Serbia’s JPM Jankovic, Popovic, Mitic has added a new practice to its offering – the first Corporate Criminal practice in Serbia. We reached out to JPM Partner Jelena Milinovic to learn more.
CEELM: Congratulations on the launch of this new practice. Can you walk us through the firm’s decision to do so, now?
Jelena: The practice itself was not created based on a decision we made intentionally, beforehand, but was in fact the other way around, so to speak.
The legal services we performed and the advice we provided to our clients and the types of cases in which we represented them – coupled with an ever-increasing amount of work – created a need for us, within JPM, to readjust our approach to this area of practice. Also, the increase of work demonstrated the need for such specialized practices on the legal market in Serbia. At JPM we are in a unique position to provide these services in the best and most efficient way possible, with expert knowledge, experience, and staff.
In addition, over the past few years we started noticing two things: The first was that the situation on the market of corporate legal services in Serbia related to Criminal Law was such that, in some cases, law firms have had to team-up with traditional criminal lawyers or offices that, in most cases, deal almost exclusively with Criminal Law. Some corporate law firms even made permanent cooperation arrangements with law firms specializing in Criminal Law, so that when such cases appeared, they could outsource this type of work to external associates.
The other thing we noticed was that, for several years now, foreign companies operating in Serbia have brought with them a certain set of standards that they apply to comply with Western laws and regulations. This approach seeped over to domestic/local companies and influenced the way they comply with local Serbian rules and regulations – but it also revealed the need for foreign companies to adapt their operations to Serbia’s legal framework as well.
All of this inevitably meant that state authorities – primarily public prosecutors and courts applying penal regulations – also had to make an adjustment. The sheer number of cases that could be broadly marked as corporate crimes (both misdemeanors and economic offences) increased for them as well.
All of this eventually led us to formalize our approach and to form a special department within JPM specifically dedicated to this area. In forming the practice, we have kept in mind the way law firms in the West approach this area, many of whom we’ve had the pleasure of working with for a number of years.
As far as we know, in the Serbian legal market, ours is the first dedicated practice of this kind, and JPM stands as a pioneer in the area.
CEELM: Who is leading the team and how big is it?
Jelena: A team of three stands at the helm: Senior Partners and Founders Nenad Popovic and Milos Mitic and, as the formal organizational leader, me – Jelena Milinovic.
Nenad Popovic and Milos Mitic each have nearly 30 years of legal experience, with Popovic focusing on Corporate Law and M&A and Banking and Finance, and Mitic focusing on Litigation and Dispute Resolution. As for myself, I joined JPM three years ago as partner after having previously served as a judge for 16 years – ten years in Criminal Law and six years in Civil Law matters.
The way we three partners combine our knowledge and different perspectives, allowing us to look at each case in this specific legal area from a different angle, we believe, was also a strong catalyst in forming this department.
Naturally, all other members of the entire JPM team will pitch in and help as needed, depending on the case and the legal specialization that is required, such as Tax, Banking, Environmental Protection, etc. This is, and has always been, the way that JPM does business.
CEELM: What sorts of client needs will the practice be addressing?
Jelena: Broadly speaking, there are two directions of legal services that the practice should offer clients. These are criminal – i.e., punitive aspects – as a reaction, and criminal compliance, as prevention.
The reactive end of the spectrum – the criminal and/or punitive law – includes two aspects as well. The first covers all that one could label as “defense” in punitive proceedings, from the earliest stages until the end, not only with respect to physical persons (most often the management of the company that may come under persecution for both intentional action and neglect), but also to companies themselves. Legal entities increasingly face the possibility of criminal legal responsibility. Indeed, in our experience, public prosecutors are attempting to apply the provisions of the Law on Criminal Responsibility of Legal Entities, which has been in effect for ten years now, increasingly stringently
The other aspect is related to all of the things that follow companies or individuals who find themselves being damaged by crimes. The scope of work in this begins with analyzing data and documentation regarding the identification of the criminal offense, misdemeanor, or economic offense committed at the expense of the company; identifying the culprit if possible; and representing the company in all proceedings that may follow.
Criminal compliance, as you know, requires first an analysis of company data and documentation to identify and assess the risks with respect to criminal law, followed by preventative counselling to minimize the risk of violations, and thus sanctions. This is done by establishing compliance structures within the company, which generally depend on the type of business activity and the model of the company’s operations. This would, strictly speaking, constitute criminal due diligence, and it also includes counselling and recommendations regarding the way a company is run to ensure that it is fully compliant, including managerial and employee education to this end.
Also, regarding criminal compliance, we think it is important to emphasize what we have already seen multiple times in our work so far. There have been a number of cases in which our clients – both companies and management – could have avoided public prosecutorial or judicial procedures had they had established a regulated criminal compliance system, or at least have engaged in prior counseling to that end before making a particular business decision or undertaking a particular business activity. We believe and hope that in the future, businesses and companies operating on the domestic market will start paying more attention to this legal area, because otherwise, due to the increasing interference of the state and its institutions in the business world, they will be forced to face all the consequences and burdens that these proceedings carry with them.
CEELM: In the past, has JPM been handling these matters through other practices or have you been referring the work to Criminal Law boutiques?
Jelena: We have done it more less the same. We have been assigning experienced professionals depending on the actual nature of the case. The teams were formed on a case-by-case basis. For example, our office was involved in several high-profile cases related to corporate criminal cases in the past years. On certain occasions, we cooperated with some criminal law boutiques, but only within a rather limited scope.
This is just a step forward in terms of institutionalizing the whole process.
CEELM: Finally, what are your personal feelings about this new adventure – about the upcoming challenges and opportunities involved in JPM’s Corporate Criminal practice?
Jelena: As we’ve already mentioned, JPM has been working this way for a while now, in this legal area, but we certainly are pleased to be able to offer a more narrowly specialized legal services practice to our clients. And to be able to do so first on the Serbian legal market!
This area of law in itself, given the complicated and serious possible consequences that not only companies but company executives personally may face in case of any transgressions and breaking of the law, brings with itself a special kind of responsibility, and we take it very seriously. But, with all our years of experience, we believe that our knowledge, dedication, and reputation will allow us to provide our clients with the best possible advice and legal assistance in all situations in which they can find themselves, in this area of the law.