This year Dentons celebrates a quarter century of delivering legal advice to its clients in Romania and the region. Perry V. Zizzi, Managing Partner of Dentons Romania, sat down with BR to discuss how the practice of law has changed and the long-term outlook on the Romanian market.
By Anda Sebesi
Dentons has been present in Romania for 25 years, and you yourself have been working here for almost 20. What changes have you seen in the market in that time?
The Romanian market has evolved from primarily state-centered to a dynamic private sector. Whereas 25 years ago, the focus was on privatizations and public infrastructure, we now advise clients on a wide of range of areas. The investor base has also shifted from primarily eastern Mediterranean to a mix that includes investors from Western Europe, North America, East Asia, India and the Middle East. Romania’s accession in the first decade of the 2000s to both the European Union and NATO paved the way for a more diverse group of investors in a wider range of sectors. All these developments shaped and consolidated both the Romanian business culture and the practice of law.
Technology has also transformed the way we work. Take due diligence for example. A quarter century ago, we used to send an army of lawyers to out-of-the way places to read dust-covered documents, take notes and then summarize findings in a report, often without the ability to check the documents again. Fast-forward to the present, we almost always have virtual data rooms that are accessible from anywhere, day or night. We deploy software that uses AI to review large numbers of documents. This saves the client money and time and improves accuracy.
What is the craziest thing you’ve done to win a client/close a deal?
One of the first deals that I worked on after I arrived in Bucharest was advising an Austrian company on an acquisition of a manufacturer in Romania. My client and the seller were just about to sign the purchase agreement when suddenly we received notice from a third party that we had never heard of claiming that it owned part of the company. To help our client close the deal, we managed to mediate a deal between the sellers and their previous joint venture partners, but at one point the two sides nearly got into a fist fight!
What were the most memorable deals you worked on? What are you most proud of?
So far this year, our Bucharest office attorneys have advised on matters worth well over €18 billion, all of which are landmark transactions in the relevant sectors. Among these was a $15 billion data center acquisition and financing, which was managed by me and my team in Romania and involved over 150 Dentons attorneys in Europe, North America, South America and Asia. Another very high profile matter this year was the $1 billion acquisition by Romgaz of the offshore assets of ExxonMobil, as well as the financing for it. At the beginning of this year, we assisted a consortium of four domestic and international banks on a €125 million green loan facility for six commercial real estate assets developed by Prime Kapital, in what promises to be one of the most significant green real estate transactions of the year 2022. Other landmark transactions include the RON 555 million private placement of the Bucharest municipal bond issue and €153 million bridge to bond structure for Electrica. We are currently advising on the highly anticipated IPO of Hidroelectrica, a transaction estimated to be the largest ever Romanian IPO.
Last year, we advised Transcarpathians Trading (member of the African Industries Group) on its agribusiness acquisition from Global Farmland Fund. The deal was the largest agricultural acquisition of 2021, which came on the heels of our advising on the largest agricultural acquisitions of 2020 and 2019, as well. This unmatched track record has positioned us as the go-to firm for agribusiness matters. At the end of last year, we also advised a consortium of banks in financing the acquisition by Supernova Group of six prime shopping centers operating under the Cora brand name from the Louis Delhaize Group, in the largest acquisition of commercial real estate assets of 2021.
There is a lot of discussion about the new generation’s changing expectations about work. How is being a lawyer today different to when you were an associate starting your career?
Firstly, lawyers today are reachable all the time. Going back 25 or even 15 years ago, it wasn’t necessary or even possible to check emails after work, over the weekend or during vacation. If someone needed us, they called us on our land lines, because few people had mobile phones. So if we were out, we would not find out about the call until we played back the message on our answering machines. These days, for better or worse, clients expect lawyers to check and acknowledge emails right away. It can be extremely stressful, and unfortunately there’s no easy way to address this. The same goes for vacations. When we went away on holiday, we used to hand off matters to colleagues, but today we are all forced to continue monitoring and responding to messages even while on vacation.
On the flip side, technology has given us freedom that was unknown in past decades. We can literally work and collaborate with clients and colleagues from anywhere in the world. Post-Covid, we have asked our people to come into the office a few days per week to maintain our culture and intraoffice relationships, but the fact is that we are probably the most flexible law firm in the market in terms of remote working.
What are you doing as a firm to stay relevant and attractive to the next generation of lawyers?
Aside from our policy on agile working, we’ve also signed a partnership with the Collège Juridique, which is the joint degree program between the Sorbonne and Bucharest Law School. Through this program, we have committed to support the pro bono training of students to support those who need access to justice but cannot afford to pay.
Since taking over as Romania Managing Partner, you’ve done a lot to shake up the office. What changes have you made so far, and what’s next?
Our legal team has grown by nearly 70 percent, and we recently occupied a second floor in the modern office building that we moved into in 2019. We have hired four new partners, including two women, one of whom leads the Banking and Finance practice and the other who leads the Capital Markets practice. In terms of revenues, we were one of the fastest growing European offices in our Firm from 2020 to 2021.
We have also been focused on greening our office. Our building is certified BREEAM Excellent, and we are cutting down on waste. For example, we provide iPads to anyone who wants one in order to discourage printing and instead allow review and mark-up of documents in a digital format. We have reduced total paper use by 35 percent from 2018 to 2021, even as we have grown in size.
In terms of future plans, we continue to consolidate our market leading positions in Corporate and M&A and Real Estate. We are also actively recruiting to create Tax and White Collar practices.
What sectors are hot right now in Romania? What is keeping your lawyers busy?
Green energy continues to be white hot, as does agribusiness. We’ve also been getting an increasing number of government procurement assignments. Of course, technology, media and telecoms (TMT) is also an area we have pegged for growth, together with compliance.
Dentons was one of the co-founders of the Romanian Diversity Chamber of Commerce. What was the motivation to start this project, and what has been the response so far?
With some two dozen members, including household names such as ING Bank, Raiffeisen Bank, Accenture, UiPath, Dow Chemical, Visa, Google, Kaufland, IKEA, Orange, Vodafone, GKN Fokker, Mega Image, Diageo and others, we have made quite a splash as the very first chamber of commerce of its kind in the world. Our mandate is to promote equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) principles in respect of several groups that have been traditionally marginalized from business opportunities and leadership positions in companies, focussing on gender, LGBT+, persons with disabilities and ethnicity. Although the Diversity Chamber was born at the height of the pandemic, we have still managed to generate tremendous interest with online events. We recently held our very first face-to-face event, which was the sponsorship of a play by a Roma director and actress, followed by a reception in her honor. We have since held events focused on LGBT+ in the workplace and persons with disabilities. On 29 June, we will be co-hosting with the EBRD a regional ED&I conference in Bucharest. Attendance is free and we hope to encourage participants from across the region. The theme will be how the current military conflict and the trend toward digitalization are impacting on ED&I. The chief economist of the EBRD will come to Bucharest to deliver the keynote address and the EU Commissioner for Equality will deliver remarks.
Looking five years into the future, what do you see for the Romanian market, and what do you see for Dentons?
As I stated four years ago when I was appointed Managing Partner of Dentons in Romania, we are committed to this market and are here to stay. After a quarter century, we are larger, stronger and better positioned than ever before. Interestingly, I believe the same can be said about the Romanian market. I am hopeful for continued growth and achievement over the next five years.
Perry V. Zizzi is Managing Partner of Dentons Bucharest office, head of the Corporate practice group in Romania and a core member of the Real Estate team. He has over a quarter century of experience advising in the emerging markets of Central and Eastern Europe, Western Europe, the US and elsewhere. He has particular expertise advising private equity clients and he is recognized as a market leader in real estate M&A.