Even if you are a great lawyer, it does not mean that you are a great manager and that you know how to run your own law firm. It’s a learnt skill. I have learnt it first hard.
It was 2014. I was the owner of a law firm in Warsaw. Finally, my dreams had come true and after 14 years spent with Allen&Overy, I had decided to go my own way and set up my own law firm which would focus on M&A, private client work and litigation.
I was quite proud of myself. I could do whatever I wanted. This was an incredible feeling of freedom and independence. Besides, I wanted to create something lasting for my colleagues and clients. It was a fabulous feeling!
But there was also the other side of the coin. The top-tier international law firms in Warsaw were stronger and more influential. Our firm was like a small boat on the ocean. Every wave could overturn us. Big law firms had better websites, better offices and better marketing. There was nothing we could do about it, although we thought that we were very good lawyers.
One opportunity for growth was my contacts with ex-A&O lawyers all over Europe. We knew each other from my A&O times, had shared values and some of them had (like me) created independent firms. The cooperation started very modestly from a single transaction handled with my former A&O colleagues in Hamburg and Milan and then very quickly it developed into a collaboration among firms in nine countries founded by former A&O colleagues. We felt that we were on the right track to build something unique and significant in Europe – an elite, independent legal network. It was a great idea. But commercialization of this idea was not easy. It required the utmost experience, wisdom and flexibility.
I decided to go to London and see my ex-boss from A&O - Stephen Denyer. At that time Stephen worked for the International Division of The Law Society in the City of London. I bought the ticket, packed my things and flew to London. Stephen received me very warmly. We worked together in the 1990s in Warsaw. We went to the café at the Law Society to have a beer and to talk about old times. While drinking the cold Stella Artois in the café and looking at the paintings of the illustrious English lawyers hanging on the walls, I learned probably the most important business lesson in my life.
Stephen was speaking to me like an inspired prophet and I was taking notes trying not to miss anything. It was like the wisdom of many generations of great English lawyers speaking through him. How to develop the network, how to use social media, how to think about the brand, the importance of an impressive and easily navigated website, attending conferences, and being on Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook, why good marketing is so important. Stephen continued: “Sometimes you have to be like a fox and sometimes like a lion. You need to learn the flexibility and diplomacy which we have practiced here in England for centuries. It is not sufficient to be a great lawyer; you need to be seen as a great lawyer. For this you need good and effective PR and the brand to be associated with quality. It is vital to offer a world class service to your clients – remember!”
I had heard these things before but this time it was different. It was spoken directly to me by a man who knew me and knew the secrets of the legal world. Stephen eloquently continued:
“The first thing you need to do is focus what your brand stands for. You need to have a unique selling point. Too many businesses are simply ‘me too’ businesses. Whatever makes you stand out from the crowd and adds value to your customers is what you must communicate - this will be the foundation of the brand you build! Look at the best law firms in the world and try to follow their ways. Try to have an international focus while still being a Polish law firm.”
It was an epiphany! An international focus while still being a Polish law firm
– this was really spot on!
I went back home the next day. We adopted Stephen’s advice 100%. We made a shift towards the cross-border matters, we moved our offices to one of the most prestigious addresses in Warsaw, we improved our website, we started to be visible on Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook and to attend major international conferences. We also started to hire the best graduates. In 2016 (and again in 2017) we were named by the Legal 500 as one of the two best Polish law firms for Private Client work, which has opened many doors for us in Warsaw and in London, including being instructed on several dozen restitution cases concerning property confiscated in Poland by the communist government after 1945. In 2017 we were also named by Chambers & Partners as the best law firm in Poland in the private wealth category. Given the growing importance of legal directories, top tier position in both rankings paves for us the way to the stars.
Today, on the 10th
anniversary of Woźniak Legal, we can be proud of our position. In the current period of great re-organization which is taking place in the legal market worldwide, we are in prefect shape to fight for our rightful place.
Grzegorz E. Woźniak