Legal Market Overview
Unsurprisingly, Poland’s experience of 2020 was shaped by the global Covid-19 pandemic. The country fared better than its CEE neighbours during the first wave, but did experience a more severe second wave later in the year. According to the European Central Bank, Polish GDP in 2020 is likely to have fallen by around 4%, which is comparatively low against other regional economies.
In March, the virus’ arrival in Europe caused shockwaves across all industries and the vast majority of mid-market deals, the mainstay of the Polish market, were put on hold. Activity did pick up relatively swiftly, in part due to the market’s reliance on industries affected by the pandemic such as tourism and hospitality, and the construction, TMT and manufacturing industries. The government, through the Polish Development Fund, embarked on an unprecedented bailout of businesses with pandemic-related revenue issues; a programme that engaged numerous law firms in its implementation and operation. The bailout has been largely viewed as a success and, along with measures such as mortgage and rent deferrals, buttressed confidence in the market.
Despite the pandemic, the presidential elections went ahead, with incumbent Law and Justice party stalwart Andrzej Duda, narrowly defeating his liberal rival Rafal Trzaskowski. The election result affirms Law and Justice’s widely criticised war on the judiciary, the critics of which allege has called into question judicial independence and the rule of law. Criminal defence lawyers are seeing an increase in the number of executives seeking representation against corruption charges.
The year also saw major changes in the legal market. The lower level of inbound deals in the CEE market generally, and smaller local profit-margins, has meant that some of the international firms have started to withdraw. In January, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP left Poland and its entire Warsaw-based team became Rymarz Zdort, while Magnusson’s team, less intact, founded Penteris. In a move that surprised many observers, the banking and finance team at White & Case M. Studniarek i Wspólnicy – Kancelaria Prawna sp.k., under the leadership of Tomasz Ostrowski was hired by Deloitte Legal, Ostrowski, Gizicki i Wspólnicy sp.k.. These moves reflect a rapidly changing legal market, although it remains to be seen whether the pandemic will accelerate this process.