Zapraszamy do lektury wywiadu z Jackiem Bieniakiem, Partnerem Zarządzającym act BSWW na łamach The Legal 500.
Managing partner Jacek Bieniak explains how act BSWW is adapting to clients’ changing needs.
What do you see as the main points that differentiate act BSWW from your competitors?
The Polish legal market is very competitive. The opening of the legal profession and the appearance in the business of many new entities and freelancers gave rise to new challenges which now must be faced by the entire legal sector. Lately, a tendency can be discerned where law firms either endeavour to specialise in a given field or provide corporate clients with comprehensive legal services. Our law firm combines both.
We have strong and recognisable practices such as real property, M&A, bond issue, capital market and Italian desk, which is headed by me. What is more a team of 60 experienced lawyers allows us to provide our clients with services of the highest quality also in the fields such as corporate law, labour law, taxes, energy or IP/IT/TMT. act BSWW combines expert knowledge and reputation of a boutique law firm with the means to provide full legal services characteristic of big network law firms, while keeping its fees at a reasonable level.
Which practices do you see growing in the next 12 months? What are the drivers behind that?
In our business a lot depends on the general economic situation. However, I expect that next year our real estate practice will grow significantly, both in terms of the number of clients and the value they represent as well as the number of hired staff. This follows from the general market trend and stable growth on the market of offices, shopping centres and warehouses. The growing presence of our law firm in real estate deals is recognised by professional portals, and act BSWW has been named next to international legal companies.
Impressive office buildings are being built in Warsaw and other major Polish cities which will offer premises not only to local but also international companies and, increasingly often, shared services centres, CE, CEE or EMEA hubs. It is quite likely that the Polish market will benefit from Brexit, and global corporations will move parts of their businesses to Poland or other Central Europe countries, attracted by the availability of highly qualified and competent workers speaking many languages and high-quality office space.
It should not be overlooked that the purchasing power of Poles and, what follows, the demand for consumer goods is on the rise. New shopping centres are being built which are each time bigger than the previous ones. This applies not only to agglomerations but also to smaller cities. Those already in place are modernised to keep up with the requirements and needs of both tenants as well as individual customers.
The transport infrastructure in Poland gets better and better, although not as fast as we would have it. This factor also contributes to increasing number of warehouses. All the mentioned issues have major influence on the legal assistance and services related to real estate projects which are our specialty and for which we are deservedly known.
Our second strong practice, in which we invest and which we continue to develop, is corporate bonds issues. Analysts say that this market, as an important alternative to bank loans, will continue to grow. In spite of the fact that on the debt financing market, bank loans, which are now quite widely available, are the most popular solution, companies are increasingly more willing to seek alternative sources of financing. Bonds offer such an alternative – in particular those taken by corporate bonds funds and Private Equity/Mezzanine funds.
Our practice shows a clear upward trend both in terms of the number of transactions as well as in the value of the financing provided by the funds. From the point of view of companies seeking financing, bonds – in spite of higher costs – often ensure faster decision-making process and more elastic terms of financing and, more often than not, lower expectations of the investor regarding the security of the financed project. Funds are often able to finance projects which failed to meet the expectations of banks.
As the market grows, we have been noticing increasing competitiveness on the market of legal services related to corporate bonds and higher client expectations. Our competitive edge is based mostly on the expert knowledge supported by rich experience – the lawyers of our law firm together have handled over 300 bond issues. What is more, we ensure that during each transaction our team is fully available to clients and guarantee that the process is fast – with this objective in mind we continue to add new members to our team dealing with bonds.
We are also expecting an increase in the number of M&A transactions in the Polish market, as our team has experienced an increase in demand for our services in this field. It’s still too early to say at what pace the market will develop, but we are confident, that we will see growth in the next 12 months in that regard.
What’s the main change you’ve made in the firm that will benefit clients?
In the spring of 2017, after months of preparations, we and 5 other top law firms from Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Slovakia established a completely new network of law firms under the name of ACT Legal. We hope that soon an Italian law firm will join our network. It was a strategic decision dictated by our clients’ need for legal services beyond the Polish borders, coordinated and integrated within one organization. By offering quality services in various countries in return for a reasonable price, we aim to be a viable alternative to global legal networks. Of course, the issue of sharing experience among our practices and lawyers as part of the alliance is a crucial factor.
As the leader of the act BSWW Italian Desk, I can see clearly how important for the clients in the knowledge about the local market and business as well as the possibility of communicating in their native language. As one of few Polish law firms, our team includes Italian advocates, Italian speaking lawyers and tax advisors. What is more, a part of the act BSWW top management speaks Italian fluently. Our portfolio includes Italian clients as well as Polish companies running business in Italy, which serves to prove how appreciated the command of Italian is among the clients.
Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients, and the services you can provide them?
This questions is related to the many dimensions of the word technology.
First of all, technology determines the type of business run by a client. There are more and more companies dealing with new technologies and, obviously, this means that lawyers must keep up with the most recent technological trends. The more innovative the client’s operations, the bigger challenge in terms of knowledge and business is faced by the lawyer. One needs to bear in mind that technology develops at a faster pace than the legal system, which forces lawyers to seek new solutions within the framework of the law in place.
Second of all, technological changes mean new relations with clients. Law firms take steps to mark their presence in the world of new media and communication. Building reputation by sharing knowledge by means of various law-related texts on blogs, professional portals or in papers became common practice. Employment-oriented services such as LinkedIn are an indispensable tool building our recognisability and expertise.
Last but not least, within a law firm technology allows to automate repetitive processes and speed up the exchange of documents among clients, the law firm and authorities. Clients’ expectations force lawyers to be available virtually 24 hours a day. We are expected not only to have knowledge but also experience, to know the client’s business and maintain good relations with clients. I am positive that further technological developments will make it possible to establish even closed links with our clients.
Can you give us a practical example of how you have helped a client to add value to their business?
Sometimes clients’ expectations can be contradictory. On the one hand, a client sees a partner of a law firm as an expert in a narrow filed of law, on the other, such client expects him or her to advise on strictly business matters. We always try to adjust to the needs and expectations of individual clients or the requirements of given project.
We come across cases where as a result of our advisory services a client changes his or her business model for the sake of risk mitigation related to personal data protection or tax issues.
Another example is the support we provide in deciding on the manner of organising a business, in particular, in the case of foreign clients. Such added value cannot be achieved without knowing the business, its mechanisms, the market, the filed on which the client operates or the possibility of verifying assumptions and plans.
It is also necessary to know prominent figures and decision-makers in a given business. Our clients benefit from our contacts when they want to develop their business or obtain an expert opinion regarding specific filed. We often bring our clients together by organising networking and social events which serve as basis to establish relations among our clients.
Are clients looking for stability and strategic direction from their law firms – where do you see the firm in three year’s time?
Managing a law firm composed of a few dozen of lawyer is a tall order. There is no doubt that leading such a big legal company is possible only because the team comprising key partners and lawyers, experts in individual practices, remains unchanged. Clients also appreciate it. They grow accustomed to the same people providing services of the highest quality. This aspect of our law firm will not change for certain.
Over the last years, we have been systematically strengthening our position on the Polish market, currently we rank among the first 20 law firms. We intend to appear among the 10 biggest law firms in Poland within the next 3 years. We are proud to say that the partners who found our law firm have been working together for 15 years, and they know each other even longer.