Raised in a family with close ties to the legal profession – her mother and sister are notaries – Luiza Budușan knew she wanted to be a lawyer when in high school. After studying law at Cluj’s Babeș-Bolyai University, one of the country’s prestigious public universities, she completed two years’ on-the-job training and, together with one of her current partners, Ioana Suzana Trana, she set up her own practice in 1997.
Since then, Budușan & Associates has gone from strength to strength, adding a new lawyer at a pace of one a year for the past two decades, to now have a roster of 21 lawyers, including Budușan and three other partners, as well as support staff. While smaller than some of the big names in Bucharest, Romania’s capital, the firm ranks in the top-three in Cluj-Napoca, a city with some 1,400 lawyers and a total population of around 400,000.
“We specialise in commercial consultancy,” Budușan explains, “which gives us permanent work, rather than on a case-by-case basis. We have had close relationships with some of our clients from the beginning and know their businesses and their families well. We help advise them on how to avoid law suits and court cases – which nobody wants except us lawyers.” One of the firm’s most interesting recent cases – that involved a team of six lawyers – was a cross-border insolvency case, with a favourable outcome for the client against whom this procedure was abusively requested.
The firm also works on behalf of private individuals for personal and family law matters, and looks after civil law cases when required, but the vast majority of its business – “Around 75-80%,” Budușan estimates – comes from corporate clients, including both local firms and foreign companies that are active in Cluj and across Romania: “We don’t really lose clients,” she admits, modestly.
Their typical clients are among the larger enterprises in Cluj, with between 100-400 employees, and branches of the many multinationals that have their base in the booming city, which boasts stunning architecture from the Austro-Hungarian period. These include real-estate developers, infrastructure and roads construction companies, OEM auto-part manufacturers and distributors, textiles, footwear and food-production industries, as well as some of the many IT firms that have helped the region earn the nickname of the ‘Silicon Valley of Romania’.
“Cluj is growing,” Budușan says, “with a lot of new buildings going up, meaning there is more demand for construction law expertise. And with around 25% of the total population made up of students during term-time, it is a cosmopolitan hub that hosts major art exhibitions and festivals. It also has an international airport with great connections to the rest of Europe.”
The firm was approached by TEN, The European Network, a decade ago and became a member back in 2008. Most of the work it does through TEN is incoming on behalf of businesses with activities in Romania, Budușan says, but it also uses the network to better serve national private clients who have interests overseas.
“TEN is really something special,” Budușan believes. “We get to work with colleagues and clients across Europe face-to-face, on a personal level, which creates a lot of trust. We can count on TEN for our clients and know there will be no disappointments. Every year it gets better and we get to know one another more as we grow. The network is always in need of expansion and we’re targeting a presence in every EU country.”
She also notes that TEN is a powerful differentiator for her firm from a marketing point of view, particularly as regards foreign clients, as it gives them greater confidence in Romania.
Although women have always been well-represented in the Romanian legal profession, Budușan & Associates is unusual in that the firm is run by a woman, all of its partners are women, and 13 of its 21 lawyers are women too. For the most part, however, Romania remains a patriarchal society with a traditional family structure, Budușan says, which means that women who choose to have children can see their careers suffer elsewhere.
She herself has two children and so understands the importance of work-life balance.
One of her partners – Carmen Szabo – heads up the insolvency and fiscal departments, while the other – Diana Flavia Barbur – helms the family law department. The firm’s experience in this latter field has lead them to become committed defenders of women’s rights – as regards to gender-related violence. Family law specialist Barbur spearheads the Budușan & Associates’ involvement with a local shelter, where the firm has been providing free legal advice, volunteer time, and financial assistance for the last four years.
Budușan says that while commercial success brings financial rewards to the firm, the really fulfilling part of the job is the chance to “contribute to someone’s life, help them through complicated periods and see the effect of positive change. It makes it all worthwhile.”
She is very proud of Budușan & Associates’ team and the good relationships those who work there have. The law firm has created a real culture of loyalty and the desire to share experiences with colleagues, in and out of the office. “When we win big cases, we all jump around,” she smiles. “We enjoy winning together.”
One of Budușan’s passions is running and she inspired no less than 19 of her fellow lawyers to join her at a recent race, having completed a half-marathon. As a result, her firm has also earned a reputation around Cluj and local lawyers say to one another: “If you want to work at Budusan, you have to run.”