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Weil completes withdrawal from CEE as Warsaw office breaks away

Weil, Gotshal & Manges is winding down its once-potent Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) operations, with its 80-strong Polish team setting up an independent firm.

Warsaw co-managing partners Pawel Rymarz and Pawel Zdort will launch Rymarz Zdort in January next year, bringing to an end Weil’s presence in the country after 29 years.

The outpost was the New York-bred firm’s last remaining CEE office after its 11-lawyer Prague team spun off one year ago and its 20-strong Hungarian office joined Bird & Bird in January 2018.

Weil’s Warsaw office opened in 1991 and built its reputation working on several of the largest M&A deals and equity capital markets transactions in the region.

‘Most of the premiere international law firms struggle in Poland with local clients as they cannot be competitive on pricing,’ Zdort told Legal Business. ‘We have always had a very strong local client base and therefore need to be more flexible and innovative in that respect. We have lots of friends at Weil. There is nothing that would prevent us from co-operating, as long as Weil requires legal services in Poland and vice versa.’

The office turns over around $20m. It expanded its tax practice over the summer with a team from Deloitte Legal and plans to grow further with a focus on areas including real estate, white collar and restructuring.

International firms with a presence in Poland include Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Allen & Overy and White & Case. Zdort added: ‘International firms have always been more visible and reputable on the Polish transactional market. The market is lacking a premiere Polish transactional law firm. Our ambition is to be one.’

Weil’s London managing partner Mike Francies (pictured) told Legal Business: ‘It will be good for us and it will be good for them. Prague has gone from strength to strength as an independent firm, Budapest has gone from strength to strength under Bird & Bird. We still work with them, we still have some clients in common. It’s what’s best for those local offices and what’s best for us.’

While the firm has been withdrawing from CEE, it has recently been unusually active in the London lateral market, making five hires this year including restructuring partner Neil Devaney from Akin Gump, Linklaters M&A star David Avery-Gee, banking partner Paul Stewart from Ashurst, private equity partner Mark Thompson from Sidley and tax partner Jenny Doak from Vinson & Elkins. It also promoted four City lawyers to the partnership in its latest, 16-strong promotion round.

Weil’s latest set of financial results showed relatively muted global revenue growth of 5% from $1.39bn to $1.46bn in 2018. Profit per equity partner also rose 5% to $3.83m.