Olga Prosyanyuk and her colleagues were among the only lawyers in Ukraine to interrogate its high-ranking politicians, in their defense of Viktor Yanukovych. Now, the attorney with the 2019 “Law Firm of the Year” winning Ukranian firm Aver Lex discusses her criminal defense practice with Best Lawyers CEO Phillip Greer.
What inspired you to focus your expertise in criminal defense?
Our company was established as a legal boutique with a focus on criminal law in 2012. The choice of specialization was based on several factors. Firstly, the firm’s partners had an established track record of protection in criminal cases, along with a vision of the development of this practice within the company. And, notably, we already had a really strong team of criminal defense attorneys on board. At the time there was a lack of competition in this area on the market. Finally, I had an internal feeling about the upcoming growth of the criminal law practice and its formation into a separate fully-fledged service, independent of judicial practice. Not to mention, we had a strong will to be the best in this new field.
Did you have any mentors who helped shaped your career early on?
At the university, one of my mentors was a professor in the civil law department: Elena Kokhanovskaya. She was among those who instilled in me a burning interest in competing in the trial with worthy opponents. And you know what? During the defense of my thesis to obtain the degree of candidate of juridical sciences, there were also opponents—leading academic lawyers. And it was Elena who has acted as my opponent.
I'm always inspired by reaching the level of achievements of Natalia Kuznetsova. She’s one of the most respected scientists and prominent representative of the Ukrainian legal community. For me, she is an example of a professional, deeply in love with her work.
What is the story behind the founding of Aver Lex?
We established our firm together with my partner Vitaliy Serdyuk. This decision was conscious and carefully thought through. I remember how we chose our first office, designed it, but the company’s name still was not there. The whole team came up with ideas for the name. It’s popular to use the surnames of founders in a company’s name, but we wanted something very special, which reflected our values and goals. That’s how the name Aver Lex appeared: "The Law Is Above All!”
What achievements are you most proud of from this past year that led to Aver Lex being named a "Law Firm of the Year" for Criminal Defense?
Our main achievement is the realization of the goal set for the fifth anniversary of the company to become the leading highly specialized defense firm in Ukraine. As you may know, our team became a point of choice by many high ranked officials, politicians and businessmen. No wonder, these cases are usually very sensitive and often politically motivated. We are proud to lead cases which have no analogies in Ukraine.
Our team sustained absolutely unprecedented pressure during the defense of Viktor Yanukovych, ex-president of Ukraine. This is the most resonant case in the history of the Ukrainian judiciary. We are the only lawyers on the territory of Ukraine and other CIS countries who immediately interrogated several state officials straight on the air: three presidents of Ukraine, including the current president; two Prime Ministers; the current speaker of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine; and a number of others.
Consequently, our professional rights were violated. This situation has been widely covered in Ukrainian and foreign media and initiated a professional discussion regarding the rights of attorneys in Ukraine. Responding to the strong support of the legal community, and professional and human rights organizations, we collected evidence of systematic violations of the professional rights of attorneys in Ukraine. We prepared a special report that was presented in September. During the preparation of the report I conducted several meetings, including with the deputies of the European Parliament, international human rights defenders and the representative of the special procedures section of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who were notified of significant cases of pressure on Ukrainian lawyers and violations of their rights.
Overall, I think that our public position to defend our profession and to change the rules of the game in the country is the most important achievement of this past year.
Are there any other attorneys at your firm whom you would like to recognize who greatly assisted the firm in winning your major decisions?
Of course, our high achievements are the result of the dedicated work of the entire team. The team of lawyers in the sphere of politically motivated cases is headed by the senior partner Vitaliy Serdyuk and partner Igor Fedorenko. The Business Defense team is led by partner Artem Drozdov.
Is there anything else about this practice area or other groups that the firm is particularly proud of?
It’s very important for our team and me personally to contribute to the development of the legal profession in our country. Most recently I headed the advocacy group of attorneys’ rights protection. Together with the Ukrainian section of the International Society of Human Rights, we prepared a special report on the violation of attorneys’ rights in Ukraine. Its presentation took place in September.
I hope that we can attract attention to this problem and encourage attorneys not only to report on violations but also to use all existing instruments to preserve their rights on advocacy. In my opinion, attorneys play an exceptionally important role in our country on its path to reforms. The rights and guarantees for legal professionals are the fundamental principles in establishing access to justice.
Last year our company turned five years old. During these years we have managed to implement a ten-year development plan. For the future period, we set ourselves the main task—to maximize the criminal practice internationally.