EC warns Poland against barring foreign law firms

The European Commission has warned the Polish government that restricting foreign lawyers from practising in Poland would contravene EC regulations.

The warning was prompted by concerns over draft legislation to regulate and reform the Polish legal system which, by ruling that legal services can only be provided by Polish lawyers, would effectively force foreign lawyers out of Poland.

In a series of meetings with the Polish government, the European Commission has stated that such restrictions are contrary to article 44 of the EU-Poland European agreement.

Commentators have suggested that if the legislation is passed without special provisions for foreign practices, Poland's chances of joining the EC could be threatened.

An informal group of foreign lawyers in Warsaw is currently lobbying parliament with a provision to make allowances for international practices.

In the past two weeks they have met the Polish minister of justice and the parliamentary sub-commission which is dealing with the reforms.

Roman Rewald, a lawyer at US firm Weil Gotshal & Manges' Warsaw office and a member of the lobby group, said there was a lack of understanding in the government and among parliamentary members about the implications of the draft legislation.

He said: “They seem to think we want to practise Polish law, but I am sure that there is an element of them wanting to get rid of the prospect of international competition.”

He warned that law firms would be eligible to sue for damages if restrictive legislation was passed and that foreign investors would cease business with a market that was unable to provide high-quality legal services.

Robert Windmill, a partner at McKenna & Co's Warsaw office, said he had witnessed similar threats in other Eastern European countries.

“It is all about local lawyers defending their patch. I hope we can come to some kind of compromise,” he said.

Warsaw's international lawyers hired PR firm MP Agency at the beginning of the summer to coordinate their parliamentary lobbying on the laws to regulate the legal profession.