Eugenija Sutkienė discusses her progression from starting one of the first private law firms in Lithuania post their independence, all the lessons she has learnt along the way and why she went from being a litigator to a commercial and corporate lawyer.
You are qualified in a range of legal areas; which is your favourite and why?
My legal areas do change over time, but my core areas M&A, corporate law, and to some extent project finance. Lately, over the last four years, I have been focusing on life sciences; this area is very exciting. We have managed to build a very good portfolio over the years, and the biotech industry itself is a very progressive business for start-ups; it is very dynamic and creative, which I find highly interesting and so I naturally enjoy working in this area. In most cases it is challenging: there is a lot of work regarding regulations and unique situations where clients require assistance – but to me, regardless of the situation, I am always happy to find the way to offer help.
For example, keeping to the science and health industry, I recently pioneered a movement in Lithuania to build health clinics and medical facilities; that is why there is a lot of excitement in this area and why I love this practice, there are always some very interesting elements.
What was your best achievement of 2017 and how is this pushing you to achieve better in this year?
I am one person working around three positions: I am the Founder of the firm, I am a Practitioner, so I try to exceed in my practice and, finally, I am Managing Partner, which to me is the most challenging area. Juggling all three positions can be a challenge, so the best achievement in 2017 was being awarded by The Lawyer European Awards, the European Managing Partner of the Year. For me, this is a remarkable achievement, as I simply see myself as a girl from Eastern Europe. To be recognised for my work was unimaginable and I never thought I would gain such an award in that area. What was most invigorating, heart-warming and energising, was that my team of lawyers submitted my place secretly behind my back and thus they presented me this award; this was something that was beyond my belief, which I really value. I value the support of my team and my office, because without them, I would be nothing. In 2017 again, there was another award regarding the legal market.
I was the first private law firm established after independence; it was a time where the tanks were still in the streets, the Russian groups were starting to move out in 1991 and we founded the law firm which started things that were quite unique to us [Lithuania] at the time, such as: private acquisitions, and working with big companies, like Coca-Cola and accommodating their businesses. It was a very exciting time. But nevertheless, at that point of time our legislation on joint ventures and franchising was non-existent, so with the help of my American colleagues, we managed to contribute a lot into the development of this market. Two major awards, that represent my work as a Managing Partner and the effort I put in post-independence were my greatest achievements in 2017, which I value greatly.
Why did you pick the legal profession?
Before starting as a private lawyer, I worked in the Court. Being a litigator was my first job, but after a while, I reached to the commercial side of things. The reason is because I generally found it more rewarding. We managed to start off and build factories and many production facilities which are still standing today. In general, when you are doing this type of work, you are contributing to your society, to your economy and development, which is why I enjoyed and preferred it. I felt like I was making more of a difference. Moreover, especially in the first stages of our firm, this was our main type of work; you do not necessarily choose the nature of your work at the start, as your clients choose you, so you naturally try your best to help them and their requirements. I would say this is why my role is ambiguous and constantly changing as I want to help clients and my society, so I adapt to what they need. Now I am focusing a little more in life sciences sector, as it is the future of our society. I always like to try something new and always try to give. I guess that motivation has always been in my character, which reflected onto my legal career.
What was one lesson you learnt when transitioning from law school to practising?
Well, it was a long journey from law school to becoming a professional. I learnt many lessons and had to learn all the rights and laws. This role is about learning all the time. This is about being open, all the time. Not hearing one sole opinion, but about listening, learning and being adaptable. The law changes rapidly, and you look back all the time and think, even if yesterday was perfect, today can go wrong: you always have to adapt.
A lot of lessons were learnt, and even now, as I work in various positions I am constantly learning new things: I have to learn about business to take responsibility of the firm, then as a lawyer, to work with the people and clients. Overall, you have to be open to change.
What is the most challenging case you have dealt with so far, and how did you overcome such challenge?
I am presented with many challenging cases! However, the most challenging often provides the most excitement at the same time. Oftentimes, things can be challenging when dealing with clients from different cultures. It is a different environment, with language barriers and without clear knowledge of legislation. I once worked with professionals from China, and the cultural differences were evident, which did pose difficulty. Until I managed to acquire some text books on their legislation (etc.), it was very tough and definitely a new experience. When negotiating the acquisition of two companies and two different sellers, it was challenging in many respects: in the way of doing business and thinking, but, nonetheless we succeeded and became friends with the Chinese colleagues. There were many magical moments and we found common ground and solutions, which is what a true legal professional has to do.
Eugenija Sutkienė specialises in the following areas of law: Corporate & Commercial, Mergers & Acquisition, PPP/PFI, Project Finance, Development & Regulatory, Restructuring and Insolvency, Pharmaceuticals & Health Care, Life Sciences, Cross-Border Tax Planning. She has been practicing law as private practitioner since 1992. She has acted as a legal adviser for multinational corporations such as Coca-Cola, Mars Inc., Philip Morris, Sicor Biotech, Svenska Petroleum, and assisted in investment in and development of production facilities. She has acted as a Lithuanian Government adviser in major privatisations , acted as a corporate counsel for many corporations such as TEVA, Sanitas, Moller Group, PKN ORLEN and many more; assisted various Government institutions in legislative work, was a member of the working groups drafting foreign investment, corporate, bankruptcy, privatisation laws and regulations, the Law on Land Expropriation in the Public Interest in Implementing the Projects of Particular National Importance, land planning regulations, etc.;
With a specialism in M&A transactions for more than a decade and handling a lot of transactions, over the last decade, she has begun specialising mainly in the life sciences sector and providing a range of services from corporate, regulatory to acquisition and business expansion projects.
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