City firm Lawrence Graham has won a licence to practise in the Ukraine after the collapse of its association with local firm Maritime Business and Legal Services (MBLS).
Neil Everatt, shipping partner with Lawrence Graham, says the firm broke away from MBLS to set up its own office.
“It's a more coherent way of doing it, we use them a bit like we would use a barrister in the UK.
“Our registration as a representative office gives us formal status here. We are pleased to have overcome the bureaucracy,” says Everatt.
Lawrence Graham will formally open in the Ukraine port of Mariupol under Everatt's leadership, assisted by one local lawyer and a law student.
Imogen Rumbold, another shipping partner at Lawrence Graham, says the firm is moving to the Ukraine in pursuit of its shipping clients.
The company has two big ship-owning clients – Black Sea Shipping and Asof Stahl, which manufactures and exports steel from a huge plant in Mariupol.
She says the firm has already acquired several P&I club clients – groupings of ship-owners who band to-gether to cut down on insurance costs.
Rumbold says Lawrence Graham hopes to expand without limiting its practice to just shipping.
Ukraine is still finding its feet in economic terms, says Rumbold, but business is opening up, creating opportunities for investors and law firms.
She confirms Lawrence Graham is also looking at Ukraine's largest port Odessa – where it already has a serviced office – and its capital Kiev – which has a satellite office – but will “wait and see” how things pan out.
“Mariupol is not the capital and is not the biggest shipping port,” she admits, “but it is still quite important to us, and much nearer our clients.”
Jaroslawa Zelinsky Johnson, Kiev-based partner at US firm Altheimer & Gray, says: “I am surprised anyone is opening up an office in Mariupol.”
She acknowledges that the future looks promising, but warns the economy is slow at the moment.
“It is pretty quiet,” she says, “everyone is waiting to see what will be the outcome of the presidential election in October.”
Rumbold says the Ukraine is a big investment for Lawrence Graham, and admits to worries about getting paid, especially in foreign currency. “Credit control is always something we have to look at carefully,” she says.
Lawrence Graham is only the second UK firm in the Ukraine, alongside BC Toms & Co, which has offices in Kiev and Odessa.