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The Empire strikes back: foreign lawyers from ‘unfriendly’ countries will be unable to practise in Russia.

June 14, 2022
Insight
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The Russian Ministry of Justice has issued an amendment to the Administrative Regulations on Maintaining the Register of Attorneys of Foreign States Practising as an Advocate in the Territory of the Russian Federation.

As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, the global ‘exodus’ of international firms from Russia is complete. There are no offices of major and mid-sized international legal firms in Russia any more. Most of the firms either transferred their lawyers to their offices in other countries or allowed them to organise their own independent local legal businesses. Several firms closed their Russian offices completely.

Now, the State wants to have its word on the regulation of foreign lawyers in Russia. The Ministry of Justice has published amendments to the Administrative Regulations on Maintaining the Register of Lawyers of Foreign States Practising Lawyers in the Territory of the Russian Federation. It prohibits practising in Russia for persons who have received lawyer status abroad in any of the countries recognised as “unfriendly”.

Until now, registration in the registry could be denied only if false information was provided. The basis for exclusion from it could also be the unreliability of the information provided, the expulsion of the lawyer from the country, a criminal sentence against him that entered into force, or the termination of his status in a foreign state.

Now, to these grounds, they have added a new rule that registration must be refused if the lawyer's status was obtained in one of the states included in the register of states unfriendly towards Russia.

Therefore, according to the amended Regulations:

• Lawyers from "unfriendly states" will not be able to register in the Russian Federation as foreign lawyers;

• For lawyers from "unfriendly states" already registered in the Russian Federation, their registrations will be cancelled.

In 2021, the Russian government approved a list of unfriendly countries, which included the United States and the Czech Republic. On March 7, after the introduction of anti-Russian sanctions, the list increased to 46 countries, including the UK, Australia, the EU, Canada, Liechtenstein, Norway, New Zealand, the USA, Switzerland, Monaco, Republic of Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Ukraine.

Now the register of foreign lawyers who operate on the territory of Russia includes 247 people, and 124 of them received such a status in one of the states that are recognized as unfriendly. Most of them are from Ukraine (56) and Great Britain (25). There are also 15 French and 15 German lawyers practising in Russia.  It is unclear when and how the amended regulation will be enforced. Several experts think that the struck-out lawyers may continue practicing in Russia as individual entrepreneurs (sole traders) or in-house counsels, but it is unlikely counting the general attitude of the Russian authorities to 'unfriendly countries', especially Ukraine, the USA and the UK.

These measures will unavoidably result in further isolation of the Russian legal market that is now in a state of transition from international to almost fully domestic. Considering that most of Russian legal firms either have been expelled from various international legal associations and cooperation arrangements or have lost their permanent foreign partners and consultants due to the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, access to foreign legal advice in Russia will be very limited. Many lawyers from the ‘unfriendly’ countries who resigned from the leaving international majors and joined local legal teams will have to resign again and leave Russia. Taking into consideration also the general unwillingness of large international legal firms to deal with any Russian clients or international businesses still remaining in Russia, any company aiming to trade with Russia should conduct prior research on Russian legal firms which are still able to provide legal advice on the matters in issue in cooperation with their remaining foreign partners.

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