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Interview: Legal business in the CIS region

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Ben Wells, solicitor at Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP, shares his experience on working in the CIS region. He recently attended the Law Society’s English Law Day in Kazakhstan and we used this opportunity to talk to him about useful tips for UK lawyers and law firms interested in exploring opportunities in this market.

How regularly do you conduct business in Kazakhstan and the wider CIS region?

We are working closely on matters with partners in Russia and the CIS. We are developing these relationships and we see this region as a potential growth area. I have been joined by partners on two trips to Moscow visiting law firms and building relationships.

Previously worked at a law firm close to the Red Square in Moscow and that gave me the chance to learn Russian. My pursuit to learn Russian has been successful, I am now a fluent speaker, and I think that has been a massive boost to develop relationships in the area.

We have initiatives with other law firms around the world and also in the CIS and this is an area which we are looking to make a mark upon.

An example of what my firm is doing, is tomorrow, we will be travelling to Moscow with some colleagues and we will be discussing projects with some other firms; my colleague Guy Harvey will be speaking on litigation funding at a Russian Arbitration Association event, and this is an area in which Shepherd and Wedderburn do a great deal of work. Litigation funding is open to claimants from all around the world including those in the CIS and Russia and it is something that we will be talking to people about on future visits to the region. Indeed it is particularly opportune given that my firm has recently developed a revolutionary commercial dispute resolution portfolio funding arrangement with Burford Capital who are already well known in the region.

Where do you see the opportunities the region represents for you and your firm?

Our focus on the region from our London office is on dispute resolution and arbitration, the vast amount of money amassed by oligarchs in Russia and the CIS as well as the constant fluctuations in commodity prices make for an atmosphere of frequent disputes which are often heard in English Courts.

The fact that the English Courts are such a good forum to have a case heard shows confidence in English law, in the integrity of our judiciary, and the availability of effective remedies such as freezing orders, and also the easy enforcement of English judgements in other jurisdictions.

I know currently the LCIA’s caseload is made up of 80 percent of non-UK parties and many of those cases involve either a Russian or a CIS related party. Generally those parties have a preference for English law as the governing law of underlying agreements, and London as the seat for arbitration. And I know that international transactions made in Kazakhstan are often governed by English law, and in turn there is a preference for instructing English lawyers to represent them.

What is your experience regarding the use of English and Welsh law in international transactions involving a Kazakh party and England and Wales as a jurisdiction of choice for the CIS region?

It is definitely a really positive experience, and I’ve seen that English Law was the law of choice on multiple occasions. In fact, two of the first cases that I’ve worked on when returning from Moscow were on a case that involved the illegal flaring of gas from one of the largest oil fields in Kazakhstan and another case that concerned the embezzlement of around 3.7 billion pounds from BTA bank by a Kazakh oligarch. So from that time I have been aware how prevalent cases from Kazakhstan and the CIS are in London and it’s immediately clear to me from working on those types of cases that there’s a great deal of work emanating from that area.

What advice would you give to English and Welsh solicitors looking to enter the Kazakh and wider CIS market?

There are several associations they could join, for example the British-Kazakh Law Association or, alternatively, I chair an organisation called RusFor (the Russian Speaking Legal Professionals’ Forum) which meets regularly. Recently we held a panel discussion with speakers including Alexander Nekrassov, a former adviser to the Kremlin, and Peter Hitchens, a journalist for The Mail on Sunday, which was very well received. This month we are hosting a conference on bilateral relations between Russia and the United Kingdom, to be followed in November by an evening of networking at the Shard. The group is easily accessible on LinkedIn for anyone who wishes to join.

These are of course in addition to the excellent events the Law Society hosts such as the English Law Days in Almaty and Kyiv, and English Law week which is due to be held in Moscow and St Petersburg in November of this year.

What do you think will have the biggest impact on your firms operations in the CIS region over the next 12 months?

I think it would depend on our growing relationships that we’ve been establishing over the past year or so, but certainly as the UK will be separating from the EU, it will be important for us to start thinking about future relationships, and how these will be developed.

Moreover, the opening of the AIFC is a fantastic opportunity for UK firms to invest in Kazakhstan, under the rule of English law. I am sure this will be especially attractive as members of the AIFC will be exempt from corporate income tax, property and land tax until 2066.

How can the Law Society help you develop your international practice/ business?

I think support from the International Division is very important, as well as the events that I have mentioned earlier and I look forward to these continuing in full force.



Ben Wells, solicitor at Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP, shares his experience on working in the CIS region. He recently attended the Law Society’s English Law Day in Kazakhstan and we used this opportunity to talk to him about useful tips for UK lawyers and law firms interested in exploring opportunities in this market.


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