Interview with Judyta Sawicka, Head of Legal at Globalworth about her background and best practices.
CEELM: Can you walk us through your career leading you up to your current role?
Judyta: I started my legal career in Big Law, as a transactional lawyer specializing in real estate and M&A. I worked for Linklaters, joining the firm for the first time as a Legal Intern in 2007, and then again as a permanent employee in 2010 before working my way up to Managing Associate. After eight years at an international law firm, I decided to transition to the business side of the industry and joined Globalworth as a Head of Legal in 2018.
I have always liked both mathematics and humanities. When choosing a university, I decided to pursue an Economics degree at the Warsaw School of Economics and study Law in parallel at Warsaw University. I considered aw to be an excellent “generalist” study. Over time, it engaged me so much, it became my career choice.
Practicing law in commercial transactions allowed me to connect it to the business context. The in-house role provides an opportunity to be even closer to the commercial side. It provides perspective on how to address legal, regulatory, and compliance matters and to contribute to the growth of the company.
CEELM: Why did you decide to join Globalworth?
Judyta: I was invited to join a new office platform in Poland. Globalworth was created with the aim of becoming CEE’s leading office landlord (which it quickly became). From the beginning, it had a team of genuinely good people, a strong vision, and a supportive shareholders base.
I was given the opportunity to build and lead its legal department in Poland and support its transactions, day-to-day operations, and dynamic growth. It was a challenge I could not say no to! And the role indeed proved to be a source of enormous satisfaction.
In two years, and via a number of transactions, we have acquired almost EUR 1 billion worth of assets in Poland. Globalworth has now a portfolio of 61 real estate assets in Poland and Romania with a total value of EUR 3 billion and is the partner of choice for a wide variety of high-quality tenants in the region.
CEELM: Tell us about Globalworth’s legal department. How big is your team, and how is it structured?
Judyta: When I joined the company, at the beginning of 2018, Globalworth’s Polish branch had around 30 individuals on board. In less than two years we have grown to approximately 120 professionals – and together with our Bucharest colleagues we are approximately 240. We have grown the in-house team intending to internalize the management of our assets and offer the best services to our tenants.
Heading the legal department in Poland, I lead a fantastic team of eight lawyers: four experienced legal counsels and two junior associates, supported by two legal interns. We are responsible for all the angles of Globalworth’s operations in Poland from a legal perspective, including corporate, leasing, asset and management matters, construction, compliance, and transactions – as well as responding to digitalization opportunities and the challenges of the current pandemic.
CEELM: Was it always your plan to go in-house?
Judyta: When I was having conversations with professionals who had moved from a law firm to an in-house position, most of them repeated that “no two days are the same.” I found it very true when I made the transition myself.
I appreciated working for an international law firm very much. At the same time, I wanted to get closer to the commercial side of the industry as well as to the broad perspective and responsibility the in-house role provides for a lawyer. You should be prepared to discuss business and organizational issues as well as to have an active role in crisis management, compliance, and reputational matters.
When someone at the company comes to me with an issue, he expects a solution, and that solution should be assessed not only from the legal side but also through the lens of the business goals of the company.
In a law firm, you usually need to specialize in a particular area to excel, whether it is M&A, IP, litigation, employment, or something else. In-house lawyers need to address all the legal needs of a company. They should roll up their sleeves and learn to understand a much broader context of law (at least to “know what they should find out”) and know the business and industry.
From my experience, the in-house role provides enormous satisfaction, especially when you can contribute to the growth of the company.
CEELM: What was your biggest single success or greatest achievement with Globalworth in terms of particular projects or challenges? What one thing are you proudest of?
Judyta: I definitely consider creating a great legal team and building legal operations in Poland from scratch as the biggest success. It was a demanding task given that, at the same time, Globalworth was growing very rapidly. We have all been involved in structuring the operations of the company, adjusting workflows, finding the best solutions to new challenges, and working hard to expand the company’s portfolio.
I am also very proud to be part of the team launching the Globalworth Foundation in Poland. It started its operations this year, with a project aimed at providing support to hospitals affected by the COVID pandemic.
CEELM: How would you describe your management style? Can you give a practical example of how that manifested itself in the legal department or helped you succeed in your position?
Judyta: I would say “engaging.” I respect my colleagues very much, and I am focused on empowering the team.
The crucial point is to have the right people in the right place. I look for individuals with integrity, passion, intelligence, and good legal expertise. Having that as a foundation, I believe the approach of open dialogue, honest feedback, and mutual trust allows us to create a team of hard-working, talented professionals, energized about what we do, who respect and help each other.
CEELM: Do you have any personal habits or strategies you employ that may not be common but that really help you succeed in your role?
Judyta: It is crucial for every lawyer – and an in-house lawyer in particular – to have good communication skills, be cooperative, and be well-organized. They work closely with non-lawyers and should have the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple. Of course, good legal knowledge goes without saying, and, as I underlined earlier, they should get to know the very core of the company and the industry. Thus, when searching for people, I look for those with a defined set of skills.
During an interview, I like to ask for the motivation behind applying for a given position and behind past choices. You can learn a lot by asking an open-ended question and seeing the candidate’s way of thinking. Of course, as in any interview, more important than the question itself is to listen carefully to the interviewee. People create the quality of the company. At the same time, it is important to choose the right people to fit the company and its DNA.
CEELM: What one person would you identify as being most important in mentoring you in your career – and what in particular did you learn from that person?
Judyta: I have been fortunate to have great professionals around me from the beginning of my career, who impacted my professional and personal life. It would be impossible to name just one person that was the single most important mentor to me.
Being open-minded to the views of others and learning from people – both those much more senior and experienced than I am and those younger with a fresh attitude is something which I consider fundamental for personal development.
CEELM: On the lighter side, what is your favorite book or movie about lawyers or lawyering, and why?
Judyta: Practicing law on a daily basis, and knowing many good practitioners, I must say that real-life brings much more fascinating stories than any fiction about lawyers.
In my free time, I reach rather for art history, innovation, and leadership books. I believe this is true for every profession: it is good to have a broader perspective.
There is, however, a book that comes to my mind with an inspiring legal context: Red Notice, by Bill Browder. It shows the story of the author itself, painting a hero character of his lawyer and documenting a memorable struggle, which led to the adoption of the so-called Magnitsky Act. It’s a book based on a true story, which you read like a Grisham thriller.
This Article was originally published in Issue 7.12 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.