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Special Interview: Queritius is a New Form of Dispute Boutique

Special Interview: Queritius is a New Form of Dispute Boutique

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Queritius claims to be something new on the market: A CEE-focused arbitration boutique emphasizing geographic flexibility and significant international experience. To learn more about this new presence in CEE, we reached out to Queritius Partners Veronika Korom, Wojciech Sadowski, and Daniel Dozsa.

CEELM: First, tell us a bit about your personal backgrounds, and how you decided to work together to launch Queritius.

Veronika: Wojciech and I met playing basketball at a European law summer course in Leuven, Belgium, some 20 years ago. Wojciech was unbeatable on the basketball court then, just as he is unbeatable in the real courts today! We became real friends. The famous saying “Pole and Hungarian, two good friends” is definitely true for us.

Wojciech: Harper Lee began her famous book To Kill a Mockingbird with an epigraph borrowed from Charles Lamb: “Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.” Veronika and I became friends before we started our professional careers. We spent long hours discussing life, philosophy, religion, the challenges our countries were facing before EU accession, and much more. We played basketball, too, and spoke of our plans, dream, and aspirations. Fast forward 20 years: This is a great basis to build a common professional venture on.

Veronika: Although our lives took different paths, we both ended up working in arbitration. I am a French-Hungarian national admitted to practice in England & Wales, France, and Hungary. I started my career with Clifford Chance in banking and finance in London. My heart lay with arbitration, however, ever since I represented Hungary in the Philip C. Jessup moot court competition, where we came in 10th in the international finals. So when the opportunity arose, I moved to the international arbitration team of Shearman & Sterling in Paris, where I spent six years and worked on some of the most prominent and complex investment arbitrations involving Central and Eastern European states – the Yukos arbitrations, the Micula v Romania arbitration, and the EDF International v Hungary arbitration. It is on this latter case that I met our third partner, Daniel Dozsa, who was acting for Hungary and who became a good friend. I then moved to a French arbitration firm, Bredin Prat, but when I was appointed professor at the prestigious ESSEC Business School in Paris I left Big Law – although I continued to act as a solo arbitration practitioner. At around the same time, Wojciech and Daniel began to contemplate leaving their firms, and this is when the idea came to team up to build a CEE-focused boutique firm. 

Wojciech: My career was with Hogan & Hartson and K&L Gates, in Warsaw and London. I am a challenge-seeking person, so I quickly became drawn to dispute resolution. International arbitration was not a part of the academic curriculum in Poland, and generally Big Law thought back then that it did not make sense to invest in dispute resolution. I had a different vision. Fortunately, my seniors were great professionals with open minds, who gave me a lot of freedom and supported my efforts to develop this field. I had a unique opportunity to act as lead counsel for Poland in an investment treaty arbitration when I was only 25, and then had the honor of being a part of the team that took over Poland’s representation in the arbitration with Eureko, which we managed to settle. Then I started to work routinely on matters with colleagues from Frankfurt, London, and the US. Over time I managed to climb all the way up the corporate ladder and became a London-based equity partner at K&L Gates.

Along the lines, though, I started to understand that I could not remain a partner in a Big Law firm, as I was increasingly disagreeing with many aspects of that business model. This is how the idea of Queritius began and matured. Through Veronika, at some point, I met Daniel, and we started talking about a CEE international arbitration boutique.

Daniel: I came to know Veronika when we sat in opposing teams in the Hague in the international EdF v Hungary arbitration. Veronika and her team were formidable opponents and I remember that sometimes the arguments got heated, but it never crossed the line, and we became good friends. We have been discussing starting our own disputes firm for a few years, so I was very happy to join Veronika and Wojciech just a couple of months after the launch of Queritius. Before joining Queritius, I was counsel in Dechert’s global international arbitration group in London, and prior to joining Dechert, I worked for Weil in Washington, D.C. and Budapest. So I think we all have similar backgrounds, in that we have all trained and worked at some of the best firms in the international arbitration market.

CEELM: So what exactly is Queritius? What is it, when did it open, how big is it, and how is it structured?

Wojciech: We often refer to Queritius as the CEE legal startup and like to think about it this way. Its name comes from the Latin „seek” and the Spanish „love/want,” and obviously the Latin word „ius,” meaning the law. Queritius is not just a fancy name, but a value proposition. We anticipate that with the arrival of AI, blockchain, and the ongoing automation and standarization of things and services, the legal industry as we now know it may be gone sooner than one thinks. The seeking part of Queritius is about finding the best way to adapt quickly and continue doing the work we love and want to do.

Veronika: Queritius opened in April 2020, but the official launch was in September when our website went live and the Global Arbitration Review published a great article about the firm. We currently operate from three locations – Warsaw, Budapest, and Paris – with a team of five lawyers spread over the three different offices.

Wojciech: At the same time, we are a single team operating together on major international cases. Oftentimes, when people ask me where we are based, I say: I am based online, same as you. And this is the philosophy that is driving our growth. All our team-members are internationally-minded people, who often live between various countries and are professional digital nomads.

CEELM: How will it separate itself from the large, multi-jurisdictional international and regional law firms, and from other local arbitration/litigation boutiques?

Wojciech: We are indeed different from each of these categories of firms, in different ways.

Veronika: We have a unique team composed of CEE lawyers who have studied in both Eastern and Western Europe, who have multiple bar admissions in both Eastern and Western Europe, and who have worked for top arbitration brands in DC, London, and Paris for many years. We have a thorough understanding of the legal, political, economic, and social realities of the CEE region, and at the same time we understand how business is done and what the expectations are in Western Europe. We are uniquely placed to build a bridge between East and West and to deliver Western-quality work to our clients in the CEE region. Neither the international nor the regional firms present on the CEE market can boast lawyers with such rich profiles and experience.

Daniel: Indeed, no-one east of London and Paris has the depth of experience that our team members have combined in settling investor-state and big ticket commercial disputes. The aggregate value of the claims our team members have been involved in to date exceeds USD 120 billion. International arbitration and litigation really is in our DNA. This distinguishes us from the local offices of international law firms, among others, who don’t have the kind of experience that our team members have.

Wojciech: We are also very deliberate about our market positioning. We know exactly what type of work we want to do and what we do not want to do. We also work across offices, building multinational teams like you would see in Western European boutiques. Yet we are more affordable. Finally, we are a true post-Covid business organization, which means we do not believe in fancy and spacy offices. But we believe in secure IT infrastructure.

CEELM: What is your opinion of the choices available to clients in CEE currently, in your field?

Wojciech: CEE has a wealth of extremely skilled and hard-working lawyers who are often very entrepreneurial and innovative. This is exactly the resource we would like to grow upon. When it comes to international dispute resolution, the traditional model for big ticket instructions was to refer them directly to London, Paris, or New York. This was partially done because the decisions were made outside the region, and partially because there was little know-how in Central and Eastern Europe.

The problem with that approach was that the cost of outsourcing of such representation to any of these jurisdictions is prohibitive for most CEE-based clients. Moreover, business reality and culture in the West is simply different, so there has been an inherent communication gap between these two worlds. Our ambition is to bridge that gap.

Another issue is that international dispute resolution know-how in Central and Eastern Europe is dispersed. There are simply too few cases to justify the development of a strong international arbitration team in most law firms. So we would like to be a very specialized provider of international dispute resolution services in the region, both to businesses and to other law firms, who could work with us on an ad hoc basis. And because we do not have the ambition of doing any other type of legal work, we can be regarded as a safe partner to work with. This is actually the model under which we already operate.

Daniel: CEE indeed has a wealth of hard-working lawyers and we fully intend to build on them to grow Queritius. We want Queritius to be a center of excellence where lawyers from diverse backgrounds deal with the most complex disputes in a collegial fashion and in a very open, non-discriminative and collegial environment. We will create a company culture and legal service that is different from what is available on the market. We will not send memos when an e-mail is sufficient. We will avoid using Latin and over-complicating things because we know this is what clients want.

CEELM: What sorts of plans do you have for Queritius' growth?

Veronika: We do want to grow, but we want to grow organically and cohesively, bringing in the right people at the right time. We want to build the muscle necessary to accompany our clients in their toughest battles while remaining a lean, flexible, and adaptable organization.

Wojciech: We are limited by our focus and the relative depth of the market. Ideally, in the medium run, we would like to grow to be present in four to five locations with the range of 15 to 20 professionals with diverse nationalities, qualifications, and backgrounds. We want to build an international and diverse team. We truly believe that the more diverse our team, the more resourceful we become. At the same time, we feel that the law firm of the future will no longer be composed mostly of lawyers. Information technologies, proprietary legal tech solutions, business intelligence, and other related areas will also be areas we need to look at.

Daniel: It is important how we define growth. Our aim is first to obtain brand recognition for Queritius, so that sophisticated clients in the CEE region trust us to work with them on their disputes, when it matters most. If we are able to deliver on our promise to clients of consistent, sound judgment, expansion and growth will come naturally.

CEELM: Well, congratulations. We look forward to reporting on your success and growth in the months and years to come!

Veronika: Thank you. We are truly excited to be part of this dynamic region and look forward to working with our clients, colleagues, and peers. 

Wojciech: Thank you.

Daniel: Thank you.

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