JPM Jankovic Popovic & Mitic is one of the oldest members of the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and, at the same time, the oldest full-service commercial law firm in Serbia
In an interview for the jubilee issue of In Focus Germany, we spoke with JPM Jankovic Popovic & Mitic Law Firm, namely with the firm’s three founders Nikola Janković, Nenad Popović, Miloš Mitić and Dr Jelena Gazivoda, who became a Senior Partner and one of the firm’s top executives in the 2000s.
Why is this year so special for you?
Nenad Popović: This year, we are proud to celebrate the 30th anniversary of our partnership and legal practice. If we were to draw a timeline of our history, it would start back in 1991. Since good ideas don’t just ‘come to you’, the years before our partnership defined the course of our future business.
How did you decide to join forces and form this partnership?
Nikola Janković: We were young lawyers working in the challenging economy in the country that was gradually falling apart. We felt the change and the whiff of market economy steadily taking over, and we wanted to participate in the formation of the new economy and legal market. Rules were quite different to what we were prepared for, during our studies. Most of all, we wanted to create a modern multi-practice law firm resembling Western law firms we saw in legal magazines and movies. We knew that this was not easy, but being young and having high aspirations, we embarked on what today is a 30-year-long journey of continuously looking ahead.
So, there was a shared goal?
Miloš Mitić: JMP developed and defined so much of what we today know about making law a successful business. Most importantly, with it came to the unmistakable evolution of our three different characters sharing one vision. We wanted to help businesses achieve their goals by bringing the added value, rather than be only a cost to our clients
“JMP developed and defined so much of what we today know as making law a successful business”
You started during the challenging decade of the 1990s and made it all the way?
Nenad Popović: We now see that the whole endeavour was a huge effort, especially in the first ten, more than challenging years throwing hell and high water at us. Doing business with international sanctions, hyperinflation, war and even bombing of our country was not without considerable personal
risk and usually extraordinary out-of-the-box solutions where required. Guided by the true spirit of partnership, we have successfully navigated rough waters of the first 10 years and have entered a much more stable period while becoming what we were hoping to be – a modern Serbian law firm delivering the highest quality of service to the legal market in Serbia and the SEE region and recognized as such by our clients and peers.
Is it hard to always align three opinions and make the right decisions?
Nikola Janković: We have always communicated from three different angles, and it gave us a unique and broad perspective of each client’s needs, not to mention a perfect understanding of specific business approaches used in each case. It is our adaptability, knowledge and competence that made it possible to make a successful combination of discipline and an exceptional set of legal business skills, which we have developed over many years so that we can build teams and specialize in diverse practice areas.
What does that mean in practice?
Miloš Mitić: Choosing the right people with expert knowledge in every major industry got us extremely well organized in both practice groups and multi-disciplinary teams with specialist lawyers. The way to make all these highly skilled people speak the same language was to share one communication model – ‘care’ of people and clients. This model is a common language across all practice areas, of which we have 20 in total. It facilitates common understanding, open discussions, knowledge-sharing and deep market intelligence.
We see a trend of smaller and boutique law firms developing. Still, you manage to maintain a different format.
Nikola Janković: The working process is as old as we can remember and developing practices is what makes JPM unique. We have managed to create optimum synergy through an inventive approach, to the level that has not been feasible on the largescale legal practice in Serbia and the region before. We built strong partnerships, offered tailored legal advice to international clients entering Yugoslav, and later on, Serbian and CEE markets. Our service was recognized by the quality equal to big international law firms.
“We keep our attitude essential and uncomplicated, perpetuate the tradition of trust and reliability, still guided by the true spirit of partnership”
Were your main clients among these companies?
Miloš Mitić: We opened the market and led the biggest international companies through the economy ‘earthquakes’ and the privatization in Serbia and the region. Our first big successful transaction was acquiring the local technical gas producer Tehnogas on behalf of the Messer Griesheim Group from Germany. The other big transactions soon followed, like the establishment of the first two foreign banks in Serbia after the Second World War, the first hostile takeover, the first EUR 1 billion transactions, and many more.
You mention both Serbia and CEE region as your markets?
Nenad Popović: Parallel and equally successful was our growth in the wider international landscape. We have extended our geographical reach through memberships in Lex Mundi (the world’s premier network of independent law firms) and our own regional TLA network, which positioned us as a one-stop-shop for the clients requiring multi-jurisdictional legal service.
What did the 2000s bring you, the era of fast technology and developing new industries?
Nenad Popović: Our team grew and our lawyers, although being strong individuals, are also great team players, fast, available, specialized in terms of practice area and industry. We have been bold in reshaping internally. With a growing partnership, we become even more JPM than before. One of our colleagues, Dr Jelena Gazivoda, a lawyer who “grew” with the office and brought another managing perspective, expertise and a new angle of looking at the future of our business, came on board our management team. Furthermore, with the implementation of the latest legal technology solutions, we can streamline work processes and collaborate more closely with clients, who come from every industrial and corporate sector: energy, banking, transport, manufacturing and telecommunications. Now, we are expanding our services to growing industries, such as renewable energy, IT and life sciences, using innovative solutions and a pro-active approach.
How important are awards to you? We know that JPM has been one of the highest-ranked offices for years.
Jelena Gazivoda: Recognition of our clients and peers which continuously makes us one of the highest-ranking law firms among the leading law firms by independent guides such as Chambers & Partners, Legal 500, and IFLR1000, are our greatest inspiration. They pave the way for new solutions in the most complex legal issues, and we can see that expertise and experience lead to the biggest success.
Looking at the future, what do you see?
Jelena Gazivoda: Growing to the 35+ lawyers in our team, we have embraced changes and remained devoted to the pioneering approach. Our regional presence and international success will still be supported by investing in further development and new people. Dedication offers exceptional results and looking at the young members of our team today, we know that our business will continue to grow at a charging pace, flexible and agile, especially in the challenging times we always look forward to. We keep our attitude essential and uncomplicated and perpetuate the tradition of trust and reliability, which have always been exercised by individuals for individuals, still guided by the true spirit of partnership.