Romania lies on the historically and geographically significant crossroads between the East and the West and both its roads and its waterways provide important routes for commerce between continents. It is no wonder, then, that the transportation, logistics, and infrastructures sectors in Romania offer high potential for growth and profit. The prospect of harnessing this potential has attracted investors from around the world – and law firms positioned to help them succeed. Danilescu Hulub & Partners, founded by Partners Lucian Danilescu and Andreea Hulub in April, 2020, is one such firm.
How it Came Together
“Andreea and I met ten years ago through our clients who, at the time, were doing business in the port of Constanta,” recalls Danilescu Hulub & Partners’ co-Founding Partner Lucian Danilescu. “We are both consultancy lawyers and were involved with two of the largest law firms in Bucharest.” Indeed, Danilescu spent 14 years at what is now Zamfirescu Racoti Vasile & Partners before, in 2011, going on to co-found Mares/Danilescu/Mares. For her part, Andreea Hulub spent twelve years at Popovici Nitu Stoica and Partners, where she coordinated one of the M&A practice groups.
Although both worked on real estate matters, their primary areas of focus differed. Hulub was more involved with M&A transactions and industry, agricultural, and port/airport-related matters, working on deals such as the acquisition of Azomures by Switzerland’s Ameropa Group, the acquisition of Macon Group companies by construction materials giant Xella, the acquisition of regional agricultural distributors Promat and Agroind by Ameropa, and the acquisition of a majority stake in turnout sleepers producer Travertec by Voestsalpine. Danilescu, meanwhile, was focusing on energy and privatizations, including those of RomTelekom, Distrigaz, Petromedia, and Banka Agricolo.
According to Danilescu, over the course of several years, he and Hulub began encountering each other often – frequently on the opposite sides of transactions. It soon became clear that their focuses overlapped, and a friendship formed. The two became increasingly close – their families even started going on family ski trips together –and over time, they became aware that their attitudes toward their profession, organizational strategies, and even politics were aligned.
In finally deciding to join forces and open a new firm, Hulub insists that the essential consideration was their common approach to clients. “We both felt there was a need for a change in the approach to client relations,” she says. “We both envisioned a more approachable and less rigid client approach, more dynamic and integrated to client needs.”
And Danilescu points to the value of a common goal. “You and your partner really need to be focused on the same thing,” he says.
According to Danilescu, he and Hulub chose to focus their practice on areas like infrastructure and transportation, where Romania was falling behind, despite the country’s geographic importance. “Romania is very important in the transportation sense,” Danilescu says, “because of the Danube and the Black Sea. The Danube coastline is not utilized enough, as it is still mostly underdeveloped in our part of the river, unlike in Germany or Austria.”
Developing the necessary infrastructure would facilitate the transportation of both Romanian and international goods. “Dacia, the automobile manufacturer, has a very big problem with transporting its products,” Danilescu reports, noting that “the company is considering shipping them via the Danube and the Black Sea as a solution.” According to him, waterways have clear advantages over roads, since one barge alone can carry 3000 tons, equal to about 150 trucks.
Thus, Hulub claims, the Danube provides Romania with a massive competitive advantage, and its connection to the Constanta Port via the Black Sea-Danube canal provides a fast and eco-friendly alternative to transporting goods overland from Constanta to the west of the country. The opportunity thus presents itself for a law firm genuinely skilled in infrastructure and transportation matters to carve out a profitable niche for itself. “Ultimately, it is an intricate and complex field, and results in it are hard to achieve,” Danilescu says. “That is why becoming a master of it is very rewarding.”
Still, bringing about change in the area is easier said than done, and Danilescu notes with some frustration that Romania’s legal environment remains a significant impediment. “Even though we implemented all the regulations that the EU asked, there are some specifics that still need to be addressed,” he says, noting that Romania was the first country in the EU to establish the Council for Surveillance in the Naval Domain. “The role of the Council is to regulate transportation tariffs, because several local authorities had been charging different prices. What is now required is an amendment to the existing legislative framework whereby this Council is given more extensive powers and attributions so as to be in position to effectively implement the regulations – EU Regulation 2017/352 and Romanian Law 235/2017.”
In fact, Danilescu reports, his firm has been invited to participate in the working group established by Romania’s Ministry of Transportation to amend Law 235/2017 (and Government Ordinance No. 22/1999) both concerning the exploitation and management of Romania’s port infrastructure.
A Snowball Rolling Downhill
While Romania’s legislation sometimes still frustrates, Danilescu Hulub & Partners has exceeded expectations since its establishment last spring. “We succeeded not only in keeping some of our old clients but also taking on a few new ones,” Danilescu says, proudly, “including two big Dutch groups.”
Unsurprisingly, much of the firm’s work since its launch –which coincided, more or less, with the arrival in Romania of the COVID-19 virus – has involved the pandemic’s effects on the country’s business sector. “Our clients contact us about labor issues and financing issues,” he says. “Everything is kept afloat by the government’s assistance packages,” he adds. It’s not all Covid-related, though, and Hulub reports the firm has been “happy to assist clients in development projects and some acquisitions in the logistics sector as well.”
Looking into the future, Hulub sees real potential: “It took us more than ten years each to build up a thorough specialization in – and a sound understanding of – the transportation field, and we are proud to be the only local law firm bringing added value for our customers in this field.” Indeed, she says, “considering Romania’s strategy with regard to the future development of its transportation network and the anticipated inflow of related EU funds – Romania is expected to receive some EUR 80 billion in funding from the EU over the next few years to improve its infrastructure – we expect that our business will ride this wave.”
As a result of its initial success, the Danilescu Hulub & Partners team has already begun to grow. “We hired two new associates at the end of 2020, and we continue to be on the lookout for young talent,” Danilescu says. Hulub nods in agreement, adding that “the firm will provide everyone with a fair professional growth environment and access to partnership will be open to those who will be ready to run the extra mile along our side.”
Still, Danilescu says, the firm’s path is unlikely to include massive expansion. “We see ourselves with a team of about 30 lawyers,” he says. “Anything above that, you have to start building up a corporate environment. Then that becomes the main focus of the partners, instead of focusing on clients. We decided to provide full service to our clients on a daily basis. For this, you need to be involved in technical and practical work, and of course, leading a team; you don’t want to be involved in petty work.”
In addition, Danilescu notes, keeping the firm a manageable size allows them to maintain its culture. “We train our younger colleagues by ourselves and we want them to work in a friendly environment, not in an aggressively competitive one. We want them to feel like part of a family.”