Beata Gessel - Kalinowska vel Kalisz: Lawyers with a passion stand a chance of being noticed in the market – people like this are always in demand. You’re better off starting out at an existing law firm – opening your own may be more difficult.

Katarzyna Borowska, Rzeczpospolita: If you were completing your training articles today, would you take the plunge and open your own law firm?

That’s a difficult question. When I was qualifying as an attorney, times were different. Even during my articles, I worked at a company, heading up its legal department which was staffed by qualified attorneys and advocates. Back then, there weren’t too many lawyers who were well phrased in business law and who spoke good English. These days, this set of skills has become quite common. I’m afraid that this isn’t the best time for bravado.

And your advice for young lawyers is...

None but the brave.

So what, specifically, would be your advice for young lawyers ? How should they start their careers?

People who are committed to what they do, who like the law, and who can set goals for themselves will always find their place in the market. From the perspective of an employer, I might add that not every aspiring lawyer interviewing for a job brims with enthusiasm, knows how to apply legal knowledge in practice, and has a feel for business. It is exactly for this reason that those who do have these attributes are bound to make their mark in the market, be it at a large law firm or a small one.

Are there a lot of young people looking for jobs?

At my law firm, we receive roughly one hundred applications for every vacancy. But it’s not as if all of these cvs are sent in by people with exceptional qualifications. I emphasise again that the really skilled people are few and far between.

What are the traits that a young lawyer must display in order to land a job at a good law firm ?

At our firm, every candidate is asked to address two case studies – one in Polish, one in English. This enables us to verify her knowledge right away. Then there are those people who try to gain recognition with their overall enterprising nature; incidentally, not every young lawyer who approaches me is actually looking for a job at my firm.

What other business might they have with you ?

Some time ago, I was approached by a young female lawyer inquiring about a mentoring relationship. She was out working on her own, but she felt that she might benefit from pointers and support from an experienced lawyer. Her e-mail piqued my interest, so I met with her and talked with her about the problems she is encountering in building up her own law firm. In a perfect world, such a mentoring role would be filled by the lawyer tutoring trainees in the course of their articles. Unfortunately, given the sheer number of trainees, this system does not always function as it should. All too often, trainees get hardly any face time at all with their tutors.

Is it a good idea to choose a specific field of the law to specialise in at the very beginning of one’s career ? Or is it better for a young lawyer to try a little bit of everything, or maybe hope that happy circumstance will nudge him towards his specialisation?

I also give university lectures, which affords me the opportunity to follow young people as they grow. I met this young woman who has a passion for arbitration. She was very active already as an undergraduate, she took part in all the arbitration competitions. She found a postgraduate course in Switzerland. In order to pay for this, she assembled the money from donors, from private companies. By this time, she was well-known in the arbitration community thanks to her proactive involvement, she got a whole lot of recommendations and a scholarship to cover some of her tuition.
This girl has already made her mark. Once she completes her postgraduate course, she will have no problem at all finding a job. People like her will always be able to make their way in the market. Of course, there are also people whose professional interests are not so clearly defined yet.

Does this put them at a disadvantage in the market?

No, this does not necessarily amount to a fault. Many people settle on a specialisation and hone it only once they begin working at a law firm.

The number of vacancies at existing law firms is limited. Do you see any chances for those who might want to work on their own?

Young lawyers have been known to set up their own firms, and some are managing in the market. That said, they compete between one another based on price, for there is no way that they can compete on experience. Caution is advisable here; if this price-cutting goes too far, we end up with price cannibalism. If you bring your fees down too low, you may find clients, but you’ll have difficulty surviving in the longer term. In the context of public procurement proceedings, we have seen bids for legal services priced at PLN 20 or 30 per hour. I’m not sure that we could find a plumber who would be willing to work for this kind of money.