Dan Cocker is a Partner in Allen & Overy’s Global Projects, Energy, and Infrastructure Group. He covers the Central and Eastern Europe region and has been based in Warsaw since 2011, after previous stints in the firm’s London, Frankfurt, and New York offices.
CEELM: Run us through your background, and how you got to your current role.
D.C.: I started out in Allen & Overy’s London office and spent time on secondments to our Frankfurt and New York offices, specializing in projects, energy, and infrastructure. When I began focusing from London on transactions in CEE and SEE, it made sense to move to the region and become more embedded in the regional market. We already had – and still have – English-qualified lawyers in our Prague, Bratislava, and Budapest offices. We didn’t then have English-qualified lawyers in our Warsaw office. Since Poland is the biggest economy in the region, Warsaw was an excellent choice as a hub for our CEE and SEE regional English law banking practice. I’ve been here for almost six years.
CEELM: Was it always your goal to work abroad?
D.C.: At school I developed a great enthusiasm for foreign languages, so I always had the idea in the back of my mind. One of the reasons I joined A&O was its global presence and the opportunity to work in offices outside London. Moving to the CEE/SEE region was particularly attractive to me, having an energy and infrastructure background, since the region offers great opportunities for development of new projects in this sector.
CEELM: Tell us briefly about your practice, and how you built it up over the years.
D.C.: My practice covers the whole of English law banking work and I focus particularly on projects, energy, and infrastructure, including more commercial aspects such as construction contracts, public-private partnership contracts, power purchase agreements, and vessel charter parties.
Our regional team acts for sponsors, borrowers, lenders, export credit agencies, and governments, so we get to see transactions from all angles and at all stages. We have worked on transactions throughout the region, from Estonia in the north to Turkey in the south, from Austria in the west to Azerbaijan in the east and more or less everywhere in between.
Many of the more challenging projects we have worked on have happened thanks to the involvement of international financial institutions, with whom we often work closely alongside all of the other parties mentioned.
CEELM: Do you find Polish clients enthusiastic about working with foreign lawyers or, all things considered, do they prefer working with local lawyers?
D.C.: The Polish legal market is a sophisticated one, and many of the transactions have a cross-border element, so clients require both, working closely together as a team and offering local depth combined with global breadth.
CEELM: There are obviously many differences between the Polish and English judicial systems and legal markets. What idiosyncrasies or differences stand out the most?
D.C.: For legal systems, the answer is that there are very few differences that should stop transactions from being done in the way the commercial parties want. Clearly, there are many inherent differences between Polish law and English law arising from the civil law versus common law development of the two legal systems. But our task as lawyers is to create as much legal certainty around a transaction as possible. For example, the concept of the trust is not recognized in Poland, but we can almost invariably put in place Polish law structures that achieve the same effect.
As to legal markets, the concept of the Magic Circle [of law firms] is not as widely recognized in Poland as in, for example, the London market. We have to make the extra effort to distinguish ourselves on quality of advice and service.
CEELM: How about the cultures? What differences strike you as most resonant and significant?
D.C.: Immediately before moving to Poland I was working on a Latin American oil and gas transaction that involved meetings of about 15-20 people. Held in Texas, these meetings were very lively and often loud, with everyone having lots to say. My first transaction in Poland was a restructuring, which also involved meetings of about 15-20 people. The contrast between the meetings could not have been starker. The Polish meetings were much calmer and the participants more measured in their contributions. Both deals were completed successfully, but the two journeys to reach that point felt very different.
CEELM: What particular value do you think an expatriate lawyer adds – both to a firm and to its clients?
D.C.: Bringing global experience into the region as an expat has been valuable in at least three ways. Part of my practice is about helping A&O’s global clients who want to do English law transactions in the CEE/SEE region by providing a team of globally experienced advisers who know and understand the local market. Another part is about offering clients based in the region the benefit of A&O’s global expertise for transactions in their domestic markets. A third dimension involves supporting regional clients on transactions beyond the region, which has, for example, led to our regional team working on projects in Egypt and Iraq.
CEELM: Outside of Poland, which CEE country do you enjoy visiting the most?
D.C.: For work, the Czech Republic, since I’ll often work from our Prague office, and my colleagues there have done a great job of showing me their fantastic city. For pleasure, Slovakia, to spend time in the mountains. For the last five years my regional colleagues and I have organized a mountain walking trip. We’ve visited the Slovak Tatras, the Polish Tatras, the Rax Alps in Austria, Jeseniky in the Czech Republic, and Mala Fatra in Slovakia. Of those places the scenery of the Slovak mountains is the most stunning. I’m keen to climb many more mountains in the wider region, including in Georgia, where we’re working on a hydropower project. When I go there for meetings I’m often the only person on the flight carrying a laptop bag, while everyone else has a rucksack and walking boots, which makes me a bit jealous.
CEELM: What’s your favorite place in Warsaw?
D.C.: The Old Town. My wife and I can be seen through all seasons of the year taking a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Baltazar on a late evening walk through the Ogrod Saski (the Saxon Gardens) and along the Krakowskie Przedmiescie (the main street through the Old Town). Baltazar tries to go take us into every bar and restaurant along the way, and sometimes we let him have his way. The area through which we walk provides a good reminder of how Warsaw rebuilt itself and – what I most like about living in Warsaw – that the city is constantly developing. Warsaw is a city on the rise. I believe that Warsaw’s best days are ahead of it.
This Article was originally published in Issue 3.6 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.