The Ways We Shall Enjoy the Advantages of E-Justice

Part 2 of the interview with attorney Galin Popov – Senior Managing Partner of “Popov & Partners” Law Office

What is your opinion on the system of judicial education – according to a World Bank report (2007), there were seven practicing judicial faculties in Bulgaria and currently, they have grown to twelve. How does this affect the market?

I do not consider this increase a positive phenomenon since the number of graduating colleagues each year significantly exceeds the need and the capacity of the market. As a direct result, we are witnessing a supersaturation of the market with lawyers, a large number of whom will neither get the chance to work in their specialty nor develop further as experts. This creates the need of establishing an environment of tougher competition between individual lawyers as well as between different law offices. I believe that encouraging competition in the field – letting the law offices compete with each other free of restrictions – will boost them in their aspiration to offer better services and will help them win the trust of their clients as well as to offer a hand to their younger colleagues who are walking their first steps into the judicial profession.

Without getting into details allow me to emphasize that at “Popov & Partners” we actively work for the improvement of the competitive environment in the field of the legal services. We have submitted standpoints – at a working group in the Ministry of Justice and at the Commission for Protection of Competition – on eliminating the minimal fixed amount of a lawyer’s remuneration. I am convinced the present restriction affects the client’s interest – imagine if tomorrow bakers set a fixed minimum amount on the price of bread – BGN 3. It is clear competition shall motivate all of us to give our best quality of advice and services at prices far more favorable for the clients, to develop stronger and effective business models, and most importantly – to incorporate the next generations of lawyers as an important part of the process.


How do you apply this vision in your legal office? Tell us in details about the structure or the distribution of responsibilities.

At “Popov & Partners” we entirely count on educated and mature professionals who’ve been trained at our office. Our approach is to attract young legal professionals and through the structure of our team we encourage them to progress and perfect themselves within the company frame. The way our team is structured is quite different than the organization of most legal offices.

While the standard model implies grouping employees in three main categories – attorneys, legal advisors and legal associates, and promotion to higher managing positions depends on subjective factors and is often impossible, here, at our office the separate positions are total of 8: Partners, Senior Associated Partners, Associated Partners, Junior Associated Partners, Senior Legal Advisors, Legal Advisors, Junior Legal Advisors and Trainees. All these positions construct the hierarchy steps and each staff member has the possibility to climb the career ladder and grow within the company frame according to their own ambitions and abilities (this is a good moment to note that each of Popov & Partners’ associates has started their professional career as a trainee at the legal office).

We have clear objective criteria for advancing in each position and thus we isolate as much as possible the subjective factor in deciding the development of a person. To every employer the staff’s motivation to do their work effectively and of good quality is of primary importance, and to us this model of growth and development is the most serious motivation for our colleagues in the office. I can also add that each promotion raises the employee’s confidence as it is a positive sign by his supervisor, which encourages the employee to keep on developing and working the same way.


What are the results when implementing such an approach?

The legal office is constantly developing and expanding with each passing year. We are the only office recommended in all judicial fields in the Legal 500 international rating for 2013. In 2014 we were recommended in all categories for a second consecutive year – and only one more legal office except us can boast with the same success. We were approved as the only Bulgarian representative at TAGLaw (worldwide alliance of independent law firms) covering more than 90 countries – thus we can offer to our clients the best legal services almost everywhere around the globe. Nevertheless, I have to say our biggest achievements are the professionalism of our trained team and the practical knowledge we have gained in different legal fields. Our system of specialization division has contributed greatly to this – we have 9 teams specialized in various fields of law, a Coordination and analysis team led by the Managing Partner as well as a Business development team – an activity I have devoted all my efforts to.


I suppose one of the most popular fields is collection of receivables? What is different in your approach?

The service we offer covers the whole process of collection – the extrajudicial phase when we negotiate the voluntary payment of the obligation with the debtor, the court phase where we judicially defend a client’s interests, and the phase of compulsory implementation when the owed sum is collected. Moreover, we are working all over Bulgaria without subcontracting.

In addition, we use our own developed software. Thus we spare the client from the inconvenience of communicating with many and different people (mediators, lawyers, bailiffs) and we can easily monitor the progress – the phases of collection – in a certain case.

You mentioned it is your practice to first negotiate with debtors. Isn’t this unusual for a law firm? Shouldn’t this be carried out by mediators or collection agencies?

Surely, many people first turn to exactly these types of agencies or mediators, but a legal office can carry out the negotiations just as effectively. I think the social notion that lawyers’ services are limited only to representation before the Court is wrong. I can even claim our law firm has better prepared professionals and a more serious technological resource for the purpose of voluntary collection than most collection agencies. We have a specialized Call Center department – its team consists entirely of legal advisors and it works by negotiating payments before legal action is taken (by phone or by personal meetings). Settlement of disputes on failure to meet contractual obligations is a judicial task – in this sense, it is far more natural to be done by a law firm than by some agencies which are not subject to control, meet no educational requirements or standarts for acceptable collection methods, and are not regulated when it comes to their financing. I even believe in a socio-cultural aspect it is the activity of these liberalized and out-of-control agencies that has led to the public view that the debtor – the violator of the law or a contract is the victim, while the creditor is a kind of a villain and not someone who was deprived of their property and wants it back.


How is your negotiation team better than the competition on the market when talking to debtors?

In the first place, each of our colleagues is a legal professional. No matter the case, we always strive to clarify the situation to the debtor accurately and precisely from a legal point of view and to explain that a voluntary repayment of debt is in their own best interest considering the high expenses following a possible lawsuit. The colleagues at the Call Center handle each case with respect and they never threaten, talk rudely, etc. – something people unfortunately associate with collection. Every employee is introduced to the Department’s Code of Ethics and applies it when communicating with a debtor. This leads to great results in the collection – the debtors pay off their debts because they have realized it is in their own best interest to do so.


At the end of our conversation, I would like to draw your attention back to the steps of e-Justice – give us three recommendations of vital importance for the way we shall promptly experience and enjoy the advantages of digitalization.

When giving recommendations, they shouldn’t be divided into important and insignificant – all the details as a whole make the model functional. I would rather point out the most important ones:

First, writ of execution procedures should be distributed evenly among judges throughout Bulgaria – this model is already functioning at the Commercial Registry. Thanks to it there shall be no overburdening – and for example, fastest cases in Sofia shall not be subject to 1-year of waiting period in order for the sentence to be issued. Consider the fact these proceedings are not carried out by judges in some countries but by an administrator or automatically by the information system.

Second, I would suggest the establishment of regional departments of the judicial system in the small towns and villages, where there is no court at the moment – this will not only improve the access to justice, but it will surely also ease the negative social effect of digitalization (instead of closing workplaces there will be dislocation). This will also strengthen the state’s presence in small towns and villages.

Last, but not least in significance, is the gradual implementation of the electronic permanent address – an electronic address where a person (no matter their physical location) agrees to receive messages from the state and the judicial authorities – in terms of the increasing globalization and as a part of a freely traveling community it is impossible to look for a Bulgarian citizen (someone’s debtor, for example) if the competent authorities have information that the person lives somewhere in Spain. Often, even this can’t be known for sure.