Polish threat to foreign offices

THE LAW Society is fighting moves by the Polish parliament to introduce legislation requiring foreign firms with offices in the country to either shut down or transfer their capital to Polish lawyers.

If it is enacted the draft law would affect leading firms such as Theodore Goddard and Clifford Chance which have offices in Warsaw.

Patrick Oliver, from the joint Brussels office of the law societies, recently met representatives of the European Commission and pushed for the matter to be raised with the EU-Poland Association Agreement Committee this month.

As a result of the discussion the commission asked the Polish delegation to clarify the purpose and effect of the law.

“The Poles emphasised that the law was only in a draft stage and that implies that they are flexible and willing to listen to concerns,” says Oliver.

“Our view is that certain parts of the law are unnecessary and, if it is adopted in its current form, it would have a detrimental effect on the wider political relations between Poland and the EU.

“They've said that they'll get back to the commission in two or three weeks and the ball is now in their court.”

Chair of the Law Society's committee on Central and Eastern European relations, Stephen Rayner, says the committee has urged lawyers to contact the Polish Bar about the issue.

Rayner, senior partner at Rayner De Wolfe, says his firm had operated a small office in Warsaw but it closed for a number of reasons including “the anticipated Polish government attitude to foreign lawyers working there”.

“Originally there was a proposal that local lawyers should have at least a third of the capital of the legal offices set up by foreign lawyers,” says Rayner.

“I think most people might have been able to live with that but what eventually emerged was that 100 per cent of shares would have to be transferred.

“If this is passed it will have the effect of excluding foreign lawyers from having any interest in terms of ownership in their own firms.”