The Baltic States were a hot news topic in the autumn of 1991, on regaining their independence. At the same time, when choosing the topic for my thesis at the University of Lapland, I felt it would be interesting to research and write about the business related laws of the three Baltic States. So, in October 1991 I set off for the first trip, taking the ferry to Tallinn and a 12 hour overnight bus to Vilnius. Soon I realised that the project would require considerable time and dedication, and accomplishing it would involve finding sponsors. Happily, many Finnish corporations, such as Valio, Neste, the Ministry of Economics and others found the topic interesting enough to agree to finance it. In the spring of 1993, with the thesis done and published as a book entitled "A Foreign Investor in the Baltics" by the Finnish Lawyers' Publishing Company, I realised it was time to move to the Baltics and start working there: otherwise all the effort put into the thesis would be wasted.
I looked for a Finnish law firm which would send me to Tallinn: Hedman attorneys agreed and I set up a practice for them, leading it until the autumn of 1995.
Tallinn in September 1995 marked the startup of SORAINEN, consisting of myself and a secretary – Kristiina Härms, now our regional HR manager. These were indeed modest beginnings: the first computer and printer were borrowed from the very first client, AGA Gas company.
From day one, the focus of our work was very much the same as today: corporate, including mergers & acquisitions (M&A), financing, real estate and so on. Even the client profile was very much the same: international corporations entering or expanding in the Baltic markets and larger local firms doing large local or international transactions.
By the summer of 1997, we were still a fairly small firm in Estonia with only eight lawyers including Kaido Loor and Karin Madisson – both partners today – and Kaire Kungla, then and now a great accountant! But we then decided to push through our initial plan to create a true pan-Baltic business law firm. The first step involved opening an office in Riga. Despite the economic crisis in the Baltics in 1998 and 1999, we moved on to open an office in Vilnius in January 1999, thus fulfilling our pan-Baltic law firm concept. The first three lawyers in Vilnius were Pekka Puolakka, Renata Beržanskienė and Kęstutis Adamonis – all are partners with us today.
In 2000, we opened an office in Helsinki and sent an Estonian-Finnish lawyer Paul Künnap there. The aim was to offer Baltic legal advice close to our Finnish clients. After three years we realised that clients prefer to visit us in the Baltics instead so we brought Paul back to Tallinn and closed the Helsinki office.
By 2002, we had realised that successful and efficient operation of a pan-Baltic law firm requires integration at all possible levels. This involves pooling not only profits but also working procedures, IT, HR, training and so on across all offices. We wanted all our partners and personnel to think about "we" wherever we operate, not only in their home office. This led us to start a thorough integration process including a quality management system, with the aim of having it audited by a third party.
Growth was rapid and we started to do increasing amounts of M&A work. By the end of 2003, we had already advised in 300 M&A cases in the Baltics. At the beginning of 2004, I was very glad to be able to get Pekka Puolakka, who had moved back to Finland three years earlier, to rejoin us as a partner. During the same year, Agris Repšs and Toomas Prangli were admitted to the partnership and the number of our lawyers reached 50. This was much more than I had ever imagined.
By 2005, we had served over 3,000 corporate clients in the Baltics and celebrated our 10th anniversary, a moment to party and look back at what we had achieved. What we saw was not bad, but the real growth still lay ahead of us!
In 2006, Ģirts Rūda and Laimonas Skibarka and were admitted to the partnership. Pekka Puolakka moved from Tallinn and took over the leadership of our Riga office. I also paid a second visit to Belarus and met Maksim Salahub. He seemed talented and enthusiastic, so we maintained contact after he went to study for a year in the USA. During the same year, we became the first law firm in the Baltic region to implement a certified quality management system under the ISO 9001 standard, awarded by Lloyd's Register Quality Assurance. In August 2006 our personnel grew to 100. What a team!
In 2007-2008, a number of new partners were admitted: Carri Ginter, Reimo Hammerberg, Eva Berlaus, Jānis Taukačs and Tomas Kontautas. Additionally, when Maksim Salahub returned from the USA to join us, our partners decided unanimously to open an office in Minsk, capital of Belarus. Maksim was to head the office and recruit a team. At the beginning of 2008, our Belarusian office opened: at first in Maksim's kitchen, then after some months in real office premises. We were among the very first foreign law firms to expand to Belarus, where much work and many clients awaited us! Kiryl Apanasevich, Maksim's good friend and our second Belarusian partner, joined us to start the Belarusian office.
During our summer days in 2008, we celebrated growing to 100 lawyers and 150 people all in all, twice as many as four years earlier! In December 2008, to our great surprise The Financial Times & Mergermarket presented us with the "Baltic Law Firm of the Year" award, followed a few months later by similar awards from International Financial Law Review (IFLR) and PLC Which lawyer?. In 2008 our revenues reached EUR 12 million. A considerable growth from scratch in 1995!
At the beginning of 2009, Kaupo Lepasepp was admitted to the partnership, while Toomas Prangli, the head of our regional M&A Practice, moved from Tallinn to Minsk to help integrate Minsk office with the rest of the group and to build the same standards and practices there. A great sign of development was ISO 9001:2008 certification awarded by Lloyd's Register Quality Assurance to our Minsk office at the end of 2009. Last but not least, our Tallinn office was recognised as the most employee and family friendly firm in Estonia in 2009. Usually in Europe this award goes to Microsoft. So we must be doing something right!
At the beginning of 2010, I was appointed senior partner of the firm and Pekka Puolakka took my previous role as managing partner. A great development indeed: we immediately noticed internal processes speeding up – two heads are always better than one! We also admitted three new partners: Alexey Anischenko, Algirdas Pekšys and Rūdolfs Eņģelis, bringing the total number of partners to 21.
The spring of 2010 again brought us several international "Baltic Law Firm of the Year" awards: IFLR, PLC Which lawyer? and now for the first time in the Baltics the "Baltic States Tax Firm of the Year" award from International Tax Review. We also continue to be the most family-friendly firm in Estonia in 2010. Since our start until today we have served more than 6,000 corporate clients in the Baltics and Belarus.
And so the SORAINEN story continues ...