NRCC Member in Spotlight - Portnoi & Associates

Thu | 15.09.2016

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Meet Alis Patlageanu, co-founder of Portnoi & Associates, a team of young professionals sharing the same traditional values of lawyers’ profession: independency, trust and integrity. 

1. Dear Alis, please introduce yourself shortly to our members. 
Ciprian Portnoi, Ana-Maria Portnoi and myself are the co-founders of Portnoi & Associates, which was incorporated in April 2010. By the time of incorporation, me and Ciprian already had been working for 9 years in another law firm when we decided to continue our work in the new formula. 

Portnoi & Associates is mainly focused on four dimensions: major infrastructure projects, corporate & commercial (both legal advisory and litigations), European funds and public procurement, but there are other legal fields where we achieved important and relevant expertize (such as labor law, pharma and medical sectors etc.) I am currently coordinating the European funds and public procurement sectors, whilst Ciprian, who is also the managing partner, is coordinating the major infrastructure projects and the corporate and commercial area and Ana manages pharma and medical sectors.

 2. How did the Romanian business law market change in the last 5 years? 
Even if it could be interpreted as a contradictio in terminis, since I refer to a traditional and conservative profession, the word which probably describes most accurately the business law market in the last few years is “dynamic”. I do not refer to the international law firms which generally follow the international standards and are closer to the structure and organizational rules of a corporation, but to the local, the genuine Romanian law firms.

It seems that the Romanian lawyers are trying to find their own identity in the market and to be more flexible and adjustable to the dynamics of the economy trends. The challenging times we all experienced in the years that followed the 2008 storm, taught us that the law firms that were more likely to survive were those most flexible and willing to adapt. I think that was the period in the recent history of the business law market when we understood that Darwin was right: „it is not the strongest of the species that survives (…but) the one that is most adaptable to change.” Maybe this was the turning point in the evolution of most of the law firms which re-invented themselves in the past five years – some law firms decided to open their doors to other fields of expertize (for instance, civil law specialized firms created new departments specialized in the criminal law), new small firms arisen after their partners – former partners in large law firms - decided to find their own path with new incorporated law firms and be more flexible to the constantly changing market, some had the courage to step unbeaten paths, such as legal advice in the European funding area (and now I speak from our own experiences).
 
 
3. What was the most profitable market segment in 2016, so far?
If we look at the international market, health technology, technology services and finance are most likely to be the winners of the most profitable market segments in 2016 so far. Also, we can foresee a strong year for consumer services and consumer non durables. If we refer to the Romanian market, I think the most profitable segments were the real estate, telecommunication and energy sectors. From our law firm perspective, I would say that the leader of our turnover generator in 2016 is the real estate, followed closely by the major infrastructure projects, which were re-initiated this year, once the new European Funding programs for 2014-2020 were launched.

It is worth noting that Romania posted the highest growth of the gross domestic product in the European Union economy, according to the official data released by Eurostat last month. Second-quarter gross domestic product gained a preliminary 6 percent from a year earlier. Our country’s economic growth advanced at the fastest pace since 2008 and should be explained by a booming consumption, among tax cuts and wage increases. 

4. Romania moves closer to getting emerging market status on FTSE index. What main economic opportunities can you foresee? 
In the last years, the Bucharest Stock Exchange together with the Romanian authorities have made sustained efforts and reforms in order to help the domestic market to be upgraded to Emerging Market Status. As far as I know, we are just a little step behind in terms of the liquidity, but we meet the other eight criteria imposed which is a big success per se. A promotion into a superior category for our capital market by FTSE, MCSI, S&P Dow or STOXX will have a substantial impact not only to the value of trade and size of companies listed on the stock exchange, but also to the rapidity of access for investors on the market.

The Romanian capital market offers great opportunities, especially as there is just a matter of time before it will be upgraded from a Frontier to an Emerging Market. The IT&C sector can become a true “hub” with regional impact, but there are many other sectors with very high investment potential, like energy, agriculture or research and development. I would say that the real estate and infrastructure sectors may be of particular interest for the potential investors. If we look at the current index of the emerging markets, regardless of cap size, defensive characteristics —companies with less economic sensitivity and more stable earnings profiles — are showing strength for the year, as are Value companies. If this trend continues, these companies will be potential target for interested investors.

 5. Speaking about the future – what are Portnoi & Associates plans for 2017?
We intend to open our area of practice towards new fields of law, especially since part of them are strongly connected to the needs of our clients, whilst others are to be part of the future business environment: IT&C, fiscal consultancy and green economy.

6. You are also member of the NRCC Agriculture Task Force. What triggered you to join and what are the main challenges of your clients?
I strongly believe that Romania has a great still unexplored potential in this field and may be one of the successful business stories in an era when the concern raised by the new macro risks of climate change, resource depletion and environmental erosion already triggered the new concept of green economy. I believe that there are still a lot of space of improvement of the current administration of funds and financial incentives, as well as of the legal framework in the agricultural area. And I also believe that the knowledge shared by the experts involved in fields of economy related to agricultural, in workshops such as Agri Task Force of NRCC, could be an efficient starting point to acknowledge the problems and to identify the solutions. The main challenges we encounter through the experiences of our clients were mainly related to the identification of real owners of the agricultural fields, legal limitations imposed to the exploitation of the land and difficulties encountered in accessing the funds.

7. On 19th of September, You are going to be a guest speaker within a NRCC Knowledge Center on Debt Collection. Is collecting debts in court an options that Romanian companies are considering? Is there an increase in comparison with 5 years ago? 
The court option is generally considered by the clients as the “last resort” on the disputes path. We always encouraged our clients to follow the amicable settlement way, where the circumstances allowed, as the court claims could be cost and time consuming. Therefore we work together with our clients in order to help them take the best decision in terms of cost and benefits to end an existing dispute. In some cases, going directly to court is not the clients’ option, but it is their advisors’ and, in many cases, it proves as not being the smartest or the most efficient manner to settle a dispute. The number of court cases having as their object debt collection might have increased in the last few years, but mainly because of the recovery of the bad loans. As for the commercial litigations, I think an important index for the health of a business environment is the number of bankruptcies - the statistics say that the number of companies which went bankrupt in 2014 was half of those which went bankrupt in 2013 and their number slightly decreased in 2015. As the insolvency procedure (followed by bankruptcy) is usually the last weapon a creditor uses after the regular court claims fail, we can assert that the number of commercial court claims decreased.

8. How can companies prevent this situation, from the lawyer’s point of view? 
A court claim could be regarded as a disease which can be avoided if the patient consults a doctor when it is not too late. Prevention in this field means: focus on the contract design and preliminary contractual negotiations and try to obtain as many guarantees as you can.
 
9. What should a company know before prosecuting a debtor? 
I think the most important for a potential plaintiff is to understand the risks and the consequences of a court claim, in terms of resources to be consumed (financial, time etc) vs. possible outcomes and to balance the two before making the decision.

10. In the end, please a thought for NRCC members.
I am very confident in the potential of the Romanian economy and I think that business development cannot exist outside a successful Chamber activity. I believe that the Netherlands Romanian Chamber of Commerce activity can become a vector of performance, a catalyst for entrepreneurship in order to increase business competitiveness. Focusing on principles as sharing, working together, promoting and advocacy, NRCC offers the ideal medium to make the necessary critical connections to further grow and develop our businesses. I also think that the greater our involvement is, the bigger the return on our investment will be. I wish you to have the power and strength to accomplish all your projects, but also the ambition and determination to start new ones.

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