AEL goes east as it forges links with Polish practice

The Alliance of European Lawyers (AEL) has expanded eastward to Warsaw by signing an “agreement of co-operation” with leading local practice Consultor.

Consultor, one of the largest firms in Poland, was established in 1985 by law lecturers from Warsaw University. It has since become a leading provider of legal and tax services to domestic and foreign clients and has worked on several transactions instrumental in the transformation of the Polish economy.

The firm will change its name to Alliance Consultor as a result of the co-operation deal. The office will be staffed by 15 practising lawyers, seven of whom will be Polish partners. Several member firms of the AEL, an alliance of six European legal practices, are expected to second experienced associates to Warsaw.

A tenancy agreement has already been signed for bigger offices to accommodate the influx of lawyers and new technology that the AEL will bring.

Marc Bartel, a partner with the AEL's joint Brussels offices, said at last week's International Bar Association conference in Amsterdam that he was not worried about the Polish rules for foreign lawyers because “the alliance is not a European Baker & McKenzie; we will be practising local law with local lawyers and if they develop into the best domestic firm in the market, we view it as beneficial to the firm and the alliance as a whole”.

He added: “I am not worried about the risk of being in an uncertain environment because, even if the legal market is stable, there is always a chance that partners may leave and join someone else.”

Bartel's comments were borne out by news that the Polish government had finally decided on a “foreigner-friendly” version of a draft law which, at one point, could have made practising in the country impossible for expatriate firms.

The latest amended version was passed by the lower house of the Polish parliament. The bill will now pass to the upper house and is expected to be made law later this year.

In a separate development, Clifford Chance is sending senior property partner Peter Armstrong to Warsaw to bolster its property operation in central Europe.

He will become head of real estate in Poland, a move which is in direct response to the surge in activity in the Polish property sector, partly fuelled by foreign investment as well as an injection of finance into the country by the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.

Head of Clifford Chance's property practice, Tony Briam, said the time was right to send Armstrong to Warsaw.