There’s an old Russian joke about a foreigner who visits the Soviet Union. Knowing his letters will be read by the state censor, he devises a system to communicate with friends back home. If his letter is written in black ink, the message is true. If it is written in red ink, the message is false. Eventually his friends receive a letter from Russia written in black ink: ‘Dear friends, I hope this letter reaches you. Contrary to the lies in our press, life in the Soviet Union is wonderful. Food is plentiful, apartments are spacious and well heated, and there are no shortages. In fact, the only thing I can’t find here is red ink.’
Asking international lawyers about the year they have just had in the Russian market is a similar exercise in reading between the lines. While many firms report that they are still making money, fuelled largely by a boom in restructuring work, this picture is undoubtedly airbrushed by lawyers’ unwillingness to discuss the negatives. No-one, however, is in any doubt that the precipitous decline of the Russian market is hitting revenues.