Russian Away: The impact of the Ukraine war on Russian lawyers

June 10, 2022

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Due to the war with Ukraine, Russian lawyers have lost their jobs or hold on to one that they are ashamed of.

What does this mean?

After Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February this year, many Russian lawyers lost faith in their law, their courts and their profession. There have been many anti-war protests taking place in Russia’s major cities which have reportedly been stamped down heavily by police.

For Russian lawyers, with little hope of finding work at home, they try to find work on international projects or appropriate jobs abroad. To demonstrate their opposition to the brutal conflict and to limit their engagement with the country’s economy, most international law firms closed their offices in Russia which left swathes of people facing this issue. It can be a challenge to find work in another country as a lawyer. Law firm’s may not be interested in lawyers who have no experience in the relevant jurisdiction or those with foreign academic qualifications that they’re unfamiliar with.

Why should law firms care?

Law firms should care because the legal world is like a big family. 

Lawyers from all over the world, regardless of their nationality or place of residence, are connected by common values. Many lawyers in Russia are not in favour of the war and are caught between their personal feelings and their own safety if they were to speak up. “People were told overnight to either leave the country and work from Dubai or told that the firm would not support them,” one senior Russian lawyer told Global Insight (an economics forecasting organisation), “their own lives have been broken into pieces.”

There is currently a legal ‘brain drain’ taking place in Russia as highly-qualified legal talent leaves the market. Generally, these moves are made to Istanbul or Dubai as they are generally accessible in terms of cost and availability of visas. “As growing numbers of Russian lawyers are believed to have relocated to Dubai, it’s uncertain what impact this will have on the legal market there, says Robin Abraham, Clifford Chance’s Executive Partner”. If more Russian lawyers were to find roles in these jurisdictions, there could be knock-on impacts on their legal markets too.

As most international law firms have distanced themselves from their Russian clients, some believe that the answer is not so simple. Michael O’Kane, a senior partner at the law firm Peters & Peters in London, says: “I do think that at a time of war in Europe, when there is a threat of a Third World War, that it is understandable that law firms would not want to be seen to be acting for clients who are participating in, facilitating in some way or supporting the war effort,”. ‘But to cast all Russians as having “dirty money” or being in some way complicit is totally wrong.” As large transactions and complex disputes continue to raise elements of Russian legal issues in the future, it remains to be seen how international firms will engage with Russian legal counsel for advice on these matters.

In a globalised world, lawyers need each other, and this doesn’t seem to be changing.

Guest report written for LittleLaw by Sasha

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