Jan. 8, 2018

“I like the start-up approach.I have an idea, a concept, we quickly turn it into a product"

Growing up, Tetyana Gavrysh wanted to be a doctor. But when the crucial time before her university years came, she opted to follow in the footsteps of her father and train to become a lawyer.

She doesn’t regret the decision. But her childhood interests remain and she does pro bono work for Ukraine’s Ministry of Health. By improving the nation’s health care, she is able to express her lifelong interest in medicine.

“My focus is medical reform, this is my challenge now,” she told the Kyiv Post. “I believe my input in this process will be great and the position of doctors will be better, so it’s good for me.”

Gavrysh, a managing partner at law firm ILF since 2000, said the goal of working with the health ministry is to create a new environment where graft has no chance to flourish. “The roots of corruption — and in the medical sphere too — are when state money is in the hands of small groups of people,” she said.

Gavrysh has faith in the progress under way in health care. But the same cannot be said for Ukraine’s distrusted and discredited judicial system.

Although a new Supreme Court is being chosen, it is still often better to resolve disputes outside of Ukraine, because bribes can still buy favorable court decisions in Ukraine.

“I don’t believe in its success now because of corruption,” she said. “It’s an unpredictable process for me as a lawyer.”

Looking east

Part of what sets ILF apart, says Gavrysh, is that it is the only one ranked inside the top 15 (by industry publication Yuridicheskaya Pravda) which has an office in the eastern city of Kharkiv. ILF’s Kharkiv office is bigger than its office in Kyiv and is home to a larger share of the practice’s 50 lawyers, although more of the firm’s clients are in the Ukrainian capital. But Gavrysh and her fellow partners expect this to change.

“The main office is in Kharkiv, this was our decision,” she said. “Kharkiv is the second city in Ukraine and the main city in the east of Ukraine. It has a great number of possibilities. We believe that business will develop there.”

Part of the trend in Kharkiv is helping businesses reorient themselves toward Europe and away from Russia, in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and the Kremlin’s ongoing war in the Donbas, which has claimed 10,000 lives.

Gavrysh said the shift has been tougher on larger state enterprises than smaller private businesses.

“Business is trying to find new markets now,” she said. “We’re supporting small and medium-sized business in places like Europe and Asia. It’s something new and it has changed the environment in the region completely. Kharkiv is very European now.”

In general, ILF’s client base is a mixture of Ukrainian and international businesses. But as a result of being located in Kharkiv, one of the most prominent practice areas has become cases of individuals and enterprises located in Russian-occupied eastern Donbas.

Plaintiffs in such cases are seeking compensation from Ukraine and Russia at the European Court of Human Rights over damages to their property and livelihood in the war. Gavrysh told the Kyiv Post ILF is working on 15 such cases and that no concrete decisions from the court are likely for at least another 18 months. But she is confident.

“It’s not easy to say because this is only the first such experience at the European Court. We believe that both countries will pay.”

Standing out

Established in 1994, ILF is one of the older law firms on the Ukrainian market. But that does not mean it is complacent. The opposite is true, she said. Each year, the firm holds summer schools for employees.

“I like the start-up approach. I have an idea, a concept, we quickly turn it into a product and test it,” Gavrysh said. “It’s not easy but it’s possible. A lot of old-style, traditional lawyers don’t believe in this approach. Sometimes my colleagues look at me and say: ‘she’s strange.’ But I like it.”

Going against conventional wisdom could be called a hallmark of Gavrysh’s style. As one of the few women to have reached the top of her profession, she already stands out. She is “very sensitive” to the gender issue, she said, although it has not been a professional disadvantage. Success ultimately comes down to one thing: “Be yourself. It doesn’t matter what you do. Be yourself and act on your values.”

Published in 13th edition of the Kyiv Post Quarterly