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Schoenherr Sets Its Sights on Poland: An Interview with Alexander Popp and Pawel Halwa

Schoenherr Sets Its Sights on Poland: An Interview with Alexander Popp and Pawel Halwa

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In late November 2023, CEE Legal Matters reported that Schoenherr was expanding its Warsaw office with the addition of a team of 23 lawyers, including seven Partners, from SSW Pragmatic Solutions. Schoenherr's Managing Partner Alexander Popp and the firm's Poland Office Managing Partner Pawel Halwa walked us through the move, its rationale, and their next steps.

CEELM: Let’s start at the beginning. How did this move come about?

Popp: The move was a strategic decision, emerging from a deep analysis of our firm's trajectory and market position. We've been contemplating our long-term strategy, particularly concerning key markets and clients, people, and our partnership. Our vision is to be the leading firm in the Central and Eastern European region, with specific attention to key markets like Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic.

In Romania, our firm ranks within the top five, and we have a robust presence in the Czech Republic. Our strategy in Poland is pivotal – as a strong foothold there amplifies our regional influence – considering the size of the Polish market and the global reach of Polish businesses. This strategic endeavor began around a year ago, setting the stage for our current expansion.

Halwa: In the context of the Polish market, its sophistication and dynamism present unique opportunities and challenges. Recognizing the benefits of a larger, more diverse team, we sought to expand beyond our traditional organic growth dotted with small team additions. Our strategy was to bring in a sizable, integrated team, enhancing our expertise and service offerings. This expansion aligns with our broader vision to develop further in our areas of strategic interest.

CEELM: How did you chance upon the new team?

Halwa: Our approach to identifying potential partners for expansion was proactive and strategic. Upon realizing that the new team had the potential for integration, we initiated discussions. The cultural fit and shared vision for the market were central to our talks, followed by the necessary operational and financial details.

CEELM: We saw that the new team's practice focuses include Corporate/M&A; Capital Markets; Banking/Finance; and TMT/IP. Who was targeted for the move and why?

Halwa: Our focus included those key areas as well as private equity and private debt. Rather than creating a fixed 'shopping list,' we sought a synergistic fit. Our evaluation process revolved around understanding the team's dynamics, their approach to work, and the potential synergies with our existing structure, both in Poland and across the CEE region.

Popp: Our firm values organic growth, as seen in our partner development. However, the Polish market necessitated a scale-up in size and capabilities. We aimed to find a team that shared our values and approach towards client service and entrepreneurship. This local initiative, led by Pawel, was essential for ensuring seamless integration with our existing team, which already undertakes significant international work. The new team's client portfolio and their approach to business were congruent with our strategic objectives.

Halwa: The cultural aspect is also crucial for successful integration. The new team's approach to business and client service aligns well with our firm’s ethos, making them an excellent fit for our Warsaw office and the firm as a whole.

CEELM: And what was the selling point – what drew the team towards Schoenherr specifically?

Halwa: Schoenherr's reputation as an international firm with a strong focus on the CEE region was a significant draw. Our size allows us to make a noticeable impact internationally while maintaining a personalized approach. Our transactional focus and dedicated presence in the CEE region make us uniquely positioned to serve Polish businesses and PE funds looking to expand regionally.

Popp: We have a history of following and supporting our clients in their ventures into new markets. This will now extend to the clients of the new team in Poland, facilitating their regional expansion. The new team's ability to bring these opportunities to their clients, now backed by our stronger international framework, was a key aspect of the attraction.

CEELM: What synergies did you find with the existing practices and team and what were some of the elements that required ironing out?

Halwa: Our practice areas are well-aligned, with the main focus areas being consistent between the teams. The new team brings a robust national market focus and local client base, complementing our existing team's international work. This amalgamation enhances our overall capacity and allows us to serve international clients more effectively. Integrating new personnel into our unique culture poses challenges, but we have a comprehensive plan to facilitate this transition. Interestingly, our analysis revealed minimal potential for client conflict or attrition, which is encouraging for a smooth integration.

CEELM: What were the clients’ reactions and to what extent have they followed the team onto the new platform?

Halwa: The response from the market and our clients has been overwhelmingly positive. The clients we targeted have shown enthusiasm for our expanded capabilities and regional coverage. The phased integration of the new team has already begun, with a few members joining us in the past few days and already moving into the office. Conversations with clients, both existing and new, reflect excitement about our enhanced services and reach.

CEELM: What were the short-term plans post move? Are you changing offices – or making any other adjustments necessary on account of the significant size increase?

Halwa: Accommodating the substantial increase in team size required logistical planning. Our recent move to a new office in central Warsaw was a strategic decision, made in anticipation of this expansion. Our focus now is on ensuring a smooth transition and effective communication throughout the firm. The primary objective is to integrate the two teams, fostering a cohesive working environment and fully leveraging the available opportunities. We anticipate minor additions to the team over the next year, but the primary focus remains on integration.

Popp: The planning for this expansion has been meticulous and the benefits of the integration extend to both teams. The new team has all the necessary resources at their disposal and, after proceeding with the local integration of the team in Warsaw, our focus will shift to integrating them at the regional level, gradually introducing them to other partners, clients, and the wider region.

CEELM: And what can we expect from Schoenherr Warsaw in the mid and long term? Does the firm’s change in size and capabilities mean it will expand or refocus the types of clients and mandates it works with?

Halwa: In the medium to long term, following integration, we anticipate a shift in our client profile, with an increased focus on sales and outbound work. Our expanded capabilities will enable us to cater to a broader range of clients, including working with borrowers in addition to financial institutions. This growth is expected to generate more referral work for our other offices. Our expansion in Poland, coupled with our strong presence in Romania and the Czech Republic, may shift the center of gravity slightly within the firm. However, as a regional entity, we are accustomed to such dynamics and are well-prepared to adapt.

Popp: Our ambition is to be the premier firm in the CEE region. Strengthening our presence in key markets is crucial for this goal. We foresee further growth in other markets, such as Hungary and Croatia, benefiting from our enhanced position in Poland. As with any evolving business, our strategies and focus areas will adapt to market changes. We already have CEE partners in our Steering Committee, emphasizing our commitment to regional representation and decision-making. English is the firm's lingua franca, fostering inclusivity and diversity. Our recent Christmas Party in Vienna, where we invited all teams from all our offices, highlighted our focus on people and internationality, a critical aspect of our firm's ethos. We aim to further emphasize diversity and international perspectives, as these elements significantly contribute to our firm's strength and resilience.

Halwa: Alexander's summary encapsulates our strategy and outlook perfectly. We are aligned in our vision and prepared for the exciting journey ahead.

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