A Partnership 30 Years in the Making


As CMS Budapest celebrates 30 years in business in Hungary, the Budapest Business Journal spoke to some of the senior leadership at the law firm – managing partner Erika Papp, partner (also office founder and managing partner until last year) Gabriella Ormai, and CEE managing director Dóra Petrányi – about how the firm has evolved in Hungary and the region, and what the future might hold.

Erika Papp (center) and the partners of CMS Budapest.

BBJ: How has the law firm changed in the past 30 years?

Gabriella Ormai: First of all we’ve got a little bit bigger: we started out as a two-person law firm to become the biggest in Hungary with more than 75 lawyers, plus over 60 staff members. As we grew bigger, we’ve also added more and more specialist areas to our legal offering, like employment, IP, finance, compliance or competition, just to mention a few and we invested a lot to understand the sectors our clients operate in, be it automotive, energy or TMT.

BBJ: How have the markets changed? Presumably there are now areas of law that did not even exist back in 1989?

Dóra Petrányi: The world is constantly changing around us and the legal profession also has to keep up with it, as new technological developments pose new legal questions that we have to answer. Digitalization, for instance, brought a big wave of change and TMT [Technology, Media and Telecommunications] became a particularly important sector at CMS, as digitalization affects all companies, even if they are not operating in the TMT sector. But on a smaller time scale, we have just celebrated the first birthday of GDPR on May 25, a very important legal development which came into existence only recently.

BBJ: What areas of law are particularly important to the firm today, both in Hungary and CEE?

DP: I cannot mention one particular area of law, rather digitalization, which is most of the time at the intersection of multiple areas of law. For us, right now, the hot topics are definitely cybersecurity and AI, both in Hungary and regionally. Just in the past year for instance, more than 100 cyber incidents were recorded, affecting 18 CEE countries, so it is a very real and, most of all, costly issue.

BBJ: Looking back over the long history of the firm in Hungary, what are you most proud of?

GO: That we have clients who have been with us for 30 years now. But I’m also very proud to see every year, when the BBJ publishes the fresh rankings of legal directories, that no other law firm in Hungary has as many Band 1 rankings as we have. We built up the biggest and one of the best law firms in Hungary, yet we managed to remain a very friendly, open, down-to-earth firm, a company where people like to come to work every day.

BBJ: How do you think the markets might change over the next 30 years? How do you think lawyers will operate?

Erika Papp: We will have more technologies to aid our work. We already use cutting-edge software, which is helping us to do our job faster, be more punctual and more transparent and this will only accelerate in the upcoming years. Technology and machines will replace a significant part of the work that is now done by flesh and blood people, but I still think it is a positive trend, if we know how to reshuffle our capacities and expertise. For instance, we will be able to focus more on the big picture, that is advising our clients at a strategic level, taking into consideration their business goals and the particularities of the sector they operate in, which our clients already see as a great added value.

BBJ: Erika, you became managing partner last May; how was your year?

EP: My first year as a managing partner of CMS Budapest has been smooth and great fun. First of all, the Hungarian economy has been doing very well and our firm has produced excellent financials. All practice groups have been busy and we have had a great year in terms of being involved in high-profile legal transactions. Apart from our financial performance, I am also thankful to my partners and the staff of CMS Budapest, who have worked hard and have given me a tremendous amount of support. We operate in a shared leadership, and each of my partners has taken on responsibility and done heavy lifting on my behalf in one way or another.

Our office is very much integrated into the Central and Eastern European CMS network and into the wider CMS community. As a new office managing partner in the CMS family, I have had the benefit of tapping into a network of highly experienced and skilled managing partners in the region, with whom I can talk to at any time of the day to ask for advice and tips.

My own practice group, the banking and finance team, had a fantastic year in 2018, mainly due to the strong Hungarian lending market. I am lucky to have a great team of specialized banking lawyers who made sure that in the first year of my term as managing partner, I could devote the time to learn managing the office on top of providing advice to clients.

Obviously, this first year consisted of a lot of learning and long hours of work. But I have taken over the management of the office at the best possible moment. There are great opportunities in store for both Hungary and Europe, and it is an exciting time to be a lawyer and to be leading CMS Budapest into the future.

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