We are speaking with Dr Jakub Zagrajek about why taking the opportunity to do an internship is a smart move and how to prepare for your time in a law firm. Jakub Zagrajek is a graduate of the Faculty of Law of the University of Warsaw and the Warsaw School of Economics, an advocate and currently one of the youngest partners in the corporate department of the law firm Rymarz Zdort.
MARTYNA OZIEBLO-JACH: Your path started with studying law and completing summer internships at the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges (currently: Rymarz Zdort), then you went on to work really hard, gain new experience and, over time, you forged a reputation with more senior attorneys and with clients. Today you are a partner at Rymarz Zdort. Your track record and the brand of the firm could impress just about anyone who wishes to be serious about practising law. Many students, even those who are academically speaking very good or even above and beyond do not believe that they could take their first professional steps in this very place. What criteria did you have when choosing where to do your internship and how did you end up here?
DR JAKUB ZAGRAJEK: For me, an internship at this firm (then called Weil, Gotshal & Manges) was a prize for graduating at the top of my year from the Center for American Law Studies at Warsaw University. It gives me no pleasure to admit that at that time, like many of my then colleagues, I was hardly up to speed with who was who on the Warsaw law firm market. The only thing I knew about Weil was that they had been advising a client in connection with a massive public offering of shares that took place a few months earlier. To a certain extent, the fact that I joined the best law firm for capital markets and M&A, and not a competing law firm, was just chance, and I am continually grateful that this is the way things played out.
MARTYNA OZIEBLO-JACH: What surprised you the most after you joined the firm?
DR JAKUB ZAGRAJEK: The famous TV series Suits premiered two years after I joined Weil, so, unlike the law graduates of today, I had a somewhat vague idea of what it would be like to work for a large transactional law firm. Still, what came as the biggest surprise was something that I was able to compare with the stories told by my university colleagues who worked for other law firms: the atmosphere in the firm. From day one or at least quite quickly you are on a first-name basis with almost everyone in the firm, and you hardly ever use the formal form of address “Counsel”. This “shortens the distance” and makes law clerks or junior associates less intimidated during interactions with more senior attorneys: not only are they not afraid to ask questions but are in fact emboldened to constructively challenge others’ line of thinking or conclusions. I cannot imagine working in a strictly hierarchical environment where the boss’ word is sacred and everybody is afraid to ask his opinion. This serves as added value for our firm: many of the junior additions to the firm are real law buffs, and their academic knowledge, even if not yet supported by practical experience, may be of real value when working for a client.
MARTYNA OZIEBLO-JACH: How can one prepare for the first days at the firm?
DR JAKUB ZAGRAJEK: I would give you a similar answer to that I would give to the question what to do with your last week before your high school graduation exams. You cannot prepare for these exams at the last minute: there is no point in hectically revising the material that you should have learnt over the last years, so my advice would be just get some rest.
MARTYNA OZIEBLO-JACH: A young law student is often hesitant about what criteria to apply when looking for their place of work and what practice to choose. What should be the focus of those who wish to find their path for optimum professional growth?
DR JAKUB ZAGRAJEK: First of all, you have to ask yourself whether you prefer working with people or with documents. The legal profession is very versatile in that it offers you a multitude of options for professional development and will easily accommodate both a pessimist and an optimist, an introvert and an extravert. A wholly different set of skills and predispositions would be required from a person that wishes to become a negotiator, which person will need find the perfect argument (legal or otherwise) to achieve their goal; you might also wish to become a trial attorney, who is a person that will need to stand their ground in a court of law; and you could also be a stellar expert in your field who spends most of their time analysing complex legal issues without much interaction with other people. It is important to choose a professional profiled that matches your predispositions and personal preferences; life is too short for a person with a natural need to interact with others to spend years buried behind scholarly literature (and the other way round – a person who prefers studying the theory and practice of law in solitude should not force themselves to be part of a team of negotiators). Unfortunately, a law graduate, contrary to what most might think, may yet be unaware of the type of work that is most suitable for them in the long run. That is why it is good to choose a law firm with a sufficiently broad spectrum of activity so that you will have the opportunity to switch departments, practices or the type of work you do. Such option might not be available in small law firms or in certain larger (network) law firms that specialise in only selected areas of law. Rymarz Zdort is an excellent place to start your professional career; here, attorneys are not assigned to a specific department from the start. Over the years, I have seen situations in which a transactional lawyer would transfer to the litigation department and find they are a perfect fit; similarly, trial lawyers will quite often take part in transactional work and excel at it.
MARTYNA OZIEBLO-JACH: What is the biggest challenge for you in your work as a lawyer?
DR JAKUB ZAGRAJEK: First of all, ever since I started working for the firm, I have had the feeling that something must be wrong with how I organise my workflow, because the intensity of work has always resembled a sinusoid: sometimes I had tons of work and all of the assignments were – naturally – very urgent, and I had no idea where to start. Sometimes, however, there was little urgent work, and I found it difficult to motivate myself to proceed to do things with a more liberal deadline. Imagine how surprised I was when, during a chat, one the partners at the firm, a practitioner with more than 30 years of experience, complained of having exactly the same problem. As you can see, this issue simply cannot be successfully resolved.
Secondly, as the years go by, a lawyer must learn to use a wholly different set of skills: a junior associate would, above all, be required to have great attention to detail and to be very thorough in conducting legal analyses. A more senior lawyer would need to manage the transaction and coordinate all of its aspects. Finally, a partner needs to learn to sell the services offered by the firm. Each of these roles requires very different abilities, but this is also what makes the work of a lawyer so satisfying.
MARTYNA OZIEBLO-JACH: What is the strongest aspect of Rymarz Zdort and why would you recommend doing internships and working here?
DR JAKUB ZAGRAJEK: The law firm Rymarz Zdort has for many years been involved in the largest and most prestigious transactions that have received wide coverage in the media and made the first page of newspapers, such as sales of banks, the largest initial public offerings, complex financings and restructuring transactions. These are highly complex processes involving a number of intricate legal issues that are simply incomparable with the legal issues associated with low-key transactions handled by smaller law firms.
They say the best way to teach someone to swim is to push someone into deep water so that they can themselves discover – while being watched over by someone more experienced – how not to drown. The distinguishing thing about working at Rymarz Zdort is that even an intern will be assigned very ambitious tasks, which they will be required to complete under the supervision and with the guidance of more senior and experienced colleagues. The work at Rymarz Zdort (even as an intern) does not start with filling in applications for the National Court Register (KRS), translating legal texts or proofreading others’ texts for typographical errors; these tasks are the job of professionals who have been with the firm for many years.
Finally, as I mentioned before, Rymarz Zdort practices many areas of law, which allows an attorney to select the perfect role for them in the world of law.
MARTYNA OZIEBLO-JACH: What advice would you give to a candidate wishing to start an internship or begin working for Rymarz Zdort?
DR JAKUB ZAGRAJEK: The thing that surprises me the most when I work with younger lawyers is that in a world where English is practically everywhere, and options to learn it abound, the interns who start working with us have a worse command of English than one might reasonably expect. English is essential in the work of a transactional lawyer: firstly, a lawyer must be able to draft a legal text (e.g. a fragment of an agreement, a memorandum, advice on a given matter) with no or hardly any errors; secondly, a great deal of conversations, even informal ones, with clients or other professional advisors, are held in English. A person without a good command of English will be out of place in this environment. Learning English is something worth devoting your time and attention to.
The other thing is to focus on commercial law and contract law during your studies: these areas are absolutely crucial in daily transactional work. An attorney without a solid knowledge of the fundamental institutions of Polish civil law will fail or fall into a trap when negotiating an agreement with foreign lawyers or using foreign-language forms of documents. Contrary to what one might think, learning about a foreign law system may be a good tool for understanding Polish law. I graduated from the Center for American Law Studies and German Law Studies at the Faculty of Law and Administration of the University of Warsaw and I think that learning about differences between Polish and German company law gave me a better understanding of Polish law (sadly, opportunities to impress a German client with one’s knowledge of German law are very few and far between, so this knowledge may come in handy once every few years).
Selected recent transactions involving Dr Jakub Zagrajek:
- Advising a consortium of investors comprising the Polish Development Fund (Polski Fundusz Rozwoju S.A.), PSA International Pte Ltd and IFM Global Infrastructure Fund in connection with the acquisition of DCT Gdansk S.A., the operator of the largest container terminal in Poland and in the Baltic sea, from Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (MIRA), MTAA Super, AustralianSuper and Statewide Super.
- Advising Echo Partners B.V. in connection with the indirect sale of a majority stake in Echo Investment S.A., a listed company and the largest Polish real estate developer, to an SPV owned by the Hungarian developer WING Zrt.
- Advising Union Asset Management Holding AG, a German-based asset management company, in connection with the sale of 100% of the shares in Union Investment Towarzystwo Funduszy Inwestycyjnych S.A., the largest Polish independent investment fund management company, to Generali CEE Holding B.V.
- Advising Polski Fundusz Rozwoju S.A. in connection with the acquisition of a controlling stake in PESA Bydgoszcz S.A., Poland’s biggest manufacturer in the railway sector. The deal value was in excess of PLN 300 million.
- Advising UniCredit S.p.A. in connection with the disposal of 32.8% of the shares in Bank Pekao S.A., one of the largest banks in Poland, to Powszechny Zaklad Ubezpieczen S.A., Poland’s largest insurance company, and Polski Fundusz Rozwoju S.A., for the total price of PLN 10.6 billion.
- Advising Bank BPH S.A. in connection with the demerger of Bank BPH S.A. by way of the spin-off to Alior Bank S.A. of its core business other than its CHF mortgage loan business.