Wolf Theiss bid to bring in more US clients sparks overhaul of CEE strategy

Janis Nordstrom

Janis Nordstrom

The firm has appointed a business development and marketing officer to hone its strategy to become the region’s largest law firm and bring it in line with the client-focused strategies of UK and US firms.

Janis Nordstrom, the firm’s newly appointed chief business development and marketing officer, who spent 13 years as director of Akin Gump’s international practice, will present a unified CEE approach to win places on the panels of multinational companies.

“When you’re in the US, people think of Eastern Europe as a bloc of former Soviet countries, not as ­separate entities,” she said. “This is still one of the world’s untapped territories, with more potential than the Bric [Brazil, Russia, India and China] econom­ies. We’re looking for ­international panels that are interested in using our 12 offices that cover the whole region.”
California-born Nordstrom added: “Wolf Theiss is no longer an Austrian firm. It’s now a regional firm.”

Wolf Theiss has boosted its turnover from e19.5m (£17.37m) in 2000 to e74m in 2008, growth of around 20 per cent a year since 2003. The firm now has 12 offices across CEE, with more than 320 lawyers and 45 partners.

Managing partner Horst Ebhardt said the shift in strategy was part of a concerted effort to promote the firm’s capability, following the approach taken by UK and US firms.

“We have a broad client base in different regions of the world and we want to become much more proactive in the way we develop relationships with major corporations and law firms,” he said. “We’re trying to show potential clients the impressive narrative of things we’ve done in a more structured manner. Janis is helping to get our firm to the next level in terms of its client focus, something that’s been a trend in the UK and US. We’re trying to ­create a similar structure for our firm.”

This year Wolf Theiss also began a programme to form tax practices across its 12 offices.

With 10 dedicated law­yers, the firm’s Austrian tax practice is one of its strongest and during the course of this year Wolf Theiss has either created from scratch or formally constructed new tax practices in Albania, Ukraine, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia and, most recently, Hungary, where it hired former Deloitte partner Balázs Bekes in May.

Bekes, a former leader of the international tax group at Deloitte Russia and CIS, has the task of managing the roll-out and plans to have four of the firm’s remaining offices up and running ­within the next six months.

Formed from a mixture of existing lawyers and hires, Bekes said the aim was to fill a gap in the CEE legal market to provide joint tax and legal advice. Culturally, the two are provided separately by law firms and accountants in most countries in CEE.

“Every law firm wants to offer a tax capability but most only offer it as a ­support function,” he said. “We have a very solid base with our Austrian tax ­practice and want to offer it as a ­service alongside our other practice areas.”

Bekes is focusing on Czech Republic, Romania and Serbia, with an announcement regarding Croatia expected shortly. However, he said this may change depending on what opportunities arise at the firm’s other ­operations.

“There are no other law firms that focus on cross-border tax in this region,” added Ebhardt. “We plan to become a leading player on tax in this part of the world.”