Hiring Lawyers/ Interview with Matvey Levant

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

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.