Russia’s judiciary resolves disputes for a country of almost 150 million people that includes some of the world’s major energy and investment companies. But its government has only been around for about thirty years. Litigating in this relatively new system sounded challenging, so I asked Russian lawyers Mergen Doraev and Ivan Semenkin, partners at the Moscow law firm EMPP, to tell me about their work.

Why should you keep reading this post about litigation in Russia?

  • You are involved in a cross-border dispute and are curious about litigating it in Russia.

  • You would like to discover that the Russian court system is like the American one, but with vodka and caviar.

  • You are an American spy doing reconnaissance on Russia and reading this blog post is part of your investigation.

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Ivan Semenkin is a transactional attorney who works on mergers and acquisitions, as well as joint ventures.

This interview has been lightly edited.

Background

Can you tell me about the kinds of disputes you handle in your legal practice? 

Our team is specialized in resolving commercial and corporate disputes and in intellectual property/IT litigation. We also traditionally assist clients recover large debts and in insolvency and restructuring cases. 

Additionally, our law firm has a private client practice which focuses on disputes related to family and employment matters.

What type of clients do you generally represent in disputes?

Most of our clients are medium and large Russian companies including subsidiaries of transnational corporations.

Besides Microsoft Office, what software do you use in your practice?

There are a number of local software programs we use for research purposes. These include Garant and Consultant Plus.

Our firm also uses ProjectMate, as time and billing software, and the CaseBook system to manage court cases. 

Zoom and Skype for Business are also very popular. 

What books and websites do you use for legal research?

Currently, books are considered as an outdated resource for legal research. In addition to customary legal databases, we use websites of both local commercial or general jurisdiction courts (here is one example) and the website for the federal system of commercial cases, which allows us to track any commercial lawsuit filed within the territory of the Russian Federation. 

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Mergen Doraev practices litigation and arbitration.

Russian Litigation Procedure

Do you electronically file documents with the court, or must you deliver paper copies of pleadings to the courthouse?

Electronic filing is a common practice in Russia, and there is no requirement to deliver paper copies of pleadings to the court.

Generally speaking, how many pages are the complaints or initial pleadings you see in your work? 

In general, the statement of claim does not exceed 20-25 pages. However, it depends on a complexity of a case, and accompanying documents attached to a statement of claim can vary from hundreds to several thousand pages. 

Generally speaking, how long does it take for a case to go from complaint to judgment, not including appeals?

The proceeding usually takes from 6 to 12 months.

Is there a specialized court that only hears commercial cases?

Yes, there is a so-called Commercial (Arbitrazh) court. It has jurisdiction over economic and commercial disputes involving either Russian or foreign legal entities.

If an individual is involved in a dispute, a commercial court asserts its jurisdiction if the individual has the status of a registered entrepreneur, or if the law specifically establishes that the dispute is under commercial court jurisdiction (for example, if the case is a corporate dispute).

Who decides issues of fact in commercial disputes: a judge or a jury?

Jury trials are not available in commercial disputes in Russia.

At the first instance, a judge hears a case alone. The procedural rules provide that a party can request the dispute be considered by a panel consisting of one professional judge and two so-called arbitrazh assessors, who are people with specific knowledge in certain areas of economics, finance and management. But judges actually appoint arbitrazh assessors only in very rare cases.

Generally speaking, how is evidence exchanged between the parties before trial?  Do you get to interview the opposing witnesses before the trial? 

Under Russian law, there is no deposition or discovery procedure. The pre-trial interview of the opposing witnesses is not available in Russia and the general rule is that each party shall provide evidence relevant to its own arguments.

However, the court is entitled – upon a party’s request – to order another party to disclose specific documents in that party’s possession.  

If you win, does the other side reimburse your attorneys’ fees?

Yes, a losing party shall pay the other party’s legal expenses including attorneys’ fees.

To satisfy the winning party’s request for compensation of attorneys’ fees, a judge considers whether attorneys’ fees are reasonable. In addition, the judge has a right to place all legal expenses on a party that has abused its procedural rights or has not performed its procedural duties. 

Do you believe that Russian courts have a particular strength for resolving commercial disputes?  How about a weakness?  What are they?

From our point of view, a strong point of Russian courts is that they provide quite speedy proceedings.

As for the weakness, Russian courts tend to be very formalistic. The judicial system is overloaded, especially in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and often Russian judges do not have enough time to study the subject of the dispute and consider all the evidence.

How often do you go to the courthouse?

As a rule, we attend the courthouse very often, usually every week, depending on a number of parallel proceedings. 

When you are there, do you need to wear a special robe or some other garment?

There are no special closing requirements in Russian court, but traditionally most lawyers prefer business attire. However, this year the coronavirus pandemic forces courts – mostly commercial ones – to hold proceedings online, and, as a result, many lawyers started to wear less formal dress attending online courtrooms.