Top lawyer: Some opportunities only come during revolutionary times

Specialisation was frowned upon in the beginnings of commercial law in Slovakia, but we knew we had to specialise to provide quality, says Daniel Soukenik.

David SoukeníkDavid Soukeník (Source: Courtesy of Soukeník - Štrpka)

After the fall of the totalitarian regime, attorneys were used to taking care of all kinds of legal issues. Specialisation was unheard of and undesirable, yet David Soukeník and his partner Peter Štrpka decided it was the methodology they wanted to pursue. Today, young lawyers should narrow down their focus even more and aim for an interdisciplinary approach, Soukeník says in an interview with The Slovak Spectator.

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One of the two founding partners of the Soukeník - Štrpka law firm that regularly places among the largest in Slovakia looks back at how the legal profession developed in Slovakia, along with the current pains of the judiciary.

TSS: Slovakia now marks 30 years since the fall of the totalitarian regime. How has your profession changed since then?

David Soukeník (DS): I graduated from university in 1999, but I have been aware of the significant changes the Velvet Revolution brought. As for our profession, after the revolution the professional chambers were founded, first the Slovak Bar Association followed by the chamber of commercial lawyers, which later merged with the Slovak Bar Association. The breakup of Czechoslovakia was another significant milestone, after which many laws and institutions were made specifically for Slovakia, different from the Czechoslovak ones. A quarter century later, there is already a significant difference between Slovakia and Czechia in this respect. This opened the door to the foundation of new local offices.

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TSS: Let’s look at the development in Slovakia. You started your studies in Bratislava in 1993.

DS: As a student, I started working in a law firm, owned by a married couple who were judges-turned-attorneys. Back then, the legal profession was still only being formed. Former prosecutors, judges, and company lawyers were the ones who went into the business. The standard was one, at most two attorneys working in a small office. They needed to handle everything, including penal law, civil law, and commercial law. Offices had a junior associate, a clerk and maybe a student.

With Peter Štrpka we decided to provide legal services differently. We wanted to have a one-stop-shop company that would provide all kinds of legal services to our clients. We understood that if we wanted to provide a quality service, we had to specialise. We were therefore forced to recruit other lawyers at that time. Hence, we excluded penal law from our services, which was unheard of and unthinkable for old-fashioned attorneys.

We focused on businesses and also serviced clients in the regions. We knew we did not have a history like the big global law firms, but we did not want to be a small two-person law firm limited to Bratislava. In a way we narrowed our world down to Slovakia, but we wanted to cater to all of Slovakia with our legal services.

TSS: Wasn’t it tempting to join a big global company?

DS: I agree that the first big global law firms were already arriving to our market, but we had such a quick start that by the time they arrived, I didn’t feel the need to work for somebody else. We wanted to work for ourselves, and we learned from our own mistakes. In addition, we did not copy the practices of big foreign companies; our work passed its own natural development. Today, our structure is similar to those big companies, but we developed it out of our internal needs. I now understand how the big companies arrived at their structure and rules, making it easier for us to apply them nowadays.

TSS: But there was some inspiration from abroad.

DS: Sure, I don’t deny others inspired us, and not just the foreign companies. When we started, there were some larger firms in Slovakia, with 10-15 lawyers. On the Slovak market, we considered them big and relevant. Our aim was to become like these firms, but very soon we outgrew them, mainly in the number of lawyers.

I do respect the work of the one-man-show law firms that are much needed on the market because they provide services for a different kind of clientele, probably also for lower prices. The one-man-show category usually also includes penal lawyers who, however, also started merging into bigger companies nowadays. But the trend in legal services for corporations and businesses is that they expect a law firm with many lawyers specialising in various fields. The bar association did not want us to do that, but they also changed their thinking over time. There are now quite a few firms in Slovakia with more than 20 lawyers.

TSS: The 2018 murder of a journalist in Slovakia triggered a process that has resulted in disturbing revelations about the Slovak justice system, including corruption at courts. How does this influence people’s decision to go into legal professions? Do you feel worsened moods among people towards lawyers?

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