Interview of Penkov, Markov & Partners’ Managing Partner Mr. Vladimir P. Penkov for the Office Assistant Magazine, Issue 14, 2008.
We, the Bulgarians, are often either more independent or less disciplined as we do not respect the time spent or the efforts exerted by the others
Mr. Penkov, how has the work of Penkov, Markov and Partners Law Office changed after you have passed the certification according to the ISO 9001:2000 standard?
First let me say that my experience so far proves that we do need even stricter rules than those required, in order to get certified in accordance with the ISO 9001:2000 standard. The reason why I insisted to get certified and to undergo the relevant procedure was to create an inner motivation among the colleagues for observation of the rules already formulated. The ISO introduction resulted in a more serious approach to the rules but unfortunately did not secure their observation. Maybe this is due to the fact that we, the Bulgarians, are often either more independent or less disciplined as we do not respect the time spent or the efforts exerted by the others. It seems that we are focused only on our own organizational space, which is not always good for the firm. On the other hand, for a second year now ISO shows that we have a very good motivation to develop our rules, to make them more efficient, less bureaucratic and more productive. It was namely through the ISO rules that I understood that our structure was not functioning well enough. This is a structure, set up 3 years ago, i.e. a year prior to the ISO introduction, comprising three directorates, three managing partners and one executive managing partner. It turned out that not everybody was aware of the science of management. Second, management itself was not among everybody’s priorities. The abilities required to be a manager such as vision, goal setting etc. were missing and due to that our system turned out not to be efficient enough. ISO disclosed that aspect, to some extent, as it required de-balancing of the managerial efforts. In this regard three months ago we embarked on amending the structure of management of our law office We carried out a full management restructuring along with introducing new software applications and setting up a legal company. At present we have just one managing partner, who together with “Management, Coordination and Control” Directorate, the Secretariat Section and the Accounting Department manages and coordinates the entire administration. I have to further state that the Lex Mundi requirements were among the factors that did motivate us to introduce rules of our own and to get ISO certified .
Did that new managerial structure bear fruits over the past 2-3 months and did it facilitate the work of the administration?
Through this concentration we managed to achieve two things. First, as a managing partner I spend at least 2 hours less for management. This only demonstrates how inefficient the old system has been up to now. I would give you an example. It appears that after you remind a worker several times about a given job and in the end you do it yourself, you spend more time that way than completing the job yourself immediately. I still think of the old system with a bit of nostalgia since I considered it superior in principle, but not in Bulgaria and not at this moment. Perhaps in the future, when the people acquire these habits and learn to respect the managerial, training, human resources activities, some changes might be needed again.
How did the idea of new software occur to you?
It is related to the desire to spare administrative time of the accounting department as well as of the separate partners and lawyers. It turned out that our old software required too much data updating from the accounting department especially given the lack of discipline on behalf of the lawyers who would not fill in all the data in due time. When I came to realize that I immediately took these measures.
Second, the filled in data sometimes would appear more favourable than the actual financial results of the firm. Based on the accounted data it turned out that more than 30% of the income was missing. The new system allows codification of both the incoming and the outgoing correspondence. And it is independent of the will or desire of a lawyer or assistant as it automatically appears in the system. This would not allow any lapses or omissions, as the controlling section sees to it that all files are printed out or duly distributed. We introduced precise formulation of the tasks, their distribution among the executors as well as date and term of fulfilment.
The last module is also related to the time factor, i.e. the spent and calculated time allowing unified references for our clients.- what has been done. It also allows a reference about what exactly each group, lawyer or the entire firm has done, which also constitutes a good base for exact evaluation of each lawyer’s or section’s performance and contribution
With the establishment of the legal company we have 11 partners, while in the head office we have 7 work groups each comprising a partner plus 2 to 4 lawyers. Each partner is responsible for his work group, monitors the work flow, controls the work of his colleagues and secures their professional development.
You mentioned about saving working hours due to it…
To complete a given task, according to our new
Software, it is necessary to enter the hours of work to be calculated and invoiced and this is being controlled by the partners heading the relevant work groups. The partners are given some time to make corrections in case of discrepancies and what they usually do is to reduce the work hours as the younger colleagues seem to work longer, while the aim is to achieve an average time estimate and offer all our clients equal conditions in line with our standards and to minimize the subjectivity in time estimation. This is the task of the partner - to prevent calculating more work time than actually spent. So when the system is closed, it is considered that the task has been accomplished. When a given task is completed a green light is on, if the task is still in process – a red light is on. From this moment on the accounting department has the opportunity to prepare the invoices but also to submit to the management data for analysis. For example, which work group has used too much technical time, which has shown higher work efficiency, which has spent time over training etc. The system is designed not only for the clients and the legal work efficiency but also for other types of efficiency - training courses, seminars, PR activity of the law office, interviews, contributing articles to our or other newspapers, TV events, which cannot be estimated in strictly monetary terms but give bona for a positive evaluation of the lawyers and the partners in compliance with the criteria accepted by us. Those criteria have been adopted by all of us in written form and each partner holds a copy of that document. The criteria comprise not only the hours of work, but also the accompanying activities that I already enlisted. Therefore, points and right to participation in the distribution of the final income are given not only on the basis of the hours of legal work, but also on the basis of complementary activities needed for the development of the company. This is valid to a greater extent for the partners, who are responsible also for activities like training, organizing the work group, attracting business as well as for the general commitment to the company’s development, rather than for the lawyers, who could also get bonus points for overtime work.
You mentioned the new structure of the legal company…
We registered the legal company in November last year. I am also proud to point out the functioning of the newly opened company branch office in Pleven comprising 6 colleagues, two out of them being partners. Our internal system shall be introduced in their office too. I assume we might be the first company with Intranet system and the colleagues there avail of a highly representative office. The building was erected in 1903. It is furnished as per our standards allowing the formation of work groups, there is a reception hall, full accountability and work distribution in favour of the clients. Our objective is to make the clients feel comfortable when visiting us, so that they could freely share their problems. Otherwise they might not feel at ease. We need to predispose the client so that the experienced lawyer could decide upon what sort of steps must be taken, which may differ from those requested initially by the client.
“Penkov, Markov and Partners” Law Office is well known abroad as well. Do you continue your activities outside Bulgaria?
We certainly do. You know that for more than 10 years now we have been a member for Bulgaria of Lex Mundi, the biggest association of independent law offices. Every year they audit us and for ten years we have been their representative . I may well say that over the past year or two we have tangibly increased the volume of work with our foreign partners. Only through our partner in Germany we have had the opportunity to jointly attend 10 clients here and they on our behalf 2 in Germany. It is our international activity as well as our activity in publishing of a quarterly newspaper with 2000 copies of circulation, the participation in a number of seminars, charity events etc. that have contributed to the fact that “Penkov, Markov and Partners” Law Office was among the two offices enlisted in the Business Super Brands for the year 2008 as best brands in the Bulgarian market.
Is there any difference between the activities of the office 10 to 15 years ago, when it was established, and now with Bulgaria being an EU member already for one and a half years.
The work now has become much easier in regard to the management as we avail of a broader database, bigger practice, most of the laws are harmonized with the EU legislation. The scope of activity is much more comprehensive now. From another perspective, it is much harder now. Despite our expectations that the state administration would be oriented to assisting the citizens and the companies, I believe that at present the state administration is not providing the citizens or the companies with support and assistance to the extent, which used to exist before. The bureaucratic requirements have even grown. Often the state administration officers are inclined to give formal negative replies or refuse to actively seek solutions out of fear for being accused of bad practices or of having undertaken obligations they are not supposed to take. In that way the administrative departments get blocked, resulting in bureaucracy that lays grounds for bad practices.
The last decision in this direction was the introduction of the Commercial Register, which has been postponed in the course of 2 years. It turned out that it would be better to postpone it again. In one of my interviews and in some articles I have even drawn the conclusion that the judiciary has started working better in regard to the protective procedures.
The work related to a simple registration of a
legal procedure takes 4 or 7 hours of queuing, the secretary cannot do this job, it is at least the manager or a person with letter of attorney from the manager who is authorized to do that job. Second, the law does not provide for a correction term in case of lapses in the documentation and traverse is usually given within two days It appears that refusal is the only speedy procedure but it is often unmotivated and irrelevant, which is far from the objectives of the change in the registration regime. The necessity for re-registration of those already registered is introduced, also related to a lengthy procedure including time for scanning the entire documentation, and the technical equipment is often highly ineffective. Thirdly, even if the traverse is grounded it cannot be contested neither administratively nor in a specialized court of law, i.e. applicable is the generally accepted order, which often takes years and devaluates the entire system. Along with that, the originals of the documents, once filed, are nor given back to their owner. And last but not least, those who have drafted the law do not recognize even notary signed letters of attorney of lawyers. Those lawyers have the right to represent their clients in court, but not in a simple procedure as a registration. There is a fifth problem, too: there are no forms for foreigners, how could they sign forms in Bulgarian that they cannot read? By now the register has proved to be a disaster and if the law is not amended, if the Minister of Justice does not urgently issue ordinances for its execution I do not see how we can get out of this situation.
Actually, I am optimistic about that because during one of my visits to a director of the Registration Agency as well as during a meeting with the Minister of Justice I was reassured that they do understand the arguments raised and will be looking for a quick resolution of the problem. I do believe that there is need for amending the law.
What are your plans for future development of the law office?
We plan to open official branch offices in Bourgas, Varna and Rousse and perhaps in Plovdiv, despite its close proximity. I am very proud with the fact that the “Legal.500” publication for 2007 defines us as the biggest law office in Bulgaria, while “Chambers Global 2007” points out that we are the most westernized office in Bulgaria in terms of services covering the entire country.