An interview with Matvey Levant: British intuition enjoy people's confidence, but even it may be wrong (KDO.ru, March 2010)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        An interview with Matvey Levant: Member Experiences in the International Network of independent law firms ADVOC (Legal Business. July 2008)

 

 

Hiring Lawyers. Interview with Matvey Levant (The Well. April 2006)

 

 

Focused on Success. Building a Career in Law. Interview with Matvey Levant (The Well. March 2006)

 

 

 

Matvey Levant: British intuition enjoy people’s confidence, but even it may be wrong                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Questions on actual problems of foreign real property purchase answered Matvey Levant, managing partner Levant & Partners Law Firm. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              It is known that in some European countries the mechanism of real property purchase is proceeded not so easy. What difficulties with documents could occur?

In most other countries, a real estate purchase normally requires the following steps (some of which may be omitted, depending on the size of the transaction): letter of intent, due diligence, negotiation of purchase contract, signing, closing (asset deals are usually closed at signing) and registration with the Land Registry. This process is rather a problem of countries where the land register system does not (yet) work appropriately. The more strict conditions when we are buying property are set by the tax authorities and the money laundry regulation, who oblige to prove the origin of the funds used for the purchase of the property.  

                                                                                                                                                                                       What are different conditions of real estate purchase connected with? For example, why is it easier to buy real property in Spain then in Austria?

Non-EU/EEA investors (individual or corporate entities or Austrian corporate entities whose majority shareholder is not an Austrian or an EU/EEA citizen/corporate entity) are subject to restrictions. They must obtain approval from the authority for the acquisition of real estate by foreigners ("Grundverkehrsbehörde"). Agricultural property may only be transferred with the consent of this authority. In specific circumstances linked to the legal capacity of the seller, certain consents may be required (e.g. if the seller is a minor, the approval of both parents and the court is required). The acquisition of real estate for secondary residence purposes is restricted in several parts of Austria. Each Austrian province has its own law and its own authority regulating the transfer of real estate to non EU/EEA investors. There are also very formal countries, like for example Germany, where it is not possible to buy real estate property through a private contract. However, I would say that in general terms the conditions in different countries tend to be similar. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                            There is information that it is forbidden for foreigners to buy real estate in Switzerland. How can you explain this fact?

This information is not absolutely correct. Generally speaking, resident foreigners are free to purchase real estate in Switzerland. The acquisition of real estate in Switzerland by persons abroad however is restricted and requires an authorization unless the real estate is used for commercial purposes. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                           It is noticed, that where the British start investing in real property, soon will be the very attractive place for investment. What do you think about it?

In my opinion there is a general belief in the British intuition to invest in real estate. This makes others to follow their traces, what obviously creates an attractive scenario due to the increase of the demand. But Spain has seen an immense amount of (British) real estate investment throughout the last years. However, the last two years have seen real estate investment in Spain coming to an end with up to 60% loss in value. The same applies e.g. for Dubai. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                             Does it make any sense to buy real property for the further rent? In what countries it is allowed / forbidden? How much can you earn?

This depends very much on the project, its location, size, infrastructure etc.In general, the annual rate of return amounts to 3-7%. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                      How can you describe the situation with uncompleted construction and construction without license?   

In Croatia there is Land Register system where all real estate, land and buildings are registered.  Only registered owners are considered as legally valid owners and are legally protected. Without proper registration of the ownership it is not possible to obtain building permit for the construction. Planning must be checked because it affects the value of the land as construction site, or agricultural land. Upon completion of the construction ‘’utilisation permit’’ is granted by authorities and it enable registration of the building in the Land Register. It is very risky to purchase improperly registered real estate, to enter into construction without building permit or not to follow project as per building permit. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                       How should you act in this situation? Can you go out of the project? What is the legal backing?

it is very risky to acquire or enter in such construction because in some cases authorities may order demolition on owners expenses. in principal one should not enter into such projects because he will be exposed to huge losses. In some cases it is possible to obtain subsequent registrations and licences, but if possible it is always connected with uncertainty, high expenses and long lasting procedures. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                           Where is collected the profits tax from real estate? To what other taxes or fees may be subjected your transaction? 

The tax situation in Switzerland varies from canton to canton. Usually, there is a profit tax when real estate is sold and a transfer tax that is only minimal.In Austria if real property is sold within 10 years as from purchase tax on the profits occur. A 3.5 % real estate transfer tax and a 1 % registration fee are due. Real estate transactions are generally exempt from VAT (it’s rate in Austria is 20%).In Spain the buyer bears the taxes and fees, however both parties are jointly and separately liable for tax payments.Also do not forget about the commission which is paid to real estate broker in any country. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Matvey Levant thanks sincerely for information Manuela Maurer-Kollenz (Fiebinger, Polak, Leon & Partners), Eduardo González Fernández (ILAGOSON Lawyers' office), Miroljub Macesic (Macesic & Partners, Odvjetnicko drustvo - Law Offices - Studio Legale).

 

 

 

An interview with Matvey Levant: Member Experiences in the International Network of independent law firms ADVOC (Legal Business. July 2008)

 

ADVOC is an international legal association that brings together law firms from more than 45 countries. ADVOC members work in the largest business centers in the world – from New York and London to Shanghai and Tokyo.   Levant and partners law firm is a boutique firm specializing in real estate transactions, arbitration, corporate, tax, labor and international law, as well as the right of authorship and associated intellectual property rights. The firm is the only member of ADVOC in Russia.

 

Matvey Levant, managing partner of Levant and partners law firm, has received two higher education degrees – one in Civil Law (from the Smolenskii Humanitarian University) and one in Philology (from the Smolenskii State Pedagogical University). His work experience includes advising regional governors, working on legal projects on the federal and regional level, and collaborating with leading Russian and foreign consulting firms.

 

“Legal Business”: Why did your firm become a member of the international association ADVOC? 

 

Matvey Levant: A year after the firm was founded, we decided to devote ourselves seriously to developing an international orientation. It was important for Russian and foreign clients that we belonged to one of the international associations – it was a question of confidence and a question of status. We collected all the necessary information and applied for membership in several associations. Of the associations that responded to our proposal, we chose the most appropriate, ADVOC.  

 

“L.B.”: What were the reasons for your choice? 

 

M.L: The association’s approach to accepting new members and its operating principles. To become a member of an international lawyers’ association, more often than not all one has to do is to pay a membership fee. This increases the association’s numbers, of course, but not its prestige.  At ADVOC everything was done differently: the leadership first informed all the members of our intent to join the association.  According to the rules of the organization, a new application can be rejected if any information about a candidate’s dishonest work or other problems with its reputation becomes known within a month of its application.  Then the association sent its representatives to us in Moscow. They were required to study the firm’s work, become acquainted with the lawyers, and evaluate the quality of the organization and its approach to rendering legal services. This resulted in the creation of a thick report, the final section of which concluded that our firm complied with all international standards and recommended that we be accepted into the association.  

 

“L.B.”: So that was how you became the first and only Russian firm to be a member of ADVOC? Are other companies from Russian able to join the organization?

 

M.L: Only one firm per major business center can become a member of ADVOC. In Russia, I believe that another member of the association could appear in St. Petersburg.  

 

“L.B.”: What are the fundamental advantages of membership in this association?

 

M.L: First of all it is an advantage for our clients. They have at their disposal high-quality legal services in any country in the world – except perhaps for North Korea and a number of other rogue states. Our client knows that wherever on the globe he may be, there is a reliable and prestigious law firm nearby. Our client understands the nature of our relationships with association partners, and he realizes that while working with us he will have boundaries on the map of world business.  

 

“L.B.”: In ADVOC, how is work on client assignments arranged?  

 

M.L: One possibility is that a client contracts with Levant and partners for legal services in Hungary, but in reality the assignment will be handled by our association partners in Budapest. A second possibility is that the assignment is initially communicated to the Hungarian law firm, and that firm independently contracts with the client and is fully responsible for the work. We are partisans of the second model, especially since, for many of our clients, the confidentiality of work conducted in a different country is very important. The fact that nothing may be known in the client’s country of residence about legal affairs in a different country can turn out to be definitive. 

 

“L.B.”: Are there any sort of stepping stones to membership in associations like ADVOC?  

 

M.L: They would be on the surface – it is a question of significant travel expenditures.  One must attend association meetings every year and send a representative to the meeting of the general council. Furthermore, every year there are regional association meetings in Europe, North America, and Asia. Consequently one must undertake 5-6 business trips per year, on average. Considering the geography of the meetings (the most recent took place in Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, Oslo, and New York), the size of the expense is not hard to imagine. And on several occasions the format of the event assumes the participation of not one but several representatives. Moreover, ADVOC actively encourages young members’ involvement in general affairs – and this is also a sizable expense.  

 

“L.B.”: But, all things considered, membership in international associations is nevertheless worth the expense?  

 

M.L: Absolutely. It is a very powerful stimulus for development. However, one has to remember that it is not enough just to become a member of an association – that has no effect by itself. One must invest a large amount of money and time; one has to learn, grow, share in the experience. The first year of work will be quite difficult; the second, a bit easier. But the real result can only be felt 3-4 years later. Clients realize that we are opening up a new reality for them – business without borders. So we are proud of our membership in ADVOC and we are prepared to support the association wherever possible. 

 

“L.B.”: What advice would you give to Russian firms that are looking for the opportunity to join associations like ADVOC?  

 

M.L: Maintain professional etiquette. A great majority of Russian firms need to do more work in this area. And before applying for membership in an international association, one has to earn a certain status in the local market. One must have a certain level of business development and corporate culture; the company staff should include highly qualified lawyers with knowledge of the English language.  

 

“L.B.”: In your opinion, does it make sense for a regional law firm to seek membership in international organizations?  

 

M.L: I doubt that this practice will become wide-spread. Moscow and Saint Petersburg are the gates for investment in Russia, and this situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Foreigners come to Russia through these cities, and a respectable business also leads its international operations from them. What is the point of a firm in the Ural Mountains having the opportunity to have a partner in Uruguay or Paraguay? From the clients’ point of view, this does not make sense. 


 

The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence. Leave nothing for to-morrow which can be done to-day.
– Abraham Lincoln

Hiring Lawyers/ Interview with Matvey Levant


Interviewed by Elizaveta K. Levina (April 2006)

What is so attractive about a career in law? What kind of person might it suit?
You’d be surprised how creative and dynamic a career in law is. The creativity comes through there being so many ways to tackle each project. It is our principle to offer alternative solutions to clients, with them making the final decision. In situations where there are no alternative solutions, we work out one strategy that makes the most of what the company can offer. We give every assignment a complex and well-thought-out treatment, providing our clients with quality service ahead of deadline.

It is a great time to build a law career in Russia. The country’s economy is rapidly developing; the educational structure is getting better and better. Coupled with application of modern, Western business schemes and models, plus new mechanisms, concepts, and legal strategies, the life and career of a Russian lawyer is becoming very attractive.

How quickly can a young lawyer build a great career?
Work experience certainly plays a huge part in a law career, but there are plenty of young specialists in the market with highly concentrated work experience, which means they successfully compete with lawyers and attorneys with far longer careers. Clients also often favor young professionals, which is good for those lawyers seeking to advance quickly in their careers.

What kind of people do you hire at Levant & Partners?
Levant & Partners is a dynamic company that employs creative thinking, multi-tasking, results-oriented people. My main demand of employees and colleagues is that they deliver results. Our ten lawyers are all graduates of leading Russian universities. Most have a degree from MGIMO, MGU, the Higher School of Economics, the State Law Academy, or the Finance Academy. Several were educated at regional universities. When searching for staff, we look at the entire background of a person, not just one factor. We pay particular attention to education and results achieved throughout a career.

Do you only hire people with work experience?
Staffing a law firm requires a different approach than, say, a more general kind of business. Here absolutely all factors must be considered. We may forgive a person his lack of work experience if we feel he has a global understanding of how to work with others, shows creativity in realizing projects, and has a bold and complex attitude to settling issues. We know this is not a factor of only education—be it a Moscow or regional diploma—and doesn’t necessarily spring from work experience alone. All factors are looked at in concert.

How do you search for staff? Do you work with recruitment agencies?
We have no single way to search for the staff we need. What we do here revolves around how humans interact and get results together. We have concrete projects goals and we search for people who can make those goals a reality.

There have been times when recruitment agencies have helped us to find the right person for the job: once with a top-level, senior lawyer, and again for some lower-level office positions. But our firm has become increasingly visible, and candidates often contact us directly.

There are some definite plusses to how the recruitment market is developing. We now see more highly specialized recruiters, in particular in the sphere of law. This makes life in law firms easier, saving HR managers and partners—the ones who must make the final decision on who to hire—a ton of time. The job search process is more focused and concentrated.

What do you think of the legal education in Russia?
Overall, a legal education in Russia, no matter what the university, never teaches the real business of operating a law practice; this is a common opinion among most law firm owners. When we hire a young lawyer with no work experience, a major job is teaching him the basics of tackling tasks set by our clients, our management, and the project director. It is not a question of the general understanding of law. More important are the strategic steps toward achieving the set goals at certain phases. The scope and volume of theoretical knowledge gained does not always teach a young lawyer how to achieve results.

We are happy to employ young specialists and give them on-the-job training and education.

Do you ever hire foreign lawyers?
Yes, we have two foreign employees on staff at present. One, who graduated with excellence from the Brooklyn Law School in New York, is in charge of international projects. We also have a Bulgarian lawyer who graduated from MGIMO. We have many international clients, making it vitally important to have professionals with global experience and understanding.

Would you advice Russian lawyers to study abroad?
Absolutely; any employer in the legal sphere appreciates lawyers with a global, not just Russian, understanding of law. Getting an education abroad is a great platform for a brilliant career, just from the standpoint of building a great resume.

Studying in an international law setting makes it much easier to explain Russian law to Western clients. For example, one acute issue is that of applying for work permits. A Western business person doesn’t understand that the work permit is attached to a company, not to an individual. Should the client move to a different company or change his role, he needs to apply for more documents. This is a difficult, time-consuming process. Knowing how the matter is tackled in the USA or the European Union makes it that much easier to explain the difference.

Matvey Levant is founding partner of Levant & Partners. He majored in languages and then obtained a law degree from Smolensk Humanitarian University. Prior to going into private practice Mr. Levant served as a legal counsel to the governor of Smolensk Region and a staff attorney at the Regional Administration. He earned his first litigation experience defending high-ranking officials against illegal privatization and wrongful conduct charges.

His area of expertise extends to handling complex commercial and real estate transactions, dispute resolution, and arbitration. Mr. Levant advises Fortune-500 companies and private investors on acquisition of real estate in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Mr. Levant is a distinguished guest at the Russian Economic Forum in London and other international business community events. Mr. Levant is President of the International Legal Fund—a pro-bono non-commercial organization protecting national minorities in Russia.

 

Focused on Success
Building a Career in Law

 

 You can have anything you want–if you want it badly enough. You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose
– William Adams

 

 

Interviewed by Elizaveta K. Levina (March 2006)

 

Matvey Levant is a founding partner of Levant & Partners, as well as President of the International Legal Fund—a pro-bono non-commercial organization protecting national minorities in Russia. In the following interview, he details his reasons for jumping into international law with both feet, for opening a boutique law firm in Moscow, and for taking chances on the road to success.

 


 

 

Do you believe in luck?
In my life I’ve always made the most of the one chance before me. I believe the philosophic category of “luck” is a lame excuse used by people who aren’t able to achieve real results. Everyone gets their chance and if they use it, they move ahead; there’s no “luck” about it.

Why a career in law for you?
From school on I was always interested in dynamic, organized activity. I wanted to become an active member of Komsomol but this organization was released, actively participated in KVN panel games, was first captain of the class team, and was active in elementary school, high school, university, and finally, the city of Smolensk. Through all this I always wanted to be a lawyer.

I credit my parents for this. They wanted me to receive an in-depth education in the humanities. I did so, earning two degrees: one in foreign languages from the Smolensk State Pedagogical University, another from the law school of Smolensk Humanitarian University. I’ve always believed that an education in humanities and pedagogy is a great career foundation. While still in law school I took a position in the office of the Legal Council for the Smolensk Region Administration, representing the interests of the governor and participated in lawmaking. My language degree was a real advantage here.

Why move to Moscow, when Smolensk was giving you so much?
Smolensk is a small city for a professional seeking to specialize in international law, and that is what I wanted to do most of all. I became motivated to go in this direction while working for the Smolensk region Administration; undoubtedly this influenced my decision to move to Moscow. I started practicing international law with a Cypriot law firm here five years ago, having received several good offers. I went on to work for several New York-style private legal boutiques, small and medium sized, and then created my own brand – Levant & Partners.

What attracted you to international law in the first place?
Considering the increasing globalization of Russian business and foreign investment flowing into the economy, a contemporary lawyer should not restrict his activity to the law of just one country. Russia is becoming a member of the World Trade Organization. It is no longer sensible for a lawyer to focus just on Russian law.

This point of view was the basis for our creating an international law boutique offering services to both Russian and international clients all over the world.

What is a “legal boutique”?
A legal boutique is different from any other law firm, in that it handles every stage of complex tasks for large clients. We feel there are no standard ways to satisfy clients’ needs. Each situation is different and should be dealt with on an individual basis. This premise is the foundation for our success.

When creating the company we decided to use the Western model. Levant & Partners was set up like a classic, New York legal boutique. This form fit very organically and successfully into Russia, taking into account the specifics of doing business here.

The international legal boutique is unique and fills a niche because it lies on the borders of various systems of law. This concept is no-lose one in both directions: from Russia to the West and from the West to Russia.

But you could have continued working for any number of boutique law firms? Why start your own?
At some point my career priorities shifted away from working for somebody else. Levant & Partners law firm was founded in 2004 by two partners—Valery Narejny, tax partner, and me. We started with the idea to deliver international law and taxation services, giving our clients unprecedented results. Our professional ambitions, plus eight years of experience working for others, really motivated us to be a success at this.

How were your ideals affected by the realities of running your own firm?
At the start we saw a niche in the Russian market and realized that a legal boutique could really fill it. So we created a firm that would adequately respond to every client’s needs, taking into account Russia’s scale and business specifics. This was our primary focus.

But as we started to work we realized that we were, first of all, a young law firm. The specialists we brought together were young in both Russian and Western business understanding. Once we understood this, we began to know this as our competitive advantage—we are young, competitive, we employ new technologies and methods, and we are focused on delivering results.

As our rapid growth in the following two years proved—taking into account the level of clients and projects we are working on—this was the right choice.

Has your firm achieved the goals you set for it at the beginning?
We are only at the beginning of our potential global success, taking into account the past, present, and future. But if we take a quick look at what we have achieved to the present, I am sure we have achieved a one hundred-percent result.

What helped you achieve your goals?
Well-defined clear targets. We always have to keep one step ahead to lead our clients forward. This is the dynamic of our business.

Do you make mistakes?
From a professional perspective I try not to commit to any actions that cannot be undone or repaired. Thus the idea of a “mistake” seems an innocent act in this light. If you don’t burn bridges and leave yourself ways to correct situations as they progress, you cannot call the situation, and any steps that led to it, a mistake.

Your firm serves large Russian as well as international companies. To what do you attribute your continued success?
It is very difficult to judge what success is. Five years ago we had a goal to create a brand that would be widely recognized by businessmen of a certain level. Having done this, our ambitions now take us further. Maybe “success” is not something that can be measured in a finite way.

Our client base grows, in large part, thanks to word of mouth. We do not have an aggressive marketing policy; we are allowing ourselves to develop as a classical New York-style, mid-size company might do, the kind of international business with which we have many contacts. Allowing ourselves to evolve and build clients in a Western style is our competitive advantage.

It’s no secret that law firms thrive not only on the strength of their brand in the market, but through informal connections between owners and clients. Certainly it helps a company if its management is charismatic and can really make contacts, but charisma alone, without the backing of a solid professional background, has little value. We pay great attention to this. We are a young, dynamic, and growing company with a wealth of possibilities.

What are the further plans of Levant & Partners?
This law firm is a member of one of the largest and most authoritative international lawyers’ associations – ADVOC. This association brings together law firms from over 45 jurisdictions of world’s largest business districts – from New York to London, from Shanghai to Tokyo. Moscow is a logical member of this list. We have an exclusive membership giving us the right to serve Western clients in Russia.

The next step in our corporate development is to open offices abroad; we want to move our brand to the West. We plan to open offices in London, New York, Cyprus, and perhaps one of the Russian cities, perhaps St. Petersburg. Our client companies want to open businesses in the regions and in other countries. We want to be there to help them.

A firm can move abroad effectively in two ways: by establishing its own brand and employing local specialists in the process, or by acquiring an existing company. We are looking into both possibilities.

We envision every entry into an international market as successful, just as we envisioned our success in the Moscow market. We will follow our clients and go abroad, the same way many foreign law firms came to the Russian market, following their clients.

You are actively involved in charity. Why give so much to others?
My charitable and professional lives have always been intertwined; one can never be separated from the other. Even in my student days I headed several charitable organizations and participated in over thirty charity projects. I have never stopped.

The International Legal Fund, of which I am currently President, supports a number of charitable activities. Levant & Partners hosts a project that exposes children from boarding schools and orphanages to arts and music.

Historically, patrons in Russia—merchants and manufacturers—have supported charitable projects. Unfortunately, charity is not common for most Russian commercial enterprises today, which I believe is not right. When you have international experience, you discover that charity is very popular abroad. Now, with the new President’s doctrine on business social responsibility, the number of charitable projects grows daily in Russia.

When charity comes from your heart, and every company worker helps and participates, this is a generous act and it brings pleasure to everyone.



Matvey Levant is founding partner of Levant & Partners. He majored in languages and then obtained a law degree from Smolensk Humanitarian University. Prior to going into private practice Mr. Levant served as a legal counsel to the governor of Smolensk Region and a staff attorney at the Regional Administration. He earned his first litigation experience defending high-ranking officials against illegal privatization and wrongful conduct charges.

His area of expertise extends to handling complex commercial and real estate transactions, dispute resolution, and arbitration. Mr. Levant advises Fortune-500 companies and private investors on acquisition of real estate in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Mr. Levant is a distinguished guest at the Russian Economic Forum in London and other international business community events. Mr. Levant is President of the International Legal Fund—a pro-bono non-commercial organization protecting national minorities in Russia.
 



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