
Stephensons' banking partner Tony Stockwell said the UK's Exchange Credit Guarantee Board had agreed to extend a line of credit to Croatia: "We hope that is going to give banks the confidence to do business there."