Leadership lessons for lawyers often focus on how to face up to tough times and take difficult decisions, but few managing partners will have had to square up to the challenges faced by Dmytro Aleshko since February 2022.
He heads the Ukrainian law firm Legal Alliance and has managed to withstand the turmoil of the Russian invasion, with the threat to life and home, while supporting and caring for staff, clients and community over the last year.
Life sciences lawyers based in Kyiv, the firm has an international reputation, with rankings in listings such as the Legal 500 EMEA for work that includes intellectual property, competition, corporate & commercial, dispute resolution, tax, employment, and criminal law. Known for their work in pharmaceutical regulation they initiated foundation of the pharmaceutical law committee of the Ukrainian Bar Association, and act in an advisory role to the Ministry of Health of Ukraine.
When the full-scale Russian offensive first broke, Dmytro drove his wife and young children to the border of Kyiv. They continued to Warsaw, where they have remained ever since, while Dmytro drove back to Kyiv, where he spoke with staff, offering them his support, whatever their decision.
“By lunchtime on the first day there were explosions across Kyiv, with one rocket exploding close to the office,” said Dmytro. As a result, 70 per cent of the staff left Kyiv and the country in the immediate aftermath of the invasion. Half of the staff were women, many of whom wanted to take children to safety, while five of the men, including two of the partners, were called up or decided to volunteer to fight for their country.
The firm froze all work and allowed all staff to choose whether to work, paying part-salary to those who were unable to do so, whatever the reason. Dmytro promised that the firm would continue to operate and he would try to organise work for staff in some way, while committing to staying in Kyiv himself. He has stayed by that promise ever since and the team know that he will be at his desk every morning, however many hours of shelling or drone attacks have taken place overnight.
The freeze on new work was lifted once it became obvious that Russia was not going to succeed in occupying Kyiv in Spring 2022. Some of the firm’s clients started calling, both Ukrainian and international, to ask if the firm was ready to resume work.
By late summer, nearly all staff were back working, the shelling had significantly decreased, restaurants were open and money was coming in from clients. At this point, the partners decided to raise salaries for everyone by 30%, creating a surge of positive motivation to take the firm forward.
And by the end of autumn, the firm was back to pre-war revenue figures in Ukrainian hryvnia, which was achieved by adopting a strategy to draw in smaller tasks, rather than complex projects.
The firm has diversified some activity to help it survive through tough times, but in general has remained focused on pharmaceutical work, as medicines have unavoidably remained an active sphere of law during the war.
And while the situation is Kyiv is once again subject to disrupted by regular drone and rockets attacks, the firm continues to bring in new work, and is once again taking on larger projects.
It is also active in its community work. The partners committed to supporting the families of staff fighting on the front line from the outset; they also provide medical devices and medicines to the front line and support the families of those who have been killed. They have given pro bono guidance to the Ministry of Health on legal issues arising from the war.
Now, Dmytro is hoping to be able to attend the Rome congress and meet his Eurojuris colleagues. During this period of martial law in Ukraine, men aged 18 to 60 are not allowed to leave Ukraine as they must be available to fight in case of mobilisation.
It speaks to the power of collective support and building collaborative connections that the firm decided to re-join the Eurojuris International network during a full-scale military offensive. While the firm may not be able to fully participate now, they are keen to set things in motion, in anticipation of a post-war era where they can work with international connections and investors to re-build the country. Already, counsel Lidiia Sanzharovska has joined a Jurismus congress, attending the Oslo event.
Presently, the country is working towards harmonisation with European legislation, in readiness for when the country joins the EU. It also continues to tackle corruption, following the ousting of former President Yanukovych after mass street protests erupted in November 2013 when he announced that he would not proceed with the long-anticipated association with the EU.
“We want to create a basis for successful future co-operation with Eurojuris members,” Dmytro says. “And with those interested in investing in Ukraine. The situation will change a lot when the war ends, but for now we just have a message to everyone: remember in the days to come, Ukraine will be a new successful region in Europe, especially when we become a member of the European Union.”
Dmytro Aleshko : aleshko(at)l-a.com.ua
- Eurojuris members can hear more from internationally-renowned lawyer Dmytro Aleshko at the Eurojuris Congress in Rome, taking place October 2023.