You used to work for a large international commercial law firm, what made you set up your own, eponymously named firm?
I had always wanted to set up my own law firm, but, like many lawyers, I was probably a bit too comfortable with the status quo and the relative easy life of a salaried role. What I really needed was an impetus for change (for which read â kick up the backside). Then the sanctions hit Russia, followed by the rouble crisis and weakening market sentiment. These had a drastic effect on the M&A and finance sectors, two of the areas in which I specialised as a solicitor. Consequently, I suddenly found myself out of work, having spent many happy years in Russia and was faced with a stark choice: either leave Russia or somehow work out a way in which to stay here, but in gainful employment. After much deliberation, and speaking with several close friends and mentors, I decided to set up my own law firm.
What did your mentors advise?
They told me that they strongly believed that I would have far more success as an individual than within a large organisation. This was encouraging because none of the large organisations were offering jobs. They also advised that there is nothing quite like being your own boss, and that whilst it comes with its own stresses, it also has a wide range of benefits. In short, they were absolutely right, and I am glad that I listened to them.
So you set up Conner & Company?
Yes, I set about it right away but, obviously, the process does not take place over night. There was a lot of work to do with company incorporation, setting up bank accounts, work permit and visa applications, taking tax advice etc. Eventually though, I managed to get it all sorted and after doing some freelance work, I started working for my own company as General Director earlier this year.
And how have you found things since getting started?
I can definitely say there has never been a dull moment. Although, I would be lying if I claimed that it had all been âplain sailingâ, I have had an excellent response from the potential client base, from foreigners and Russians in Moscow, and even from further afield. I have come across some administrative and banking problems, the sorts of things that could, and do, happen in any country, but the experience has generally been very positive.
What sort of services do you offer your clients?
The legal sector has many components and subcomponents. In my view, especially in the large firms, lawyers end up over specialising in one tiny area. I have been fortunate enough to have a significant level experience in a wide range of legal fields and in a number of different business sectors. Consequently, I can offer my clients expertise in mergers and acquisitions (i.e. buying, selling and merging companies), in corporate finance (raising debt and equity financing), in banking and also in general commercial work. In recent months, I have acted on several corporate acquisitions for Russian and foreign clients. I have also acted for clients on a wide range of commercial contracts, particularly in the logistics sector. I recently assisted a Russian banking organisation with a complex financial process. And I have also helped individual businessmen with litigation matters and even with divorce proceedings in Russia.
How do you differentiate your law firm from competitor firms and what is your vision?
My vision for Conner & Company is to maintain a significant level of independence. By this, I mean not only that my firm will be separate and very different from the large commercial law firms in Moscow, but it will also have more of a boutique feel. What this means is that clients will always be dealing with the decision-making lawyer, directly. They wonât have to go through costly junior lawyers, just to end up eventually with a simple answer from an even more expensive, senior partner. Moreover, we will be able to deliver a greater level of privacy and confidentiality because far fewer people will be involved with each process. Further, the client will still be able to get expert advice, even on complex transactions and matters because we maintain a small, but closely managed network of partner organisations who can assist us, when required. For instance, we have already worked on a a number of complex structuring and tax projects for clients, and for the tax elements we used a private firm of accountants and consultants, set up with a very similar vision to our own.
How do you see Russia as a potential market for the future?
As a general economy and market, I see great potential for the future. It is just a question of the Russian people grasping that potential, and reaping the benefits. Unfortunately, the current climate is difficult and there is a risk that the economy will stagnate whilst business people postpone projects and investment, and foreigners steer clear of Russia for the time being. We need to remember that Russia is not in a vacuum and needs to react to the rest of the world, where unfortunately the outlook is also not necessarily entirely positive. However, I have great hope, and I meet investors every week who are coming up with innovative concepts and ideas, and are raising finance with some success. The legal market is a microcosm of the wider Russian economy. Lawyers face the same pressures as other business people, but they also have to deal with the inevitable changes that will be required to legal services worldwide. For instance, there is a lot of pressure on lawyers to modernise and innovate, particularly in the IT sphere, and also huge pressure on costs. These are areas in which Conner & Company will be aiming to deliver best practice for its clients.
Conner & Company LLC â List of services
â¢ Corporate finance: Â M&A, banking and financing, restructuring
â¢ Commercial legal services: drafting and review of commercial contracts
â¢ Onshore and offshore structuring and tax advice
â¢ Registration of Russian companies
â¢ Services for High Net Worth Individuals, including assistance with international property acquisitions and the financing of private jets and yachts
â¢ Intellectual property matters: trademark licensing and registration
â¢ International trusts and estate advice
â¢ Divorce and matrimonial services
â¢ General legal services: witnessing of documents, swearing of affidavitsÂ and statutory declarations, UK passport assistance
â¢ Providing assistance to Russian law firms on English law matters