Established in 2012 by Anton Grilc and Iztok Starc, the firm of Grilc, Starc & Partner is based in Krško, a town in the east of Slovenia close to the border with Croatia, but also has a branch in the capital, Ljubljana. With a population of just over two million, the country is “small but very active in international business,” says Anton (Toni) Grilc, “thanks to our location between the Adriatic Sea and the Balkan and Central European hinterland.”
Grilc and Starc originally hail from the same area and went to the same schools, so when Starc was looking for somewhere to complete his professional practice requirement after working in business and health insurance, Grilc was happy to oblige. Their practice currently employees four associate lawyers, in addition to the partners, and two support staff.
“Our ambition was never to be big,” Grilc admits, “but to be specialised and focused on our clients’ problems. We concentrate on corporate, labour and real estate law and strive to be business partners for our clients, working constantly in close connection with them. We aim to appoint the best lawyer for each case and offer truly personal service in the areas we know best.”
Around 70% of Grilc, Starc & Partner’s clients are companies, primarily small- and medium- sized businesses from Slovenia, many of whom come through contacts with local Chambers of Commerce and local trade guilds. It also works with banks, insurance and leasing companies, for whom it carries out debt collection, legal consultancy for commercial matters and real estate transactions. The firm dedicates most of its time to offering legal advice, with litigation accounting for less than 20% of its workload.
The reason for this, in part, is because the Slovene judicial system is heavily weighted towards mediation, Grilc explains. Changes to the civil law code in the last decade and a half, following a successful test in two courts, have helped significantly reduce the complications, costs and time required to resolve civil and commercial disputes, when both parties opt for mediation at the beginning of the procedure.
“Slovene judges, lawyers and notaries have been trained by international mediation schools,” Grilc notes, “and every court has a list of mediators to whom they can refer cases. We always avoid going to court, if we can, and look for alternative remedies to negotiate agreements. We’re convinced it’s better to prevent than to cure.”
From the start, the firm was also convinced of the value of looking beyond Slovenia’s borders, so becoming part of TEN, The European Network of Law Firms, “came naturally”, Grilc says. They came into contact with the Polish member firm, Kanski Kapczuk Kniat-Borsut sp.p., via a large Slovene client and Grilc struck up a good working relationship with Maciej Kapczuk, who, as luck would have it, leads the committee for prospective members.
Grilc, Starc & Partner joined TEN in June 2017 and Grilc insists the network is “very helpful for developing personal relationships”, which make all the difference when providing cross-border legal advice: “Your client trusts you”, he points out, “but they also need to be able to trust foreign lawyers. We have a similar range of abilities to our fellow members in TEN, so it has been a great opportunity for us – we can ensure that our clients are comfortable, and it is also a good marketing tool.”
To date, most of the cases the firm has dealt with involving TEN have been debt collection proceedings for banks, which Grilc says are much easier through the network. But it has also taken on a labour law-related matter in cooperation with TEN Advocaten, the member firm from the Netherlands, and has “weekly contact” with Joint Law Office Brezak and Grabas in Croatia.
Much of the work Grilc, Starc & Partner do with their Croatian counterparts in TEN involves property law, Grilc’s particular speciality, given the large number of Slovenes who own property in Croatia and vice versa.
After being inspired to be a lawyer by TV shows he watched in his youth, Grilc began his career working in a medium-sized firm before passing his bar exams in 2004 and, then, setting up his own firm in 2007. Having brought in lots of new clients to his previous firm, he was able to take a number with him with their blessing, giving him a solid start to his new venture.
When not at work, helped by his firm’s ‘family-friendly’ policy, Grilc is married and has two daughters, aged 10 and eight, with whom he enjoys sailing and exploring Slovenia and its neighbours in their motorhome: “From us, it’s two hours to almost everywhere,” he jokes. He also catches up with friends a couple of times a week to play football, both for sport and socialising.
Grilc’s ambitions for his firm are “to continue as we are and to grow in quality. Things are going in the right direction and we are aiming at being able to choose the right kind of business, balancing our personal lives with profitable work to do the best job we possibly can for our clients.”