Pünder Volhard Weber & Axster Warsaw
As an aspirant EU member state, Poland is bound by the European Association Agreement to fulfil its obligations concerning the principles on free movement of goods, services, capital, payments, and individuals on the basis of non-discriminating treatment. One of the areas of particular focus covers the means by which foreign companies, whose subject of activity is providing legal services, may establish enterprises in Poland as well as the requirements necessary for EU lawyers to practice law in Poland. The Polish legal system had in this regard now to adapt itself to the changing framework of legal practice and legal business.
The European Association Agreement : effects and implications for the Polish legal system
One of the underlying themes of the European Association Agreement is its dedication to ensuring that foreign companies with their registered seat in an EU member state as well as EU citizens enjoy equal opportunities and treatment in the establishment and management of their enterprises on the Polish markets. Poland was obligated, by the end of the so-called first transitory stage (February 1 1999), to ensure that law firms domiciled in EU member states wishing to establish themselves in Poland be subject to non-discriminatory treatment. The meaning of equal in this context becomes clearer once this principle is applied to Poland's Act on Lawyers, requiring a gradual transformation of the legal requirements for the profession reflecting the objectives of the European Association Agreement.
Requirements for practising law in Poland
The renewal of the Act on Lawyers led to a reduction of statutory requirements, eg, the obligation of having to be a Polish citizen in order to practice law in Poland was abolished. Art. 65 and 66 of the Act on Lawyers now contains the possibility to exempt citizens of EU member states from the necessity to fulfil Polish articling obligations if:
- they completed law studies acknowledged by Poland's Ministry of Education as equivalent;
- have their degrees and professional titles nostrified;
- are entered onto a list of attorneys in countries belonging to the EU; and
- have practised law in their country of origin. The only practical requirement for EU lawyers wishing to practice law in Poland is to pass a state legal exam in their home country or in Poland. Of course, they should also have knowledge of the Polish language.
Requirements to establish foreign law firms in Poland
The aim of further amendments introduced into the Act on Lawyers is to allow the establishment of foreign legal firms within the Polish market. During the legislative procedure leading to the amendment of the Act on Lawyers, the statutory requirement for foreign enterprises wishing to provide legal services in Poland to obtain a special permit was abolished.
Since 1996 foreign law firms wishing to extend their legal services to Poland may only operate in the form of a limited liability company or a joint stock corporation, with their registered seat in Poland, and are bound by the laws of the Polish Commercial Code. All members of the firm's management board and all its shareholders must possess the authority to practice law as lawyers or legal advisors in the country of their origin.
Art. 50 of the European Association Agreement allows for a limited delay of the process of implementing non-discriminatory measures into Polish law if and when Polish enterprises (eg, law advice-related businesses) find themselves in the face of elimination or drastic limitation of their activities and market share. Concerns exist within the Polish legal community that large multinational law firms could overwhelm the Polish legal market. Until now, however, this has not been regarded as a virulent threat.
Other Areas of Legal Change
It is also worth mentioning in this context that the Polish law makers expect that EU lawyers will also be practising before Polish courts and thus changed the Civil and Criminal Code to accommodate this development. Also, the Polish parliament is preparing the drafting of a clear and concise statute which compares and describes the qualification requirements for professional lawyers from EU member states.
These changes and modifications of the Polish legal system are set to be finalised by February 1 2004.