How a small practice founded in 2007 by ex-Allen & Overy lawyer Grzegorz Woźniak developed into an esteemed and recognisable legal brand
Throughout our history, we have had one goal – for Woźniak Legal to be regarded as a centre of excellence. Our philosophy has always been that quality is king and that we need to provide to our clients a “World Class” advice. Today, we are an esteemed and recognisable legal brand in Warsaw working at the cutting edge of the most challenging legal disciplines. Each time I enter the office and look at the name ‘Woźniak Legal’ fixed to the wall, I feel pride and excitement for what we are building together.
Since I started my law firm in 2007, my main priority has always been the same: attract the right talent, train the talent and maintain that talent. I am a great believer that it is people who create a successful business through their passion and conviction. I successfully recruited a group of young and talented people who were eager to adopt the values which I learnt at the Magic Circle law firm Allen&Overy: integrity, competence, dedication and loyalty to clients are common across the firm and are the bedrock of our practice. This is what sets us apart from other lawyers in Poland. But it was not so easy in the beginning.
The decision to leave Allen&Overy in 2007 was not easy for me. I was agonizing when I put my termination notice on the table. However, I knew it was the right moment and that I had to do it; without this single step, nothing would have been possible. My goal was to set up my own law firm which would focus on dispute resolution. I wanted to be like Atticus Finch played by Gregory Peck in To Kill the Mockingbird
and defend innocent people rotting in jail. My plan was to provide the same consistently high quality of service as the top-tier international firms, whilst delivering services in a more personalized and flexible way. I also had a drive to be an entrepreneur and to create something lasting for my colleagues and clients.
My founding aim of “using the law to improve people’s lives” did not work as planned and I quickly realized that Atticus Finch was a myth. I also had to recognise quickly that while lawyers are trained to practise the law they are rarely educated in the commercial realties of running a firm. This was my challenge in the first years.
It also turned out that other law firms had better connections and were smarter than we were. They had much higher profile than a small practice set up by ex-Allen&Overy lawyer. The question was how can I get more work and be more profitable.
I have to admit that in my early career with Wozniak Legal, I didn't take the right opportunities and often went for the easy choice which led to an easy solution and a fun life, but that didn't ignite the fire I needed to build a higher profile. I found myself surrounded by middle-of-the-road people - that's not to say they weren't great people but they were not necessarily inspiring from an entrepreneurial point of view, and I think the culture was one of accepting mediocrity.
Then in 2014, I decided that the only sensible way forward is to get back to my Allen&Overy roots and focus on international strategy. I had many contacts from my previous job so I went to London to see my previous boss from Allen&Overy, who’s been my mentor and a role model for many years. This meeting changed my business life.
My ex-boss told me that the secret to success is self-determination. When you are the captain of the ship, you get to decide which way to sail. Hard work is not enough, you need a strategy and a plan. If you want to achieve something, it has to be a matter of life and death for you. And it is always better to surround yourself with successful people. Success brings success.
I decided to follow these rules. To be able to deliver the quality service to international clients, I created a partner training programme and led one-on-one coaching on the commercial realities of running a successful, modern law firm, instilling commercial awareness across the firm. This has helped our lawyers to feel strong and confident. We became active on LinkedIn and Twitter. We became members of the International Bar Association. We made our submissions to rankings and in 2016 we were ranked Top Tier by the Legal 500 in the Private Client category. This was the breakthrough. It was the skillful handling of a property case in Warsaw in 2015 that established our reputation as brilliant private client lawyers and increased our profile. Next year we were recommended by the World Jewish Restitution Organization as experts in restitution work. With clear business objectives we were ready to handle the most difficult transactions and the most difficult court cases.
Since then, we have been going from strength to strength. Today, our expertise covers all area of commercial law including M&A, company law, antitrust regulations, real estate, employment law and regulatory issues.
We also have a strong expertise in dispute resolution, involving commercial litigation as well as white collar crime, fraud, asset tracing and recovery. Our position was cemented in 2016, when we handled a much publicized landmark class action case on behalf of a group of luxury apartment owners in Warsaw against one of the largest Polish property developers. It was the first such class action in the country.
In addition to our commercial practice, we have also developed a top-tier reputation in private client which remains our special area of expertise. We have been ranked by both Chambers and Legal500 as leading law firm in Poland in this category.
London remains our main point of reference, both in terms of quality of our services, the values and the approach. We have been very proactive in cultivating our firm’s links in the UK. In this context, we have been active participants in a number of seminars and events at the Law Society in London, including the seminars on the CEE energy sector, infrastructure and Polish corporate regime.
In 2018, the firm received a “Highly Commended” award by the Law Society of England and Wales in Excellence in International Legal Services category as the founder of New Circle network of law firms, which was set up by lawyers who worked closely together at Allen & Overy. Receiving the award was not only a great honour for us but it also gave us an increase in profile.
I am happy to say that in the last years I met a lot of truly successful people. It's through meeting other successful people, watching what they do and surrounding yourself with like-minded people that you gain the tools to become successful. No one is truly great on their own – it’s a team effort and if you employ other brilliant people, you will be a success!