It’s been four years since we sat down with Octavian Popescu, Managing Partner at Popescu & Asociatii, and discussed what was at that time the new firm’s perspective and its future plans. We reached out again, on the firm’s Fourth Anniversary, to see how those plans have been progressing and chart the firm’s development.
CEELM: Let’s start with an overview – what has been the highlight of the past four years?
Popescu: Our growth. From the very beginning, we started as a full-service law firm to cover all the legal needs of our clients. Our significant growth was based on well-established consultancy and dispute resolution practices, as well as a solid department of Prevention, Compliance, and White-Collar Crime (a practice constantly on the rise in Romania). Equally, we have developed the Restructuring and Insolvency department, where we registered significant progress in numbers, which overall enabled us to develop in a balanced and uniform way.
For consultancy, for example, our practices have grown across the board. From corporate, banking, energy, competition, or real estate to life sciences, labor, TMT, and environment a significant growth in the number of projects led to their inevitable development. And we saw an increase in the litigation and arbitration practices, both in number of mandates and their complexity. Alongside our well-thought-out recruitment policy from the onset, this growth currently places us among the strongest litigation teams in the market. Considering the short timeframe, we’re quite happy with this result.
I am proud and grateful to the entire team that, together, we have succeeded in achieving important precedents, both in terms of legal practice and of evolution as brand, visibility, and recognition in the local and international legal market. We’ve garnered multiple awards along the way – which honor and empower us at the same time. They are a testament to the level of legal services we provide along with our financial growth in a highly competitive market.
We have worked constantly and with perseverance and remained busy because the business sector has been doing great. During the COVID-19 pandemic, at first, the industries seemed to be confused and preoccupied by the new work context, not knowing how to proceed further. However, after a few months, everything went back to normal, and we noted an increased speed and desire for work. For example, 2021 was the year with the highest number of M&A transactions in Romania – compared to the past ten to 15 years since the last crisis in 2008.
In terms of our overview, without false modesty, our firm’s workload and publicity have been escalating year by year, which led to an increase in mandates, in members of the team, and in every other aspect related to the law firm’s activity in the business industry. Compared to 2019 when we first started, we tripled the number of lawyers, the business, and even the turnover. So, the highlight must be growth. Strong, stable, and recognized growth.
CEELM: And what was the secret behind that growth?
Popescu: It’s no secret, but multiple factors working together. First, we have a policy centered on the principle that each client has their own Partner assigned – who always oversees their projects.
Second, a highly specialized team of lawyers can bring the best value for money to clients. We started from that idea and have been proven right. We were not conditioned by the number of lawyers, but by their ability to be specialized in each field. It’s my personal belief that a devoted and specialized lawyer, with know-how and abilities, can be more efficient and practical than an entire team of lawyers without those attributes. Accordingly, we chose to grow organically to a healthy level, with specialized attorneys and a team of friends, working side by side even 12-16 hours each day. We are spending more time with each other than with our families, so we are like a real family here.
Third, we launched as an integrated services law firm (we spin-off from another Romanian law firm in 2019) where a significant part of the team had been working together for maybe 15 to 20 years. So, both the setup of the law firm and its organization were easier than in other cases.
Fourth, our development was not limited to the existing legal team but was also targeted at extending the team by including other lawyers and having some lateral hires each year. We are very confident in our colleagues since all the recruitments carried out over time were based on the same set of common values which the existing legal team already possessed: earnestness, determination, and professionalism. It is my personal belief that a relevant indicator for measuring our success and value in the marketplace is the number of lawyers willing to work with us. And I say this with joy – there are a lot of attorneys – and we continuously receive CVs from extraordinary lawyers with whom we are happy to share the same enthusiasm.
Fifth, we don’t target lawyers based on their years of experience in the practice and we don’t hire them for specific projects or project-based work. Also, we don’t target a specific moment of the year for hires – or a specific practice – rather we are always hiring when we find somebody good enough. Clients will always follow a good lawyer and not their business card.
Finally, it helped that we can’t complain about activity in Romania: almost all industries have come to maturity. Our role in the entire process is to serve our clients, irrespective of the problem they have.
In terms of business, our initial plans aimed to develop the clientele that followed us and to expand it with new names that carry out their activity in Romania, whether they are local companies or foreign investors. To succeed we obviously had to demonstrate the standard we claim in terms of quality and efficiency. I think that today you cannot survive in the business law market without consistently complying with the criteria of legal excellence, customer orientation, and quality services.
If I had to focus on just one thing – the secret to thriving when faced with stiff competition – it would be having a well-founded and united team that works as an integrated whole. A business that does not focus on people cannot have a future: it will fail sooner or later.
CEELM: Throughout these four years, what have you been proudest of? And what are the biggest challenges you had to overcome?
Popescu: There are many aspects that we can be proud of in recent years, from the awards won to the success achieved in certain projects, from the degree of client satisfaction to the growth of the client portfolio. However, it matters more how you relate to changes and how you maintain direction, determination, and ascent. In other words, the response is simple: with considerable earnestness. More precisely, if you want to stay at the top level and be determined and responsible, you must be reliable and have strong ethical conduct. Most notably, our claims had to be supported by evidence, not just promises.
Our first big projects came naturally, by setting that high level of expectation. Now, we are proud of our amazing team formed over these years and the extraordinary synergies created between the departments during the development of the projects. In general terms, our profession suffers from a couple of afflictions, including failing to understand that, as opposed to an individual, a team can do better, go further, be more efficient, and attract bigger projects as well as stronger mandates – plus its members grow along the way.
In terms of lessons learned, I think we are exactly where we knew we would be. It may seem unusual, but we didn't have any obstacles to overcome: no mistakes were made and there were no unforeseen issues. In other words, from the very beginning, we started with a powerful concept of IT integration – so we were well prepared for the pandemic.
Still, we strongly dislike the remote work models. Aside from the mandatory lockdown, we have been working in the office from day one, as being absent meant, from our point of view, difficult communication. We frequently hear, not only from law firms, that due to remote working the team spirit is eroding. And for this reason, that's another ground rule in our firm: no one is allowed to hold a grudge.
Summarizing, I believe that the most important asset of a firm is its team: if members get along well with each other, then the activities work more efficiently and harmoniously.
CEELM: Speaking of the team, tell us about its evolution. How did you get to where you are now?
Popescu: We started the firm with 15 lawyers out of which four Partners and our growth was constant. The numbers were adjusted frequently and now we have 40 lawyers and seven Partners, from one to two years’ experience (the juniors) to more than 40 years of experience, covering all practices and all industries.
In other words, we evolved step by step – but with firm steps – considering that the stability of the evolution is essential for the durability of the team and, especially, that of the business. From the perspective of the team, we’ve constantly expanded, with each lawyer who joined us being, in part, an important representative of the firm.
An example in this respect is our recent appointment in the management team, Law Professor Gheorghe Buta, whose reputation speaks for itself. He was a natural addition to the team as we have a long friendship. He is a true mentor for many generations of professionals, and his arrival on board is an extraordinary and unparalleled edge, considering the expansion of the team and client portfolio, but also the complexity and magnitude of the local and international arbitration files that we currently manage. It is a pleasure and honor to have him on our side. We are 100% convergent on developing both the business and profession and we are on the same page in terms of earnestness.
Last, but not least, we are not stopping the expansion here – we look forward to welcoming other professionals. This is a key to our success – we would not accept having a field in which we’re unable to respond – therefore, we always look for outstanding professionals to join our team.
CEELM: With four years under your belt, what else is in the pipeline for Popescu & Asociatii?
Popescu: We want to successfully follow through on our plans: to develop the team and client portfolio, as well as business and revenue. We are working on numerous challenging projects the development of which requires a lot of attention and creativity; therefore, we don't have much time to rest, but we like this rhythm. Honestly, I can't even imagine how it could be otherwise.
Many extremely active areas keep us alert, whether it is White-Collar Crime, M&A, Banking & Finance, or Energy, but the firm's development or future must not be influenced by fashionable areas. Rather – our recurring conclusion – to be successful we must provide premium services to our actual clients. In terms of our profession, we believe that being good enough is not enough. Clients need not only legal advice but a much higher level of support.
I have learned years ago that general business knowledge is not sufficient – you must know the client’s business, its progress, and the industry sector at large, with trends and key players. We aim to continue to provide those tailored services to our clients.
In addition, referring to the future, we have great plans and goals on our list, both for 2023 and for the next years. We will continue to do our best, offer premium services, and grow. As both the legal field and the industries we work for are in continuous transformation – while the economic context is a very dynamic one – it is important to be up to date with all the changes, always coming up with the best and most innovative solutions in favor of our clients and considering our community when working on projects with impact on society.
Certainly, all those objectives can only be achieved with the help of people and, on the occasion of the firm's anniversary, I want to thank all my colleagues. I appreciate the dedication of our team to the lawyer's profession as well as the professionalism with which any challenge is treated, regardless of its complexity.