Law: A nation hungry for trade lawyers: David Nathan finds there is great demand in Budapest for experts on commercial law

SINCE the break-up of the Soviet empire, Hungary has passed 70 new laws to facilitate the transition from Marxist to market economy, and has seen an influx of dollars 6bn in investment.

It follows that there is no shortage of work for lawyers, particularly Western lawyers experienced in international trade, commercial transactions and Common Market regulations. These are matters that Hungarian lawyers may know about in theory but are unfamiliar with in practice.

Rosemary Bointon, born in Bournemouth, heads McKenna & Co's Budapest office. She and another English lawyer work closely with McKenna's associate Hungarian firm, making a team of 10.

How do the Hungarians take to having English lawyers practising in Budapest? 'Most of them, especially those in association with foreign lawyers, realise that they don't have the commercial or international experience,' Ms Bointon says. 'As they have not been used to dealing with a market economy, they don't necessarily know what the requirements are.

'Normally, it is a question of the way things are drafted and the terms and conditions that a Western investor is looking for. For example, a municipality runs out of money after spending dollars 50m on a project. They look for help from a Western investor. They think that because they have already spent dollars 50m, investors will be willing to hand over another dollars 50m and control will remain with the municipality.' It does not happen like that, Ms Bointon says. 'Part of what we are doing here is to educate people in what is commercially acceptable.'

But Hungarians are touchy; lawyers are touchy and Hungarian lawyers are very touchy indeed. 'You have to educate without seeming to. One of the problems I have with our Western clients is to try to restrain them from saying things that are not perhaps tactful,' Ms Bointon says.

After she qualified Ms Bointon worked for Slaughter & May before joining McKennas and specialising in EC law. She spent a year in Brussels, where she became involved in East European aid negotiations, particularly with the Poland-Hungary Association for Economic Reconstruction (Phare). After that it was a logical step to accept the offer of the Budapest office. She has been involved with a number of telecommunications projects. 'Once they are in operation', she says, 'they will transform the system. Being part of that process is very exciting.'

Richard Lock of Clifford Chance qualified seven years ago and worked in Bristol and London before arriving in Budapest. His wife is one-quarter Hungarian but, like him, she is having to learn the language. This is not an easy process, as Rosemary Bointon has also discovered - Hungarian has few links with any other European language.

Mr Lock's work is split between advising Hungarian state agents on the best methods of selling state assets and advising English, French and Dutch investors from the moment they arrive to have a look around, to the problems that arise once they have committed their money.

The attitude of Hungarian lawyers is, he says, a 'very sensitive issue'. On the one hand, he and others like him advise on Hungarian law, 'surrounded by Hungarian lawyers who are not resentful at all'. On the other hand, he says, there is resentment against the number of foreigners in the country. 'There was a pretty hostile article in an East European journal by a Hungarian. He was mainly critical of his fellow Hungarians who had linked up with foreign law firms,' says Mr Lock.

Mr Lock believes that his firm is as well established in Budapest as it is in Paris or Madrid. 'It is not a British implant,' he says, 'but part of a large international firm, working with local experts'. Hungarian lawyers also work for Clifford Chance in London, and the firm is involved in a scholarship scheme with University College. 'We take students from Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and other East European countries,' Mr Lock says.

Robert C Knuepfer is the managing partner of the Budapest office of the international firm Baker & McKenzie. The office was established in 1987, the first Western firm in law, accounting, insurance or banking to set up house in any of the Comecon countries.

'Many of the laws that served Hungary for the last 50 years cannot deal with the realities of the country today,' he says. 'We are living through the rebirth of a nation. It is like colonial times in the US, with people running around writing the first laws on taxation, immigration, foreign investment and so on.'

The kind of change that has taken place is symbolised by the Baker & McKenzie office address, 125 Andrassy Utca. It is an elegant building, at one time the headquarters of the Hungarian Communist Party. Down the road at number 60 was the headquarters of the local KGB, a place of torture and fear.

Andrassy Utca itself was formerly known as Nepkottarsasag, which means republic. Before that it was Stalin Utca. And before that it was Andrassy Utca.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower