fivehundred magazine > > Interview with… Cezary Żelaznicki, PWC Legal Żelaznicki SP. K.

Interview with… Cezary Żelaznicki, PWC Legal Żelaznicki SP. K.

What are the biggest challenges for international firms in Poland? 

A presence in many countries around the world is a great advantage for a law firm. International law firms more often advise on multijurisdictional projects, which are an integral part of our business especially on the transactional side of the practice. At PwC Legal, we have a variety of departments, including highly specialized ones, but we are primarily able to assist corporate clients with the vast majority of legal challenges they face in their day-to-day business. At PwC, we are not only legal advisors, but we also provide business, tax, technological and financial advice under a one-stop shop approach as we operate on a multidisciplinary basis.  

Nevertheless, I have no illusion that in the future providing professional services will be very different. This is why we see transformation and the development of new technologies as key elements to the success of any modern business. This issue affects us as well as our clients, which is why we are focusing on the transformation agenda to grow our competitive advantage. I am particularly proud that this year we received the award for the most innovative law firm in Poland in the 2020 Law Firm Ranking, organised by the ‘Rzeczpospolita’ newspaper. 

Are the conditions favourable for the rise of the Polish boutique firm? 

The current situation has certainly caused turmoil in the legal services market. This is due to post-pandemic economic uncertainty and how this might affect the legal services industry. Notwithstanding, these changes may also offer unique opportunities. After an initial period of shock, both law firms and clients have started to learn to navigate in the new reality. In the long run, changes in the structure and demand for legal services can be expected.  

I think that, at the moment, being proactive in developing new competencies and ways of doing things is crucial. These will be created by combining traditional professional competencies with expertise in areas often distant from the law. Although this may not always yield quick results this approach will put us at the forefront of changes to the way legal services are provided.  

Boutique law firms on the other hand are usually more narrowly specialised and limited to strictly legal services. Depending on their attitude to change, present conditions may be conducive to the rise of the Polish boutique law firm, if services are diversified to fit client needs and are adaptable to new challenges. I am deeply convinced that in a few years’ time, the Polish legal landscape will look different to the way it does today, in particular due to changes in clients’ expectations concerning the way they buy and use legal services. The focus will be on virtualization, digitization and standardisation and those who embrace these changes will flourish. 

How are firms benefiting from Poland’s vibrant tech sector? 

In my view, technological innovation is a driving force for any kind of advisory service. Technological trends can – and, in my opinion, should – be reflected in the day-to-day work of lawyers. At PwC Legal, we use the latest technological solutions, including those based on artificial intelligence, process of automatization of legal analysis and document automation. Our teams also have diversified skills and it is not uncommon for our lawyers to work alongside coders and IT professionals. 

As one of the few law firms on the Polish market we create our own LegalTech tools, which allow for the quick analysis of a large number of documents and workflow management. Increasing our effectiveness also results in better quality and often more attractive fees for our services. In this sense we do benefit from Poland’s vibrant tech sector as the tech knowledge base in Poland is high, which is an advantage not only for our firm but also for Poland as a international business hub.  

We are however, aware that technology is often ahead of or ill fitted to traditional legal concepts. The law should remain technologically neutral as it must be resistant to ongoing technological advances and innovations, some of which will not catch on or will inevitably fail. The law should not regulate the technology itself, because technology is subject to rapid progress, but it should aim to regulate the underlying phenomena and trends.  

What are law firms in Poland doing to adjust to the changing economic conditions, after a strong decade of growth? 

The sudden change of economic conditions caused by the pandemic is a source of uncertainty on the market. This year we are all going through major transformation on several levels. Nevertheless, recent months have shown that law firms are able to switch smoothly to a culture of flexible and remote working. Fortunately, in PwC Legal we introduced appropriate infrastructural solutions for remote working a few years ago, which has allowed our lawyers to work effectively regardless of their location.  

Despite economic growth we have not allowed ourselves to become complacent. Looking to the future, our main concern relates to the long-term consequences of the pandemic. Since the number of completed projects in a way reflects the economic climate of the market, it is crucial for any law firm to have a diversified portfolio and, to the extent possible, a healthy pipeline of projects, which is exactly the approach we are adopting. Although transactional projects do not like uncertainty, by the same token in times of uncertainty clients look to their professional advisers for guidance. This is why I deeply trust that the legal market will come out of the current situation, changed but more or less intact. 

What are the challenges posed to law firms by the Polish government’s public procurement policies? 

Public procurement is an extremely formalized area. It results in many issues for the ordering parties during the order preparation and tender processes. With regard to contractors, additional obligations appear at the stage of joining the tender and contract execution. Using the incorrect procedure or making a mistake may result in adverse consequences for the participants of the public procurement procedure and personal responsibility for the heads of units. Therefore, lawyers advising in the field of public procurement bear great responsibility, as even the smallest mistake can have significant consequences for the client.  

On 1 January 2021 the new Public Procurement Act will come into force. Although the Act is intended to harmonize and simplify the public procurement procedure, its entry into force brings with it another challenge for participants in public procurement proceedings. They will need to implement new practices for public procurement procedures within a two month window. This will be an enormous challenge bearing in mind the size of the new regulations, which consist of more that 620 Articles together with executory ordinances.  

Since becoming managing partner, what’s surprised you most about running a firm? 

Becoming a managing partner was an extraordinary recognition for me. Nevertheless, I was aware that such a role entailed many challenges. As we provide high quality services and are part of a renowned network, expectations towards us are also very high. In addition, the management model of the firm has changed over the years and initially I found the extent to which it is collaborative a pleasant surprise. This is because in our experience it is important for employees to participate in setting the direction of the firm’s development.  

In PwC Legal, we are aware of the fact that for a company to develop continuously, it is necessary for the entire team to work together. Particularly, when it comes to implementing new technologies, the guidance of younger employees, who, although less experienced, are much more courageous about innovation and change, is very valuable. I try to shorten the distance and reward employees who are creative in their approach to the company’s development and are not afraid to suggest changes to the way we operate. Managing partners bear the greatest responsibility for the proper functioning of the firm and its development, however, every employee has a much greater opportunity to participate in these processes and this is support that I rely on.  

How has your role/involvement in client-facing work changed since becoming managing partner? 

PwC Legal is a substantial organisation and requires hands on management on a daily basis. Therefore the role of the managing partner entails many new duties and responsibilities. I think that since I have become a managing partner, a lot more business knowledge and organisational work is required from me, even though, of course, I am still seen as a lawyer and need to demonstrate a high level of legal expertise. As a managing partner of a law firm which is part of an international network, I am seen by many clients and colleagues in the network as an authority on legal issues. The challenge is to stay up to date with all my competing responsibilities as well as changes to the law. However, I have a fantastic team around me who help me make this seemingly impossible task work.   

What advice would you give to the next generation of partners ready to rise in the ranks? 

Recent events have shown that one of the most important skills is to be agile with change. In the fast-moving business reality, we are not able to predict what the future holds for the next generation. Managing partners must constantly think about the next steps and be visionaries, adapting to new challenges if necessary.  

However, managing partners are also responsible for the company and, above all, the team. The success of any law firm depends on the people working in it. Our people are our biggest and most important capital. The younger generations of legal professionals introduce new rules and practices to the organisation. For them, work is an element of life, but not the defining feature. This is a good approach that I try to support and on occasion emulate as what truly matters is effectiveness and a healthy and fulfilling balance.  

A flexible approach to the workplace and working time is the future. Furthermore, the master and student convention applied in many traditional law firms is often built on creating a distant, hierarchical relationship. At PwC Legal, we have always strived for partnership in the implementation of tasks and exchange of views, regardless of the position in the professional hierarchy.Hopefully, this creates an environment in which the next generation can flourish and feel comfortable to ask for support and advice as and when they need it. 

What does diversity and inclusion mean to you? And, is D&I difficult in your jurisdiction? 

At PwC Legal, we take care of our values and culture and encourage diversity within the organisation. To me diversity is the understanding that each of us represents an unique set of innate and acquired features, which define us as an individual. Inclusion therefore is respect for the features and experiences that are different from our own and building bridges of understanding among people. This way, we can oppose discrimination, live the PwC values of doing the right thing and strive to achieve common goals.  

Diversity in the firm and in the community means that together we can do more. Nevertheless, we need to find answers to the questions that concern us e.g. implementing the principles of gender equality, and respecting people’s age, race, religion and other factors that make us different from each other. We need to take action to promote greater inclusion of people from other backgrounds in organisational structures. That is why at PwC we have an internal Diversity & Inclusion programme, which it is my honour to lead. Through the Diversity & Inclusion programme, we want to do everything we can to enable our people to fulfill their potential – for the welfare of each of us, PwC Legal and our clients. By promoting diversity and inclusion, we also hope to strengthen trust in our local community. 

What has been your greatest achievement, in a professional and personal capacity? 

In 2019 PwC Legal celebrated the 10th anniversary. With the benefit of hindsight, I consider one of the greatest highlights in my professional life to be joining and taking part in the creation and growth of PwC Legal in Poland from its very inception. From a professional point of view, it was an opportunity for me to push myself and work with highly qualified lawyers who have shaped my career path. This is also why I am particularly proud that PwC Legal’s team of lawyers and professionals create a strong community that shows support in every situation, both professional and personal and that we have shown true resilience during these challenging times. 

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