Georgiev, Todorov & Co. Law Offices brought claims on behalf of Acibadem City Clinic Tokuda Hospital against the Bulgarian National Health Insurance Fund (the “NHIF”) concerning payment for medical care…
“The smart and practical person will seek advice from his attorney more often,” says the Managing Partner in Georgiev, Todorov & Co.
Attorney-at-Law Todorov, the number of attorneys in the country has increased several times during the years of transition. A lot of people speak about clogging up of the profession. How do you imagine its future?
When I studied in the Legal Faculty of the Sofia University, our class consisted of 150 people and there were no other legal faculties. It is normal that some colleagues nostalgically remember the time before the changes when the competition was weaker. However, market economy, along with the increase of the number of legal professionals, has led to a multiple increase in the search for legal services. This is particularly evident in the sphere of the commercial entities. But the market reacted to the increase in the number of graduating legal professionals and the admission in some legal faculties was noticeably reduced.
Nowadays, the work conditions of the attorneys as a whole are much better. The development of legal informational systems and internet technologies created a revolution in the legal profession that is much more appreciable in comparison with most other professions. Before, a lot of time was lost in the research of texts of legislative acts, court practice and scientific publictations. Today, this only takes minutes. Good communication technologies provide legal professionals with the possibility to work from their home, or for that matter, from any part of the world. Conference calls create an excellent opportunity for team work. This saves a colossal amount of time and provides the legal professional with an opportunity to concentrate mainly on the legal work, rather than on more mundane issues.
In international arbitration cases, we also notice the tendency of carrying out more and more video conference meetings, which saves a lot of time, as well as financial resources, for our clients. More and more legal systems allow the courts to implement video conference hearings. Even though this comes with a certain delay in our country there are very good legal conditions for the implementation of the electronic justice and the electronic form of the administrative process in its stage before the administrative authorities, as well. It would be great if the Unified Portal for Access to the Electronic Administrative Services and the relevant electronic systems developed by the Agency for Electronic Management are adapted as soon as possible with regards to the needs of the electronic justice.
Without any doubt, technologies support the work of legal professionals, but don’t they reduce the significance of their role?
Technologies can only expand the opportunities that legal professionals have. There is no chance, in the near future, of creating any software or computer that could solve legal cases.
Law contains the rules of life and business. That is why the role of the legal professional is irreplaceable in any activity in the country that is governed by the rule of law. The more Bulgaria is governed by the rule of law, the more necessary legal advice will be, because compliance with the law will become inevitable. I think that, as a member of the European Union, the road of our country shall certainly lead precisely to the construction of a country governed more and more by the rule of law.
A greater part of the graduating colleagues not only have a great use of English, but speak other foreign languages as well. Young lawyers work excellently with informational technologies. More and more colleagues combine the graduation from a legal faculty in Bulgaria with a Master’s Degree and specializations in prestige foreign universities. All of this provides vaster opportunities for success in Bulgaria, in the structures of the European Union and in other countries as well. At the same time, this provides us with the opportunity to offer complex legal services which take into account not only the national legal frame, but the European regulation as well. The consultations with regards to the European Union law provided by Bulgarian legal professionals and law firms constitute a huge opportunity for development.
We already have great experts in this sphere, who provide opinions on draft legislation aiming at the transposing of Directives of the European Union; who participate in preliminary ruling procedures in which Bulgaria acts in the capacity of the requesting party, and thus they contribute to the establishment of trust in our legal system. This has a significant meaning in view of international cooperation in certain cases. For example, our law firm represents a client in an administrative case, in the scope of which the Administrative Court of Sofia – City filed a reference for preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice of the European Union for the interpretation of the Directive regarding the internal energy market. The Bulgarian courts, and especially the administrative ones, file a great number of requests for preliminary ruling, on the basis of which the Court of the European Union renders its ruling, and its ruling usually concerns key issues that contribute to the development of the law of the European Union. Our law firm stood before the Court of Justice of the European Union by participating in the written and oral stage of the proceedings and it provided legal arguments, which were also acknowledged and supported by the European Commission within the scope of the statement it provided . The opinion of the Advocate General is expected in May and afterwards, the ruling of CJEU; whereas the issue is of great importance for certain aspects of the internal energy market, to which the participation of France, as a country that has legislation close to our legislation with regards to the matter concerned in the reference for preliminary ruling , is another testament.
Many of the top English law firms have established the widespread use of English law in business in Asia (including China and Vietnam) and in Africa. Irrespective of the fact that in its significant part it is not in written form, but is based on precedents. It is a big challenge for the law firms from the countries in the European Union to establish European law in some of the legal spheres in which it is well systematized. The development of the European law makes this opportunity more and more realistic.
Many Bulgarian legal professionals graduate in Germany, France and England and they often acquire qualification to practice as lawyers there as well. This provides Bulgarian law firms with the possibility to specialize in outsourcing services in cooperation with law firms from these countries. This is thecurrent practice in other countries too.
That is why I am optimistic regarding the future of the legal profession and the profession of the attorney in particular.
How would you characterize the strong assets of your law firm?
I think that the main advantage of our law firm is the balance between consultancy work and legal representation. When, in a potential case, you have to defend the legal work that you have done yourself, this is certainly an advantage. Thus, the client does not see a dilution of liability and feels more confident. International arbitration cases are one of the strong assets of our law firm.
What were the challenges that you faced during the last few years in international arbitration cases?
This may be as a result of luck too, but until now we have won all of these cases, while at the same time we, as a law firm, may be dealing with the largest number of such cases. We even successfully defended the the biggest international arbitration case concerning Bulgaria – regarding the Belene Nuclear Power Plant. Quite recently, we finished another international case of the same caliber . I think that our work and the results of the international arbitration cases are very good objective criteria for evaluation of the legal work of the attorneys in our law firm, because there no one could possibly say that non-legal arguments were used. Just now, we were attracted by a huge foreign law firm for legal representation in a case in a neighboring country in which case the law of that country will be applicable.
Our clients prefer to maintain a high level of confidentiality with regards to arbitration cases, both on the topic of participating in such cases and with regards to the outcomes, irrespective of whether it ended with a settlement, or or whether it was successfully defended in court. And we highly respect the confidentiality of our internationally renowned clients.
What is the basis on which the relations between the attorneys in your law firm are built?
All of us are people and as such, all of us are equal; respectively, each of us should treat each person with respect, as an equal, irrespective of his position within the firm. Naturally, in any organization everyone has certain obligations. But the main idea is the colleagues not to be divided into superiors and subordinates, but to abide by strict rules creating good functional relations between them. We have over a hundred pages of internal rules and due to this fact almost no conflicts arise, because our basic relations are set out therein. Everybody’s impression is that the young attorneys feel very comfortable in such environment, in which there is a clear distribution of obligations and responsibilities. Our law firm uses the services of many external attorneys as well. Thus, we can use the services of excellent specialists in the respective field. Moreover, that way the work load of the internal team is relatively constant.
We maintain excellent relations with almost all of our colleagues who have worked with us and after that have followed their own path of development. We are glad that amongst the first 30 law firms in the country there are seven managing partners who have worked with us for a long time. This goes to show that all of them have been well trained. We are satisfied that practically every one who has worked with us does not hesitate to share this fact in his CV. However, I believe that our law firm remains the better place for work.
What are the necessary qualities that the “good” attorney should have?
First, this includes the unarguable things – he should have a knowledge of the law, a will to work, communicational skills, team work skills, specialization in a certain area, as well as knowledge of at least one foreign language in addition to English. But these qualities apply to a lot of other professions too.
I would add a few specific qualities which in my practice I found to be especially important. The person should be stable. The profession of the attorney is very mentally demanding. When you deal with a case, the outcome does not always depend solely on the work of the attorney – it often depends on a third party, who resolves the case. The successful outcome of the work of a consultant – the closing of a deal, for example, also does not generally depend on the attorneys. This becomes a problem, when the law firm works with several big clients and one of them withdraws as such client due to acquisition from another company, for example. Discovering clients requires a lot more individual and specific efforts than the commercial activity, where common marketing means apply.
Due to this psychological strain, after a certain number of years some colleagues burn out. They lack enthusiasm and they do not have the will to work. They prefer someone else to do their job for them and they would rather just review it, and not even in detail. They do not have the will to fight for bringing new clients in. In such cases, if the attorney does not have the will to set new challenges for his current job, he should change the law firm or even the profession. This is better for the law firm as well. Legal professionals can work in many fields.
It would be great if the attorney does well both in his legal work and in attracting clients by using his good communication skills. It would be even better, if he had a vision what the most successful legal construction for resolving of an issue would be. But few attorneys can do that and such people not always have the time to study all legal issues in detail. In order to be a visionary with regards to the resolving of a legal issue, one must have legal knowledge, experience and combinatory skills. Each leader in a law firm must have the skills and the boldness to be a visionary.
Finding time to attract clients often affects legal knowledge. That is why in most cases it is important for the attorney to determine which is his stronger asset – attracting clients or doing legal work. Of course, in order to attract clients, one must have basic legal knowledge in the relevant area.
As I said earlier, the optimal situation is where the person who provided consultations is also the legal representative under the case related to the consulting, because the applicable substantive law is the same and thus liability cannot be diluted. This model of work is applied more and more around the world. In view of the modern means of communication, oral proceedings are not so highly applicable. Still there are attorneys who do not like participating in court proceedings. If a person is in such situation, he should not force himself, but should provide services only as a consultant. One should not ruin his life by working a job that he finds unpleasant.
How would you evaluate the relations between attorneys in Bulgaria?
In my opinion the members of the attorneys’ guild more and more often realize that they have common interests and that we are in need of good and close collegial relations. In particular, we too maintain excellent relations with most of the top law firms. Both my colleagues and I have deep respect for the successes of attorneys from other law firms and we have admired such successes. A true professional should not allow himself to become antagonized against the attorney of the other party by any means. After all, the clients are the ones that are suing each other and the attorneys merely provide professional services. At the beginning of my carrier I have also been tempted to work myself up against a colleague against whom I have lost a case. Losing is not pleasant, but the colleague on the other side was just doing his job. By developing professional consciousness less and less colleagues will take professional clashes personally.
What do you think – will there be consolidation of law firms?
Not only in big countries, but in the smaller ones as well there are larger law firms in comparison with Bulgaria. The advantages of this are undisputable – vaster specialization, more equal distribution of the workload, better opportunities for education, bigger development perspectives, less accompanying expenses and less expenses for the use of modern computer systems. In Bulgaria, however, there is one specific feature – many people prefer to lead the action. However, despite people’s wishes, the market will give advantage to the consolidated law firms. Thus, even though slower and harder, consolidation will become a fact in Bulgaria, even if not to the extent in the developed countries.
What are the biggest obstacles attorneys face in their work in our country?
In legal and technical sense – the far too frequent amendments in legislation. But, on the other hand, this is a challenge for the attorneys and, to be honest, it makes them more sought after. The problem refers directly to the investors – they need predictability. However, frequent amendments create unpredictability. Less investors means a problem for everyone.
Secondly, there is the systematic non-compliance of the administration with the legal acts that have entered into force. The court binds the administrative authority to issue the act, but it issues another one later or just refrains from implementing the court decision. It is hard for the enforcement officers to impose fines on government officials. It is too complicated for the court to impose a fine for the non-performance of the court decision and many government officials are not affected by such fines. If there are any government officials convicted for non-performance of a court decision, I haven’t heard of them. In principle, the administrative proceedings require the act to be issued by the court on the merits; however, due to work overload, the court is incapable of doing so and it uses the opportunity to make an exception – when the issuance of the act by the court presents a difficulty.
By contrast with the developed countries, in our country the attorneys’ guild still has not managed to protect its interests in the best way. We need a lot more determination and unity in defending our common values.
There is also some obvious nonsense – the question of why the minimal fees for the attorneys for administrative proceedings, which are calculated on percentage basis, are much lower than the ones for civil cases, still remains unexplainable to me. Аdministrative law is in no way more elementary. On the contrary, hundreds time more legal acts apply to it and the legal constructions are not simpler at all.
The tendency of overregulation observed in the whole European Union applies to Bulgaria as well. Some of the most interesting and challenging cases that require legal creativity and combinatory skills are not related to disputes between equal subjects, i.e. between citizens and commercial companies, but are related to disputes between the state – as one party, and the business and the citizens, as the other party. Still no proper place for the resolving of such disputes in an amicable manner has been established, even though this is set out in the legislation. The amendments in the Administrative Procedure Code which entered into force on the January 1, 2019, enhanced the legal regulation of the agreement in administrative proceedings, as well as the legal institute of the administrative contract. However, the state is still unprepared and hesitant with regards to the use of these legally regulated mechanisms. In such environment, the court is expected to implement its legally protective function and not simply to adopt simple legal syllogism.
There are cases of competition between the court and the legislative authorities, in which cases the courts provide one legal solution by implementing their interpretive activity and afterwards the legislative authority annuls it by implementing an amendment of the legislation. This is a dynamic collision of principles and values, within the scope of which the business and the citizens need be more and more informed and well-advised. It is precisely in this spot that the well-prepared attorney could shine, whereas such attorney should not only have good legal knowledge, but also has to be adequate, keep up with modern tendencies and be far-sighted. These are qualities that are developed over time, with the experience that aggregates with practice of the profession of the attorney.
How do you react when a client with a failing case seeks your services?
In my opinion, the attorney has to explain to the client in a fair manner that his case is losing and should convince him to avoid it in the first place. Thus, the attorney wins the client’s trust in the long term. Also, this way the attorney will spare both the client and himself the disappointment of the loss of the case.
Good and clear legislation and increase in the number of interpretative judgments are the efficient mechanism for unification of court practice. And unified practice makes dealing with failing cases pointless. Unfortunately, the number of interpretative judgments is still insufficient. The lack of a more efficient and uncomplicated mechanism for unification of the practice at the level of court divisions is also a problem.
What satisfies you the most in your job?
At least to me, my job as a legal professional is not limited only to the work of the attorney. I put aside a serious amount of time for scientific work. The textbook that prof. Kino Lazarov and I created together is currently the most popular textbook on administrative proceedings. For one week in October last year, it even was the second best selling book of all books, including fictional literature. After an invitation, I participated in all of the meetings of the legal commission with the National Assembly with regards to the discussion of the latest amendments in the Administrative Procedure Code. In my opinion, this was one exceptionally vast discussion, which included both representatives of the legal doctrine and the administrative courts and the publicity as well, and it gave me great professional satisfaction.
Over 25 years of activity in the field of supporting disadvantaged children has brought satisfaction to all of the colleagues in our law firm. Nothing can be compared to the joy of the children from the attention and the care. Our law firm has funded many student competitions, study groups, the publication of many legal researches, as well as scientific conferences, internships and trainings of Bulgarian legal professionals, including legal professionals we did not know at that time, but who showed the necessary qualities to be admitted in leading universities around the world and who had financial difficulties to make use of these opportunities. Any capable legal professional should be supported. We were one of the leading sponsors of the complete renovation of 292 and 272 auditory halls in Sofia University. We have often supported financially people who needed medical treatment. At least for me and for most of my colleagues, these things are no less important than our work.