While large legal firms have traditionally been more hesitant in reporting an exodus from Russia, the situation remains fluid. Recently, Linklaters, a London-based law company, became the first big business to announce the closure of its activities in Russia and the closure of its Moscow office.
The legal firm, which launched the office in 1992, stated in a news statement that it will not represent people or businesses controlled by, or under the sway of, the Russian state, or associated with, the current Russian government, wherever they may be located.
Other businesses may soon follow suit – legal firms tend to move in packs – but for the time being, they are remaining cautiously stable.
Exit Becoming Difficult Due to Labor, Immigration and Sanctions Laws
Global legal firms that have declared plans to close operations in Russia following the Ukraine invasion now confront the issue of accomplishing their aim while adhering to labor, immigration, and sanctions rules.
Employers seeking to terminate employees during a shutdown must negotiate a Russian legislation that normally prohibits employers from terminating specific worker classifications, such as single moms, according to labor and employment law firm Littler Mendelson.
Those seeking to assist Russian attorneys in emigrating to work in other countries are restricted to standard routes like tourist visas and asylum petitions, the firm stated. Russia does not have the same emergency procedures in place to assist Ukrainians fleeing the country.
The Unfortunate Turn of Events in Russia
At least 25 law firms announced intentions to close their Russia offices in the weeks following the Feb. 24 invasion, with some transforming the outposts into independent businesses. Many made the measures in response to the shock of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military activities against Ukraine.
According to United Nations data, 1,430 people have been killed in the Russian assault as of April 4. Over ten million Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries or are suspected to have been internally displaced.
Firms regretting the Ukraine catastrophe expressed a sense of loss at the prospect of cutting relationships with colleagues in Russia that date back decades in many cases.
Agnieszka Fedor, head of the labor legal practice group at Sotysiski Kawecki & Szlzak in Warsaw, Poland, expressed sadness about her inability to contact colleagues from Russia law companies following the outbreak of the conflict.
In an email, she stated that some of the lawyers did not respond. Some of them looked eager to talk, but only on messaging applications like WhatsApp and Telegram.
Even those lawyers who seemed eager to talk subsequently halted communicating and “disappeared,” Fedor added. Like they never existed. She said that some of lawyers are good colleagues of hers and that the situation was very saddening.
Will the Law Firms Return to Russia?
Firms departing Russia are certainly weighing their options for eventual re-entry, according to David Wilkins, head of Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession.
As stated by Mr. Wilkins, the decision to come back will very certainly be contingent on the outcome of the peace talks, if any, and the enterprises’ ability or desire to resume Russian operations.
While cutting relations with Russia is a difficult undertaking, corporations recognize that continuing activities in the country bears risk, according to Ralf Peschek, a partner with Wolf Theiss in Austria.
As stated by Mr. Peschek, this is a really difficult scenario for legal firms. If they continue to operate in Russia, they risk losing business. Furthermore, they may be exposed to reputational damage.