George Z. Georgiou & Associates LLC has grown exponentially within the last few years and has quickly become recognised as one of Cyprus’s leading practices.
Could you give us a brief overview of your firm and share with us your significant milestones?
I founded the firm in 2005 and since then we have worked with both individuals and companies of all sizes, high-profile multinationals, municipalities and banks. Our experience and knowledge of business allow us to provide legal services to some of Cyprus’s largest local and international companies.
We have a team of highly qualified and experienced multilingual lawyers and legal consultants and specialise in corporate and commercial litigation, including property, land and employment issues. Banking is also an important sector for us. We represent three of the four largest banks in Cyprus as well as some international banks. Litigation is where my heart is, and we are very good in this area. We work hard to be active in this sector and to maintain our good reputation in the courts, which has helped us develop and grow our business.
Everything depends on the quality of service. It is crucial to be approachable and to understand our clients’ needs. Just as important is to deal in an honest and transparent way, as the bottom line for any client is the quality of service at a fair price.
A significant milestone for our firm was the admission to the Lus Laboris membership in May 2006. We are the sole Cypriot member of this international alliance, which is the leading global alliance of labour and employment law practitioners, specialising in all areas of law relating to Human Resources (HR). As a member of Lus Laboris, our firm can provide fully coordinated, yet locally-specific global advice, to any international client.
Where do most of your clients come from and what are your key target markets?
We mostly deal with local companies or international businesses with a presence in Cyprus as well as foreign companies worldwide that come to us by referral. When it comes to corporate litigation and legal advice the key countries we do business with are the UK, Ukraine and Russia. We usually work with large companies and serve them globally on employment and HR matters, debt collection and regulatory issues.
How would you describe the legal sector in Cyprus at the moment?
It is a strong sector and there are very experienced firms operating in Cyprus, I would say it is on par with any Western European country. However, we are less regulated compared to for example London, but overall the standard of the profession in Cyprus is very good and we have a strong industry. There are a lot of new lawyers coming into the profession at the moment and I believe there will be a surplus of lawyers in the market over the next few years.
What would you say are the key competitive advantages of Cyprus over other jurisdictions?
Cyprus’ well-developed services sector and English speaking workforce, common law system and advantageous tax regime are key benefits. The fact that Cyprus is relatively small also allows businesses to exploit new opportunities quickly and efficiently. The location and climate of the country is also a benefit as people want to visit Cyprus and to have representative offices here.
The current economic climate has been challenging for business, how do you see the situation at the moment, has there been a loss of business?
Our work has actually increased, especially our employment advice work, which has quadrupled from both private and public companies. We do not specialise in corporate services, so we have not been affected much by whether companies are setting up in Cyprus, but the current uncertainty in the economy naturally affects every sector. The financial crisis has been a serious wake-up call and we need to make changes. For the time being, we have not been significantly affected in the services sector and Cyprus is holding its position. We may not be expanding, but we are definitely maintaining our position as a strong jurisdiction. There is no fear of a collapse, however we do need to keep developing and moving forward.
Have there been any recent significant developments in regards to new legislation or regulation to encourage more business into Cyprus?
The trust law reform and new tax treaties have been very beneficial in terms of attracting and maintaining business here and we are working on pension reform. We are hoping to introduce some changes into the new pension bill to make Cyprus more attractive to foreign investors and businesses.
What key areas do you feel need more development in Cyprus in terms of maintaining and attracting international business?
The pension schemes are one key area that needs to be developed in Cyprus as soon as possible. The recent economic problems have highlighted the urgent need for pension reform both in the public and private sector. Although we have the framework in place, we have been very conservative in implementing and interpreting it. There is big scope for reform to allow Cyprus to become a destination for cross border schemes.
The European directive on pensions allows for example a multinational company with offices or subsidiaries in ten European countries to have the pension scheme to be administered from one country. You can group them all and have economies of scale and thus cut administrative costs. If Cyprus does not start developing these schemes, multinationals and other companies could start favouring other jurisdictions over Cyprus. Hopefully we will have more political support in modernising this sector and this will help retain business in Cyprus.
Although needing reform, what are the key benefits for companies to set up pension funds for their employees in Cyprus?
The comparative advantages are roughly the same for funds and trusts. Key benefits in Cyprus are the legal framework, the affiliated quality services like accounting and professional services, the fact that we are not over regulated and the laws are not as heavy as in many other jurisdictions. We have a golden opportunity now to develop Cyprus into a stronger jurisdiction for international business.
In terms of legal matters, what benefits can Cyprus offer international business?
There is also a lot scope with litigation work in Cyprus. We have been very active in trying large disputes with an arbitration element. If shareholders in Cyprus companies have a dispute, they usually arbitrate in London, but having assets in Cyprus you also need protection here and we have the necessary framework and specialist laws in place. On the arbitration side, Cyprus has been very beneficial for business with Russia and other Eastern European countries. The fact that we can register and enforce Cypriot judgements in Russia has been a big advantage for international business. Even London courts find it hard to register and enforce judgements in Russia, however Cyprus has a competitive edge because of our bilateral treaty with Russia and we have instances where we have done this successfully. For example, we can have the actual legal proceedings in Cyprus and send the judgement to a Russian court, where it is registered and recognised – and then enforced.
This legal aspect significantly helps international business in Cyprus. The Cypriot courts have been successful and have tried disputes and worldwide freezing orders in the same manner as the UK courts. Thanks to the historical good relations with the Eastern European countries, in some cases it has been easier and more flexible to litigate and register a judgement in Cyprus. Another key factor is that litigation in Cyprus is about a tenth of the cost of that in, for example, London, which gives Cyprus a major advantage in terms of attracting businesses to operate through here. In addition many companies prefer to litigate outside of Russia and other Eastern European companies and Cyprus can provide a secure and efficient jurisdiction for these proceedings.
Do you see Cyprus’ reputation growing as a preferred location for litigation? There have also been efforts to brand Cyprus as a centre for arbitration, what are your thoughts on this?
Yes, Cyprus’ reputation for litigation is growing, but also in some ways it is a by-product of the economic crisis. Cyprus being a thriving centre for international business and with Cyprus companies controlling assets worldwide, this is an upwards trend. There may be a reduction in company registrations at the moment, but there is an upward surge in litigation. Once the current economic situation stabilises, corporate disputes will naturally decrease and company registrations will increase again. As for making Cyprus a centre for arbitration, I think this is a good and promising initiative. We need to make some amendments to the legal framework to support its development, but we have the necessary infrastructure and high quality law firms here to brand Cyprus as a centre for arbitration.
How do you see Cyprus’ legal landscape developing in the next five years?
Maintaining talent is always a challenge as well as maintaining a high quality of service by building the necessary foundations and infrastructure for your company. For us, it all starts and ends with the quality of service you provide to your clients. Because most of the law firms are family businesses in Cyprus, one challenge is often to maintain continuity as the next generation of family lawyers take charge.
We need to make changes and fight complacency. In order to stay ahead and maintain its position as an attractive jurisdiction, Cyprus must keep developing and modernising its legal and regulatory framework. There are already efforts being made to achieve this and if we stay on this track, Cyprus will continue to be a thriving financial business centre.
George Z. Georgiou graduated from Bristol University’s Law Department in 1999 and was admitted to the bar in England. After returning to Cyprus in 2000, he registered with the Cyprus Bar Association and set up his own law firm George Z. Georgiou & Associates LLC in 2005.