2020 – Legal 500 Interview with: Dorothy Hansberry-Bieguńska, Partner

Dorothy Hansberry-Bieguńska

Dorothy Hansberry-Bieguńska explains how her firm approaches clients’ needs.

What do you see as the main points that differentiate Hansberry Tomkiel from your competitors?
The Hansberry Tomkiel firm is differentiated from other firms in its makeup, approach and reach. Each of our lawyers has worked in a competition authority. I was a senior trial attorney in the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice. Ms Krasnodębska-Tomkiel was the Chairperson of the Polish Competition Authority for several years and our other lawyers worked for the Authority in positions that gave them vast experience in handling competition and consumer protection cases and in understanding the approach and reasoning of the Authority. For instance, Mr Materna was the head of the Department of Competition enforcement; Ms Podsiedzik-Malec was the head of the Legal Department; and Ms Dąbrowska-Hanas was a deputy director of the Legal Department and the Department of Protection of Collective Consumer Interests.

In addition to our enforcement backgrounds, we benefit from my experience as a client when I was a general counsel of a media company and a chief operating officer of another media company. I often draw upon this experience to remember and to share with our team how to communicate efficiently and well with our clients.

The nature of our work means that we often work with other external law firms inside and outside of Poland. We have forged seamless and successful working relationships with such cooperating firms and count such counsel as valued colleagues and often, friends.

Which practices do you see growing in the next 12 months? What are the drivers behind that?
As a result of the current virus epidemic, there may well be negative changes in the global economy. Often, in times of economic instability, companies look for alternatives to competition in order to achieve margins. An obvious alternative to competition is collusion with competitors. To the extent that the competition authorities detect such collusion, there will be more competition cases.

Likewise, we expect that the Polish Competition Authority, which is also responsible for investigating infringements of consumer protection law, will be faced with a slew of consumer complaints in connection with the current lock-down and the perhaps unfair and aggressive marketing strategies adopted by companies at the expense of consumer interest.

Finally, as a result of changes in the economy, we may expect an increase in mergers and acquisitions during the next 12 months.

What’s the main change you’ve made in the firm that will benefit clients?
I think that our closer work with antitrust economists in a variety of cases has benefited our clients.

A recent achievement of Hansberry Tomkiel is a case that Ms. Hansberry-Bieguńska overlooked for the past six years. In December 2019, the Competition Court issued a judgement in which it annulled the Polish Competition Authority’s decision charging one of the Firm’s clients with minimum price fixing. During the hearings before the Competition Court (a court of first instance), a leniency applicant testified against the Firm’s Client. The outcome of the case before the Competition Court is even more significant as it is rare for a defendant to prevail in a case in which a leniency applicant has provided evidence.

Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients, and the services you can provide them?
When we consider the question of the challenge of technology, our first thought is the importance of our firm’s knowledge and familiarity with the businesses and markets of our clients, especially in new technology industries. In order to create robust competition-law-based solutions, we have to understand thoroughly the technology used by our clients. This learning process is a priority for each of us in the Firm.

Can you give us a practical example of how you have helped a client to add value to their business?
We represented a client operating in the hypermarkets, supermarkets and discount store sector in an investigation in which our client was charged with an infringement of consumer law. We proposed very specific commitments, including the creation and organisation of series of workshops for the consumer ombudsmen and an e-learning platform on our client’s website for its customers. The Authority accepted the commitments, which were novel and carried out successfully. Not only did our Client avoid severe financial sanctions, but it also benefitted from what turned out to be positive publicity of its image as a company that stepped up when challenged by the Authority and responsibly paid attention to consumers’ interests.

Are clients looking for stability and strategic direction from their law firms – where do you see the firm in three years’ time?
We can safely say that it is a universal truth that clients look for stability and strategic direction from their law firms. A tenet of our law firm is to be “a sure thing” by consistently delivering excellence to our clients. In my opinion, that is stability. Strategy is a part of stability because our services and products are based upon weighing the strategies of taking a certain approach and the results that can be expected. A large part of our work is devoted to discussing the strategic aspects of a client’s choices in view of the business involved and the expectations of a company. These discussions continue over the period of our representation of a client. I remember from my work as a general counsel that I valued and felt supported when external counsel well understood my company’s business and competitive environment and was able to wisely prepare strategies for our legal approach.

Over the coming three years, I expect that our firm will be more and more engaged in damage action litigation as our collective experience is very well suited for this type of litigation. Hansberry Tomkiel worked on a private damage action claim filed late last year by one of the largest mining companies in Poland. The claim sought damages resulting from bid-rigging among suppliers of the company. In addition to drafting the claim, Hansberry Tomkiel worked closely with competition economists and the client in assessing and calculating the claimed damages.

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