Although the roots of the Kanski Kapczuk Kniat-Borsut law firm date back to 1991, the same year that Poland held its first fully free and democratic elections under the Third Republic, the firm was established in March 2005 in the commercial hub of Poznań, just 175 kilometres from the country’s western border with Germany.
Building on the existing practice of one of its founders, a professor at Poznań’s celebrated Adam Mickiewicz University, Dr Lesław Kański joined forces with two younger partners – Maciej Kapczuk and Sylwia Kniat-Borsut – both of whom also studied at the same faculty.
Home to 38.5 million people, Poland is a sizeable country with a competitive legal marketplace, according to Kapczuk. The biggest firms are based in the capital, Warsaw, he notes, with up to 200 lawyers on staff. Some even have branches in Poznań, where the largest local players typically employ between 20-30 people.
Kanski Kapczuk Kniat-Borsut, however, remains a medium-sized firm by design, employing just nine professionals, and has carved out a niche providing corporate legal counsel to Polish and overseas companies. But, Kapczuk says, the firm’s modest proportions in no way limit the scope of its services.
“We may not be big,” Kapczuk admits, “but we have lots of international experience. We appreciate the differences in doing business in distinct European Union member states, are familiar with the documentation required, and know the right questions to ask. Sometimes, we even understand cases better than our clients.”
That depth of expertise makes Kanski Kapczuk Kniat-Borsut special not just in Poznań, but nationwide. Despite a prohibition in Poland on legal marketing, the firm continues to grow steadily as a result of the good work it does and the recommendations it receives from its loyal client base and cooperative network of large firms and insurance companies across the EU.
“Our goal is not to be a factory,” Kapczuk insists. “We like to take care of each and every case, even the minor ones. It’s all about building a close relationship with our clients. Maybe the reason we are still small is that we work so personally.”
Like all the other lawyers at his firm, Kapczuk has adopted a generalist approach to the law – “we have to understand all the aspects of our cases,” he points out – although he personally specialises in civil litigation and trade and road transportation matters, mostly involving liability for cargo losses and other damages.
In fact, Kapczuk recalls, he himself began working on international cases on road transportation matters for the first time soon after graduating some 22 years ago. While working at Dr Kański’s law firm, he picked up the phone by chance and began talking to a lawyer from the Netherlands, who had been recommended the firm by a mutual friend from Poland.
Kanski Kapczuk Kniat-Borsut’s membership in TEN came about through a second fortuitous connection, via a client that the firm shared with Egbert Van Ewijk. That led to an initial visit by Van Ewijk at the end of the 1990s and the subsequent offer by TEN, The European Network, to join the network as an associate firm, years before Poland became a full member of the EU in 2004. Kanski Kapczuk Kniat-Borsut hosted the annual meeting in Poznań for the first time in 2002 and, again, in 2014, as the network set its sights on growing at a faster pace, both in and outside of the EU.
Thanks to yet another happy accident, Kapczuk now heads up the TEN development committee and helped bring the Slovenian law firm of Grilc, Starc & Partner on board in 2017, as well as welcoming Legal Ferrari Rei from Switzerland to take the total number of firms to 16.
For Kapczuk, the benefits of belonging to TEN go beyond the business the network delivers: “We know each other,” he says, “so, when you or a client needs help, you can just pick up the telephone and you know who to call. TEN members are not from capital cities or ‘Top-10’ firms, but we are all business law specialists and, being smaller firms, have the advantage of forming part of something bigger. As we say in Poland, if you want to dance, you have to have the right partner.”
In TEN, Kapczuk now has plenty to choose from. Having returned from the annual meeting in Duisburg, he praised the get-together as an “opportunity to exchange experiences, develop best practices, and get new ideas and inspiration.” While he notes that, for now, most cases are confined to ‘Old Europe’, the prospect of expansion east to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Baltic states should open up new markets.
After two decades in practice, Kapczuk still gets real satisfaction from his job and from working with clients: “Every case is new,” he smiles, “especially the international ones, and they oblige me to explore and learn. And thanks to governments, both in Poland and the EU, changing laws, there are always new challenges. Asking simple questions gives you the power to arrive at interesting answers.”
Despite not having too much free time, by choice, Kapczuk is a keen supporter and season ticket holder of the local soccer team, Lech Poznań (which has seen its own signature celebration take off worldwide). While he doesn’t play the game any more, he does enjoy tennis in the summer and skiing, at home and in the hills of his EU neighbours, in the winter months.