Karolina Ullman, Partner at Njord Law Firm, shares her views on legal life in Estonia and business opportunities for lawyers and law firms interested in this market.
1. Tell us about your firm
NJORD Law Firm is a mid-sized firm on the Estonian market. It was founded by Veikko Toomere and myself in 2005. We have a Nordic profile and serve Estonian as well as international clients within all fields of business law. Being the only qualified Swedish lawyer also qualified in Estonia attracts a lot of Scandinavian speaking clients. Within our office of 20+ colleagues, we serve clients in Estonian, English, Swedish, Russian, German, Ukrainian and Finnish.
2. Have you ever worked as a lawyer abroad?
I am a lawyer working abroad. I am a native Swede, working and living in Estonia for 14 years already.
3. How would you describe the current business climate in your country?
The business climate is excellent! Estonia is known as e-Estonia, a country where (almost) everything is digital. New companies are attracted to the low cost – high quality society that Estonia offers. Right now, the Estonian e-residency programme is very popular among UK entrepreneurs as they will be able to continue with their business within the EU also after Brexit.
4. What are the main opportunities and challenges for foreign law firms in your country?
I do not think there are any good opportunities for larger foreign law firms to establish themselves in Estonia, just because the market is too small for them.
There are, however, great opportunities to co-operate with the larger and medium-sized Estonian law firms that are able to serve international law firms with high-level legal advice in excellent English language. But there is only a handful of Estonian lawyers that are able to also put themselves in the view point from outside Estonia, that are able to explain the legal specificities to someone from another legal system.
5. What advice would you give to companies new to the country?
Congratulations! You will enjoy the minimum of bureaucracy, the straight-forward Estonians and the level of English language and information available in English. You should make an effort to try to learn some basic Estonian, because it is polite. The only issue that I think is difficult to grasp coming from the outside is the size of Estonia. For most companies, this is not so important as they plan to stay smaller or mid-sized. But if you want to hire a couple of hundreds employees, or, if the target size of your company is 1000+ people, or you only want to sell on the local market, then Estonia will not fulfil your expectations. There is actually a lack of work force here and the population is 1.3 million. In the whole country.
6. What opportunities for co-operations are there between your country and UK law firms?
Traditionally, the co-operations between UK and Estonian law firms have been that the UK one hires an Estonian firm to do legal research or legal analysis as part of a pan-European assignment. However, as Estonian companies expand to the UK such as TransferWise, Starship Technologies, Monese, GrabCad, and in some cases even nowadays have their headquarters in London, in the future there will be more and more Estonian law firms hiring UK firms. Within the field of M&A, most of the larger UK firms have permanent co-operation partners in Estonia.
7. Do clients prefer smaller local firms or larger international networks?
My experience shows that Estonian clients prefer local firms. This is probably also connected to the fact that companies here tend to be smaller or mid-sized.
8. What are the practice areas you definitely think a European firm would find business in?
Since the start-up scene here contains a lot of FinTech and other IT based companies, lawyers with information technology understanding are hot.
9. What recent legal developments you have seen in your country?
As some of the Estonian start-ups are growing and expanding outside of Estonia, one trend is to assist them with introductions to service providers in new markets.
There are more and more technical solutions assisting lawyers in their daily work and at some point in time part of the staple food for lawyers will be gone. Establishing companies is now done electronically here in 15 minutes and the clients are able to do it on their own. For law firms, the standardized more or less automated work will be replaced by data bases but the more complicated and interesting work will still be there.
10. Are you aware of any changes that may affect or changes that took place and had an impact on the profession and practice rights in your country?
The development AI will have an impact on the profession. The practice rights have not changed and no changes in sight either.
11. Finally, what are your recommendations for visitors to your country?
Seeing is believing! Estonia is often mistaken for an Eastern European country. Estonia is a high-tech Nordic country with the future laying ahead. If you are a foodie, remember to stay on a couple of extra days to enjoy the restaurant life of Tallinn.
These views are the views of the author and not those of the Law Society.