Summer 2021 saw a major merger in the Ukrainian legal services sector with news that Kinstellar had acquired DLA Piper’s Kyiv practice. The acquisition now makes Kinstellar one of the largest law firms currently operating in Ukraine, with a team of 60 lawyers including 10 partners. Business Ukraine magazine spoke to Kinstellar’s Olena Kuchynska, Margarita Karpenko, and Daniel Bilak to learn more about the merger and find out about the law firm’s future plans.
Kinstellar’s acquisition of DLA Piper’s Ukraine practice is a major development for the Ukrainian legal services industry. How challenging were the preparations for this merger?
Margarita Karpenko: The decision to spin-off, as we call it, initially came from DLA Piper. We were advised that DLA Piper regularly reviews its global footprint and had concluded that a presence in Ukraine was no longer needed as part of its global strategy, despite our strong financial position. Once we learned this news last year, we began looking for a new “home” for our large team of around 40 lawyers including 7 partners. One of the key points for us was to keep the entire team and our client base together. Nick Paleocrassas and Jonathan Marsden from the Marsden Group recruitment company brought us together with Kinstellar, a company with a similar history and charismatic management. We were happy to learn that Kinstellar was looking for ways to expand its presence in Ukraine. We realized that our approaches, core values, and visions were a good match for each other. This provided the impetus to proceed.
Olena Kuchynska: We have been working together now for a number of weeks already and cooperation is progressing very well, at both the management and team levels. There are a number of practical issues that we are currently addressing, including different working habits and customer practices. The goal is to adopt the best practices from each of the teams. This approach appears to be working well and is helping us to maximize benefits as we move forward.
Daniel Bilak: This was a timely deal for Kinstellar, since the opportunity arose as we were already exploring how to grow further as a law firm. DLA Piper was able to offer a market-leading practice and a team of talented professionals, many of whom we have worked with in the past. This was one of the most challenging deals I’ve been involved in, but we worked through everything together very productively. We now have the scale and the talent to attract more major domestic and international clients.
This acquisition means that Kinstellar is now among the leading independent international law firms on the Ukrainian market. What competitive advantages does this merger bring you?
Olena Kuchynska: One key competitive advantage is that we can now provide very diverse experience to clients while taking on even more complex projects. We have managed to combine expertise in a range of areas and brought together different client bases that are complementary. This merger is also an opportunity to upgrade our internal structures so that we offer clients new and high-quality services. We now have the additional resources to achieve this goal.
Margarita Karpenko: We are happy to add new strengths to key practice areas including corporate/M&A, banking and finance, employment and benefits, litigation and real estate. Additionally, we are now able to boost our coverage in new practice areas such as tax and intellectual property. It is also my pleasure to confirm that we have secured all existing client relationships.
Daniel Bilak: As an independent international law firm that benefits from cooperation with major law firms globally, there are obvious advantages to adding the DLA Piper network to our professional relationships. We are a very client-driven law firm, and this recent expansion creates enhanced opportunities to offer even greater added value to our clients.
Do you have any plans in place to expand your coverage into new practice areas?
Olena Kuchynska: We are currently working to leverage the considerable expertise we have in the ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) sphere. This is an entire philosophy that cuts across all practice areas and is becoming increasingly important in the international and Ukrainian business contexts. As a lead of the ESG initiative, I see it as my role to make sure we provide our clients with the best possible integrated offering in this area. As we develop our knowledge and understanding of ESG issues, we aim to become more attractive, both for clients and future employees.
Margarita Karpenko: With the arrival of the new team and expansion into new practice areas of tax and intellectual property, we look forward to serving our clients for all of their business needs in Ukraine. Our new practice areas such as IP/IT and tax are fully-fledged and include a seasoned team of lawyers. I’m confident this will enable us to retain and build on our strong legacy.
Daniel Bilak: I see tremendous scope to capitalize on the ongoing revolution in the technology sector. Our solid team covering technology-related areas prior to the merger has now been significantly strengthened. We have a team of dedicated intellectual property specialists supporting our lawyers in assisting start-ups as well as large technology firms. This is not just about the IT industry itself; our practice in this area now covers everything from innovation technology to defense and aerospace.
What does this merger tell us about the evolution of the Ukrainian legal services industry and how do you see Kinstellar developing?
Olena Kuchynska: The legal services industry in Ukraine is very dynamic at the moment and there is a growing emphasis on innovation. We are focused on providing a comprehensive and up-to-date range of services. This means not only responding to the immediate legal needs of our clients, but also offering guidance and direction. I believe successful law firms need to offer counsel and become trusted advisors to their clients.
Daniel Bilak: The needs of our clients are changing in line with the dynamic transformations taking place in the market. Today’s clients require much more than the straightforward provision of legal services. They need lawyers with an understanding that goes beyond narrow business issues, who appreciate the wider trends that are shaping and changing the market. For example, clients now face a whole range of ESG challenges that are changing the nature of their business. In the past, banks did not ask them about their carbon footprints, their climate change and diversity policies, or the gender balance of their board of directors. This trend will continue and demands an innovative approach from a client’s professional advisers. Clients want law firms capable of guiding them through compliance and regulatory framework issues, while also plotting a path with future developments in mind. These are dynamics that Kinstellar is actively embracing. We are positioning ourselves to become the gateway into Ukraine for our clients.