The ruthless war in Ukraine has left a nation utterly devastated, and the country’s legal sector is no exception. Despite this, information on what the UK legal sector can do to help its counterparts in Ukraine is sparse. Today’s Conveyancer has set out to shed some light on what can be done to help improve the situation.
Secondment to a firm based in another country is the aim of most practitioners in Ukraine as their legal sector slows down in the face of crumbling infrastructure and a dramatically reduced client workload. Indeed, the Ukrainian Bar Association said that “secondments are popular not so much in terms of financial support for lawyers, but as a tool to maintain their professional level and gain new experience”.
Yet, obtaining such secondment is an onerous task for many Ukrainians. Speaking to Today’s Conveyancer, Olena Perepelynska, Head of International Arbitration at Ukrainian firm Integrites, said:
“There are many issues. One is that we want to keep legal and personal contacts with our lawyers, so we need some sort of non-solicitation agreement to make sure we can retain them after the war.
Duration is also an issue – some Ukrainians don’t wish to commit to long periods of time. We are optimistic here that we only need a three-month secondment, but many firms want a commitment for up to a year. We are aiming to reach compromises. Firms also want them to work in the office, but the cost of relocating is a lot and many Ukrainians have family elsewhere that they can’t leave behind.”
Olena went on to explain that the process can be inflexible and time-consuming when dealing with bigger firms, who are often steadfast in sticking to their traditional methods of recruitment and selection:
“The bigger firms tend to have their process more formalised. They’re clear in their demands for any secondment being [in-person], location, number of hours etc.”
Smaller firms tend to be more flexible, says Olena. She said that there are fewer obstacles in the way and, in her experience, smaller firms are happy to sit down, discuss a contract, and implement a working solution. They are less concerned with the formal recruitment processes that bind larger firms.
That said, Dariia Zyma of the pre-trial dispute settlement department at Integrites is an example of an international firm showing flexibility and willingness to move traditional recruitment practices aside. Squire Patton Boggs allowed Dariia to remain in Ukraine and be seconded virtually. Asked by Today’s Conveyancer how the attitude of host firms and countries has been, Dariia said:
“I can speak from my personal experience. I was seconded to Paris with Squire Patton Boggs.
Some people can move alone or with their families, but I had to stay with my Grandmother and my pets.
This has presented problems, such as access to the firm’s internal systems which is usually only possible with a company computer. However, they have been happy to work around this issue and have simply emailed me any files or information I have needed.”
Dariia was keen to emphasise that the experience has brought advantages:
”I’ve previously studied, trained and practised in international law and arbitration, so you could say I was prepared. It’s not been the easiest time [in Ukraine], but this has been a fantastic experience for me to be able to practise in an international firm.”
Olena suggested that the terms put in place in successful cases such as Dariia’s could be used as a blueprint for further secondments: “firms can take what works, what suits both parties, and use these as almost ‘standard terms’. This would simplify the process”, she said.
Indeed, there is currently a lack of formalised initiatives. It is almost always down to the two firms, or the host firm and the individual lawyer, to seek each other out and come up with an agreement. Asked what a firm who wants to help, but does not know where to start, should do, Olena said reaching out on LinkedIn is the best method. Olena noted that the process tends to work more efficiently when a host firm seeks a Ukrainian to offer secondment, rather than the other way around:
“So far, Ukrainians have used the contacts they already have and it has worked. When we have a lawyer looking for a secondment, we speak with the lawyers and firms that we know in other countries and look to arrange a solution.
A lot of it occurs through LinkedIn. Us Ukrainians know what to look for and what tags are attached to the relevant posts, so if a firm is looking to offer secondment, we pick it up [quite quickly]. We also share information through the platform and keep in contact with each other.
Even if we don’t have somebody to hand ready to leave, we always know somebody who is. In a time of war, we have set aside competitiveness and are all helping each other. Some of us are acting as a contact point, and I am happy to do so if anybody in the UK is looking to offer secondment to a Ukrainian.”
That said, some formal secondment schemes have been launched thus far. One such scheme launched in the interest of protecting the developing career of law students and young lawyers is the “Safe Harbor 4 UA Students” scheme organised by Patricia Shaughnessy and Alicja Zielinska-Eisen:
“[The scheme’s goal is] to provide the law students from Ukraine with a ‘Safe Harbor’: safe and friendly environments to enable them to grow, pursue their legal education, and plan for the future.
We are able to offer students an ‘internship package’ that includes a 3-month (or longer) internship, accommodation, travel logistics assistance, a living expense stipend, and social and educational activities and networking opportunities.”
Speaking at the recent International Chambers of Commerce Young Arbitrators Forum on assistance to Ukrainian lawyers, Shaughnessy stated that 250 applications had been received and 49 Ukrainians had been placed on secondment in other countries. One example of a host organisation is the German Arbitration Institute (DIS), which recently announced its intake of two young Ukrainians.
For more information on how you and your firm can support your counterparts in Ukraine, please visit the Today’s Conveyancer “Support Ukraine” page. The page includes advice from the Law Society and the Bar Council, alongside information on the Ukraine Advice Project UK, the Ukraine Justice Alliance, avenues for the secondment of Ukrainians into UK firms, as well as general information on support for Ukrainian citizens.