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Trading coolabahs for pines – an Australian lawyer’s exchange story in Poland

Pacific Legal Network


Twelve months ago I had never heard of Wrocław (to my ear, it sounds like Vrotz-lav). When I first heard that I had been offered to go on exchange to the city situated in the Polish-heartland I thought I had been mispronouncing Warsaw my entire life. Alongside many realisations I had in my almost one month in the Wrocław, I was entirely wrong.


My exchange was part of an IAG Global program to connect younger lawyers and professionals across international borders. The obvious aim was to share knowledge and develop understanding to better help the delivery of services to clients – but the real goal was to make life-long connections and friendships.


Before I could get to battling with the pronunciation of names, foodstuff, and basic greetings, first my Polish exchange twin, Aleksandra Płudowska was going to make the intimidating 20-something hour journey to Australia. We promissed Aleks that once she got to Australia that she was unlikely to meet a shark, a croc or a drop bear, but should be extra careful of jellyfish and sunburn. Once Aleks was back in Poland, I too was on my way to Wrocław!


The Polish experience


Poland is a modern country, with a lot of history – it’s not a country stuck in history. Wrocław itself is possibly the most aesthetically pleasing city I’ve ever been to, having been a German town and steeped in history with more churches (plus one Synagogue) than there are sabbaths in a year. But, Wrocław is not stuck in history, it is a modern city growing from a booming tech industry (sporting the largest factory in Europe), an international culinary scene (especially Korean – thanks to the nearby LG facility), and growing immigration. The city has almost doubled in the last 18 months just between natural growth and the city opening its doors to Ukrainians seeking safety and opportunity.


Wrocław is a place for business and also young people. At the core of it is a true sense of Polish identity forged in the brickwork of pastel buildings and a desire amongst the locals for something hospitable and cosmopolitan.



Speaking the language


Before getting to Poland, I attempted to learn some key phrases and words so that I could survive. This proved futile, with my broad Australian accent struggling to absorb the cacophony of “d” “z” “k” and “y” sounds peppered throughout Polish words. These are probably the most difficult and rare sounds in the English language, so do not come easily to a native English speaker. Just “dzien dobry” (good morning) and “dziekuye” (thank you) combined have more of these rare consonants than an average paragraph written in English.


After learning the words “woda” (water), “mleko” (milk) and “chleb” (bread) I determined that I would not die on my jaunt in Poland. But, what of meeting people and engaging in conversation – how was I going to learn anything as a lawyer in Poland if I could barely grasp basic necessities?


Speaking words was not enough either, there are deeply cultural aspects of Polish language and interaction that you don’t realise until you are fully surrounded by Poles. For example, formal register is strictly enforced and you must address people by their surname if you are not friends. For an Australian who barely finishes a word without shortening it or adding an “-o” this is anathema. Also, I was warned not to ask people how they are after a greeting. This bit I couldn’t comply with as I saw it as an opportunity to learn more about the average professional’s weekend life or workload. Turns out – exercise, family and being busy are as common as Polish vodka.


Similarities in difference


On the legal side of things, Poland and many of the Pacific jurisdictions I work in could not be more separated by time, geography and history. Poland is a civil law country with many aspects of law having formerly been acquired by Soviet-era jurisprudence and more recently been aligned with European Union standards. In Poland statute and regulations rule supreme. Meanwhile, Australia and many Pacific island jurisdictions use common law which was received from English colonialism, where judges are lawmakers in their own right.


Difference also exists at a superficial level. Lawyers in Poland do dress different – they don’t wear wigs, but they wear gowns with a jabot which is colour-coded to indicate division and respect historical developments in the law. Purple for judges, green for advocates, blue for advisors and red for prosecutors.


Aleks and her colleague, Tomasz, were welcoming enough to invite me to a tribunal hearing concerning a freedom of information application. Although professionals and judicial processes are in another language and defined by different cultural norms, there is an underlying sense of professionalism and desire for equity that drives lawyers in Poland, just as in common law countries.



Conclusion


The three weeks I spent in Poland was an informing experience, that honed my skills as a lawyer and young professional in international settings. I made lifelong connections which are not only useful for providing a different perspective to life, but also a great opportunity for clients looking for assistance in Wrocław, Poland or elsewhere in Europe.


About IAG


Pacific Legal Network and SDZ Legal Schindhelm are part of International Advisory Group (IAG Global). IAG Global is an international network of independent law firms, accountants, tax advisers and other professional services firms.


IAG Global extends its member firms’ reach and capabilities across borders by establishing and facilitating strong business relationships.

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