Alexander Minin, of the Ukrainian law firm KM Partners, discusses tax practice and trends in the legal industry with Best Lawyers CEO Phillip Greer following the firm’s 2019 “Law Firm of the Year” award recognition. Along with his and his colleagues’ achievements, Minin speaks about shifts in technology and the prevalence of open data, which bring up new opportunities in the field.

Phillip Greer: To start off, what lead you to this firm that you are at now?

Alexander Minin: Well, it is an interesting story. I already at that moment worked for almost eight years with Arthur Andersen in the Kiev office. At the time, there was a conflict in Arthur Andersen between Arthur Andersen himself and Andersen Consulting, which was originally established as a consulting branch, but then Andersen Consulting was already earning more than traditional Arthur Andersen. It was a conflict between partners within Arthur Andersen as a whole, even going to the arbitration, which led to the fact that the Arthur Andersen Kiev office decided to stick to the traditional practices made to audit. Which isn't really our activities because it was more consulting and more, I would say, that litigation was considered as not really entirely appropriate for the audit firm, but mainly related to something which shall be done by both firms. At that moment it was some kind of internal quality shift within Arthur Andersen Kiev office, saying that tax practice shall be only supporting standard audit, not to go beyond this. So it was not what I was really looking for. I was considering, first of all, as an independent practice, and really more dedicated to consulting, structuring in the tax area, going to the interest in tax litigations, rather than just to service standard audits. So that was the main driver at that moment. Also, another important shift, that it was near 1998, the first crisis in Ukraine, and it was also tough economic situation.

What achievements are you most proud of from this past year that led your firm to be named Law Firm of the Year for tax law?

We really try to be rule-makers in this market and I would say that the past 12 months were really great in this respect. One of the landmarks probably was a change in practice on so-called non-scheduled tax audits which are appointed as a part of the criminal proceedings. The issue is that while not having proper legal grounds under the standard procedures, the tax authorities acting through tax police were initiating criminal proceedings as a method of squeezing additional collections from businesses. After fighting against such practice as illegitimate for more than 2 years, the two cases decided by the Supreme Court this May finally turned the situation, I think, on this matter. Because earlier, the practice was contradicting on the matter. Two years ago almost 100 percent of decisions were in favor of the tax, with investigation judged admitting such audits despite any notion on them in the Code for Criminal Proceedings. Then we launched the whole campaign with legal analysis and communications on all levels on lack of legal grounds for such practice. And, say, already a year ago roughly one-third of the cases were decided against the applications of the tax authorities. Then now, we see that almost 100 percent after the decisions of the Supreme Court support this position and seem that in such a way will really eliminate this illegal activity. That really will substantially change this landscape because we're talking about thousands of these types of audits in the last year.

That's a great answer. Thank you. In which ways has technology affected tax law in your practice?

First of all, that we found more and more really open data. It's easier to search and to use this open data to analyze the issues. We have an electronic register in Ukraine of court decisions and basically, there is the possibility to search within all the decisions electronically. There are a number of programs providing for the support in this respect. Communications with the courts soon will be merely in electronic form with the proceedings on tax matters without appearing physically in the court. Basically, more and more we have that already established procedures and data are already available as open data, easy to operate as ‘commodities’. And thus we are forced to be more and more focused on developing new approaches and models in order to be on demand in our business area. That requires us to pioneer rather than to multiply our preceding successes. As soon as something is done several times, it becomes routine, commodity, easily available to others for repeating through the materials in open registers of court awards etc. That’s why we need always to go ahead. Also, technology assists us in the internal workflow. We use various programs for assisting with deliberating our internal documents and internal logs on the matter. Not just in terms of internal administration, accounting, and support, but also with the other documents and processes. I would say that especially probably within last three, even not five, but last three years, we are with drastic accelerating changes in this respect. Technology reduces our costs and use of resources and at the same time makes a commodity of standard models/approaches open to use at no or minimal cost not just to other lawyers acting as generalists but also beyond legal profession. For instance, IT specialists try to search for and apply available legal ‘solutions’ even being not formally a part of our profession.

How does your firm stay agile against competition in this area? How do you stay above the rest of the firms?

We are quite recognized as some kind of ‘think tank’ for developing new approaches, especially strategic approaches for resolving certain types of problems. We try to work for a set of cases simultaneously which have common problems by substance and try to resolve not so much on a case-by-case basis but try to address the issue, the problem, in general. Again, that's developing the new legal approaches as well as working actively on developing and promoting new tax legislation, respective implementation practice as the way of addressing businesses’ issues give us respective credentials. Not just stay and replicate what is already done. Rather try to identify new issues, trends, to develop new approaches, and that really provides us for the very special position on the market because even the other firms may try to demonstrate the same, it's difficult to achieve. You need a team to be dedicated to this, experience and courage build already on this type of projects. I think that the main competitive advantage that we already developed is a full perception that we are the one which provides the most principle approach to various matters in a new way.