Wednesday 16 October 2019
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LP Legal: Powered by Women

Louiza Protopapa is Managing Director of an unusual law firm: LP Legal is staffed entirely by women – seven lawyers and all the administrative staff. She tells GOLD why the firm intends to continue in this direction and what needs to be done to the judicial system if Cyprus wants to maintain and enhance its reputation as a reliable investment destination and business centre.

By John Vickers

The profession of lawyer is probably the only one in Cyprus where women are in the majority but you have gone one step further and made your firm an all-women one. Did that happen by accident or design?

Louiza Protopapa: It happened by accident when the firm’s only remaining male lawyer left last year but it then became a conscious choice to continue in this way. It's not only fun working with women but I believe that we are very conscientious when to comes to duties and responsibilities and women tend to focus more on the human aspect, which is a quality that we like. It goes without saying that, like our male counterparts, we are totally capable of undertaking any kind of task and we also like working in teams. I am interested in making this team bigger and I will consciously be looking for other women to join it.

GOLD: Do think that this all-women set-up has brought you more female clients than you might have had with a more usual mix of men and women lawyers?

L.P.: Actually, no. Although I would agree that, in matters of family law, a woman may feel stronger or more comfortable if her lawyer is a woman because of the emotional aspects of certain cases, in every other area I think we are perceived by both women and men as just another law firm, although some of them may be a bit surprised when they discover that only women work here.

GOLD: Might that surprise give you a competitive advantage over other firms? It’s often said that, for a country the size of Cyprus, there are actually too many lawyers.

L.P.: It’s true that there are a lot of lawyers in Cyprus, many of whom are solo practitioners or working with just one partner. So yes, I believe that the fact that we are an all-women firm does mean that we are offering something different and we may therefore have an advantage in a very competitive area of business. I would like to note, though, that although many young people choose to study law, they will not all join law firms. A law degree is one that enables you to connect with so many aspects of today’s business world and can open many doors to a professional career. For example, compliance is a huge issue nowadays and there is a whole new profession of compliance officer, for which people with a law degree are eminently suitable. A law degree is a master key to the business world.

GOLD: Is LP Legal a full-service firm or do you specialise in certain areas?

L.P.: We don’t undertake criminal cases but we are otherwise a full-service legal firm focused on three main areas: Litigation, from debt retrieval, banking and insurance claims to all types of civil actions; Consultancy related to corporate structures, investment firms, Forex companies and various other kinds of transactions; and family law, which we see as being entirely separate from everything else.

GOLD: On the issue of the Forex industry, do you see Cyprus being able to maintain its role or is increasing regulation making brokers look to other jurisdictions?

L.P.: Things in the Forex sector are becoming very difficult and not only due to regulation. There have also been tax and banking changes across Europe since the global financial crisis and Cyprus is not the only country facing difficulties in sustaining business sectors like Forex due to the enormous amount of compliance that has to be undertaken. The compliance burden is a constant fixed cost that is becoming increasingly difficult for small brokerages to bear. However, while I am optimistic that these issues are going to be better balanced in 2019, I think that many of the smaller firms will be forced to relocate outside the EU, which has in many ways become over-regulated.

GOLD: You also provide fiduciary services and it appears that the country has been forced to become stricter regarding issues of substance, which has driven away certain clients but will attract more serious ones. Is this your view and experience?

L.P.: The sense that I get is that we're being smothered by regulation and we can't see outside it. The emphasis on substance certainly means that we will be dealing with reputable clients who are not here to use Cyprus for money laundering purposes. However, we have to keep things in perspective. I am referring to the fact that there are holding companies in Cyprus that do not have a lot of people working for them here those companies hold the rights of legitimate structures that do have substance, have income and pay taxes but it is only the holding company that is in Cyprus. Such a company can't be considered as a “shell company” but there are instances of such perceptions. I hope and suspect that the authorities will now take a step back and take more calm and intelligent decisions on the matter. There are people doing serious business and making an important contribution to the economy, who use Cyprus because they feel more comfortable and welcome than in other places. It would be a big mistake to drive them away.

GOLD: You’ve been involved in contracts for high-profile organisations like Formula 1 racing and Premier League football. Didn’t that experience make you want to move up from Cyprus-based corporations?

L.P.: I was given an excellent opportunity as legal advisor to a very big Cyprus-based firm at the time and I was involved in those huge transactions and sponsorship deals and seeing how the world of advertising and branding is being developed, especially by firms in the UK, who have mastered their field. However, this came when I had a family and four children, so I was not in a position to devote myself 100% to a career in another country. But it was very satisfying to create cross-border connections with people that I still work with. It was a great chance to create a bridge of communication and, of course, technology, telecommunications and the Internet have made everything easier. Today it doesn't matter so much where you are.

GOLD: Isn’t law an area where personal contact and the personal touch are more essential than in many other areas of business?

L.P.: Personal contact can be essential in more general types of dispute but when it comes to corporate transactions, it is very customary for one lawyer to be based in one jurisdiction and the other somewhere else. Technology allows us to maintain channels of communication between people not only in different countries but on different continents so, as lawyers, we may be confined geographically as regards where we practice and deliver our services from but it doesn't affect the networking we can do. And anyone who wants to find out what's happening somewhere else can attend a seminar anywhere in the world since travel has become so much easier. We have moved away from the classical way of offering our services to a more contemporary one that requires more networking and more social skills.

GOLD: What can tell us about a new online consultancy service that you have recently launched?

L.P.: It arose from a need that we identified among small businesses in particular. Although as we said earlier, there are a lot of lawyers in Cyprus, small enterprises often feel that it is not easy to obtain a reliable legal position on a matter of concern. As a result, many of them act without taking legal advice and end up doing harm to the business. So we saw a gap for a service that allows a small business owner (or, indeed, anyone) to contact a team of lawyers and ask any legal question they have by e-mail and receive an answer within 24 hours. And I have to say that the idea has been very well received.

GOLD: What sort of things might your team be asked?

L.P.: There are lots of issues, including things like how to dismiss an employee, how to negotiate a better deal on a rental agreement, how to develop and promote a new product, how to protect one’s intellectual property, how to employ someone from a third country… the list is endless. And while you might argue that the answers to all these questions can be found online, what we provide is responsible legal support and guidance for a nominal monthly fee.

GOLD: If you could change anything related to one of the legal areas you specialise in, what would it be and why?

L.P.: Let me suggest two things. First of all, the education and training of lawyers and judges is extremely important. We have mentioned the Forex business, for example. It took me a very long time to understand how online trading works and if a judge, in particular, has no knowledge of the subject, imagine how difficult it is to get him/her to understand what a dispute is all about. There are many areas of contemporary life and business that require special knowledge and it is now mandatory for lawyers to undergo a certain number of hours' training in order to renew their licence, which I see as a very positive move. It would be even more successful if the Cyprus Bar Association, which is responsible for this, were to collaborate with organisations and colleges in the private sector.

The second area of improvement concerns court procedures. It is 2018 and we can't file anything online. Greece is not the best example but they do have electronic systems in their court registries and while it may take three years for a court hearing, it is over in one day. Cyprus needs to drastically reduce the time taken by courts to hear and decide on a dispute. In the UK, the maximum time needed to complete even the most complicated case is 18 months. Here it's five to seven years! Without a good, responsive judicial system, no serious investor will want to do business in Cyprus or relocate his company here. It's not enough to have educated professionals or a good tax regime, both of which Cyprus has. An investor needs to know that, in the event of a dispute, he can go to court and obtain justice and have closure within two years. Changes have been made since 2016 but there still are many things to be done. Perception can be key in an investor’s decision-making and, as far as the judicial system is concerned, we are not projecting a very good image right now.

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