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