Dr NEBOJŠA STANKOVIĆ, Attorney at Law – Stanković & Partners Law Office, Niš, Serbia: New Investments Create Challenges for LEGAL PROFESSION TOO

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After making first tentative steps in what was then futuristic IT industry in the last decade of the 20th century, the millennial bug sent our interlocutor, Dr Nebojša Stanković, on a path to becoming an attorney. As a legal representative of companies that are a result of US investments, a member of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Serbia, and a partner in a law firm with the headquarters in Niš, Dr Stanković talks for Focus In from the standpoint of his long-standing practice gained from living in the ‘hailstorm’ that is the Balkan reality and in the surroundings that are far removed from the privileges of big cities and power centres.

How important are US investments for Serbia?

— Relevant numbers show that, during more than one hundred years since the two countries established diplomatic relations, the United States of America has become and remained one of the leading business partners of Serbia. Still, as a witness of economic goings-on at a micro-level, I think that the importance of US investments is even greater. American investments are of strategic importance to the Serbian economy not only because of their size and structure but also because they bring the latest technologies and encourage the implementation of innovations. Their presence ensures the implementation of the latest operational and managerial know-how and experiences while, at the same time, they validate local human resources, that is, the knowledge and skills of our people. The investment climate in our country is greatly influenced by the American companies here and their practical experiences and results because all of this, individually and together, significantly influences the decision of investors from all over the world to invest in Serbia.

As an attorney, your task is to represent your clients in front of institutions and participates in settlement of disputes, while protecting their interests. Are there some legal categories that are of special importance for the legal framework that regulates investors in Serbia?

— It is especially important for every investor that the principles of legal certainty and equality of parties in the legal process are strictly adhered to. The principle of legal certainty, among other things, implies that the rules are known in advance, as are the consequences for those who (do not) act upon them. Different and subsequent interpretations of legal regulations may adversely affect the predictability of the business environment. Legal uncertainty undoubtedly affects the confidence of investors who need to make decisions about starting and developing business. Significant misapprehensions about daily work and business can result in various interpretations of regulation, especially in the field of labour relations and fiscal regulations. The principle of equality of parties guarantees equal treatment in court proceedings irrespective of whether the party is a natural person (a citizen of Serbia), or a multinational company (an investor). Unfortunately, in court practice, the myth of David and Goliath is sometimes reversed. It is difficult to explain some court behaviours to foreign clients like, for instance, determining and collecting court fees, or implementation of regulation regarding orderliness of client representation, in a procedural sense, or courts not accepting documents drafted by our state authorities as evidence, in a material sense.

Crypto-currencies are a global phenomenon. How are they regulated?

— Legal treatment of crypto-currencies is very diverse. It ranges from no legal norms being applied to them and attempting to regulate the relations stemming from crypto-currencies with traditional legal solutions to creating brand new legal categories. As the synonym for the digital world, the United States is a pioneer in the crypto legislature, because the federal states have very diverse legal solutions. Unlike in the US, where, in order to deal in crypto-currency, you need to obtain a license from competent institutions, this area is not regulated in Serbia. The National Bank of Serbia, as a central bank and financial market controller, does not issue any licenses for dealing with crypto-currency. We can say that, when it comes to crypto-currency, both legal systems have some similarities like crypto-payments are not considered legal means of payment, and that those who deal with this type of business have to adhere to stringent working and business conditions. The current situation is understandable given the fact that legal systems are obligated to combat the threats associated with terrorist financing and prevent money laundering.

Artificial intelligence is rapidly winning over individual segments of our lives. If we were to adhere to any form of legal subjectivism, would the legal basis of artificial intelligence and guaranteed and universally accepted human rights be in jeopardy?

— It is certain that the further inclusion of artificial intelligence in our daily lives will change the established system that guarantees human rights. As individuals in the digital world, all of us, through our personal and work life, have become increasingly dependent on everything that helps us or that we believe it helps us. And we call this artificial intelligence, which is not exactly a precise definition of it. Existing relationships can perhaps be described through the principles of the so-called happy slave theory. In order to use their freedoms and rights in the digital world faster, it seems that they are willing to voluntarily renounce all personal, universal rights which they have been fighting for in their lives, and transfer them to other subjects. If we look at the algorithm as the basic cell of artificial intelligence, it would be more important to provide answers to more complex questions before we deal with the issues of possible legal subjectivity of artificial intelligence. These questions include – “Is the creative or evolutionist principle applied to the development of algorithms?” or “Are the algorithms always going to be under the absolute control of the human mind?”

What are your tasks as a long-standing participant in the implementation of the influential World Justice Project (WJP)?

— The task is identical to that of all other selected legal experts from all over the world, namely compiling the periodic rule of law index for each individual country of over a hundred countries that are subject to the evaluation. Countries are assessed by a number of previously assigned categories, such as the implementation of basic human rights, the level of corruption and its impact on social relations, perceptions of accessibility to rights, the manner of functioning of civil and criminal proceedings, etc. The WJP provides the opportunity for governmental and non-governmental organizations to connect with each other and establish multi-sectoral cooperation based on the common theme – “Achieving Justice for All”. It is an honour to be part of this big global chain aimed at increasing access to justice for everyone.

What is the impact of new investments on the legal profession?

— New investments create new challenges for the legal profession too. Legislators will have to draft laws that will regulate relations stemming from new categories such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Robotics, blockchain technologies, Internet of Things (IoT), cybersecurity and others. The future legacy of the legal profession is that it will have to provide their clients with practical answers to the questions that are derived from working and doing business in the new environment.

What is the future for further investments in Serbia?

— When observed independently, or as part of a larger regional market, the Serbian market has great potential for investments. Serbia is on track to establish a predictable normative framework that will ensure quality and fair market competition that makes the long-term perspective for investments a positive one.

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