Tributes paid to prominent and widely regarded lawyer Jan Woloniecki
A prominent re/insurance lawyer who cofounded the law practice Attride-Stirling & Woloniecki, which is now known as ASW Law Limited, has died at 61.
Tributes have been paid to Jan Woloniecki, who was head of litigation at the firm. He gained international recognition during his career, and participated as counsel and arbitrator in arbitrations in London, Singapore, Hong Kong, the United States, in addition to Bermuda. He also acted as an expert witness on Bermudian and English law in cases before the US courts and arbitration tribunals.
He has been called an “intellectual giant”, who had a love of books and was highly knowledgeable not only in law but many other subjects, including opera, of which he had a passion. He also authored several novels.
Mr Woloniecki practised as a barrister in England, and worked at Clifford Chance before relocating to Bermuda in 1990 in part to write Law of Reinsurance in England and Bermuda with leading UK solicitor Terry O’Neill. Regarded as a leading text, it is now in its fifth edition and has become a recognised authority on insurance and reinsurance law and is regularly cited in courts in Bermuda and elsewhere.
In Bermuda, Mr Woloniecki also developed a vibrant litigation and arbitration practice and was a cofounder at the law practice of Attride-Stirling & Woloniecki, and later was a director and head of litigation when Attride-Stirling & Woloniecki converted to ASW Law Limited.
The firm said Mr Woloniecki came to Bermuda in the midst of a global reinsurance crisis. He and Ian Kawaley, who later became Chief Justice and is now a Supreme Court Puisne Judge, were involved in the many major re/insurance company liquidations in Bermuda of the early 1990s, such as Focus, Mentor and Bermuda Fire and Marine, and together contributed to the development of modern Bermudian insolvency law.
Mr Woloniecki has been recognised as having played an important role in the development of Bermuda as a centre for the hearing of reinsurance disputes. In 1999, he was the only lawyer in Bermuda to appear in the Euromoney Guide to Legal Experts’ The Best of the Best, where he was listed as one of the world’s leading insurance and reinsurance lawyers. He continued to be ranked among the best.
He was noted as being “keen to explore all aspects of the law and develop new interpretations and remedies which pushed the boundaries of Bermudian law”, and was the first to develop the solvent scheme of arrangement for insurance companies, with the first solvent scheme in 1995.
Mr Woloniecki was responsible for the training of several Bermudian lawyers by supervising their pupillage, and assisting other Bermudians who joined the firm after they qualified, in the law of reinsurance and the art of commercial litigation and insolvency. Those lawyers include former Chief Justice Ian Kawaley; Rod Attride-Stirling, chairman of AWS; Kehinde George, head of insolvency at ASW; Nathaniel Turner, former director at ASW; Barclay Simmons, former CEO of ASW and former chairman of Butterfield Bank; magistrate Maxanne Anderson; Supreme Court Puisne Judges Larry Mussenden and Shade Subair; and Kim Wilkerson, senior vice-president and head of claims for Axa XL in Bermuda.
Among tributes that have been received at ASW Law, Michael Collins, QC, of Arbitrators, said: "Jan was larger than life, a very fine lawyer, a fount of knowledge on a wide variety of subjects apart from the law (particularly historical and operatic), a lover of fine cuisine, and a great raconteur. I know I speak for everyone in saying that we shall miss him very much.”
Michael Payton, QC (Hon), chairman at Clyde & Co LLP, said: “What a sadness to think that Jan is no longer with us – our condolences from all here at Clyde & Co who knew Jan to you and your colleagues, and to his family, for such a tragic loss. He was truly a larger than life character who never shrank from a controversial view. A great lawyer and a wonderful man to talk to on almost any subject under the sun.”
While Scott C Oostdyk, partner, McGuireWoods LLP, said: “From where we sit, the Bermuda Bar has lost a wonderful scholar and advocate – and a most unique one. Many senior counsel have a ’war story’ on any given topic; Jan had three. He seldom seemed to wind up until he had told you two. A delightful and insightful man was Jan. We will miss him.”
Mr Attride-Stirling, chairman of ASW, said: “We are all deeply shocked and saddened at the news of Jan’s passing. A bright shining light in our legal firmament here in Bermuda has been extinguished all too soon. Jan was a brilliant and fiercely determined advocate for his clients and brought great intellect, wit and clarity to the Bermuda Courts and arbitration panels he appeared before. Whilst we press ahead, determined to honour his memory by our continued commitment to excellence in our disputes practice, we will all greatly miss Jan. We send our condolences to his wife Dr Christiane Harris.”
ASW Law plans to celebrate Mr Woloniecki’s life and accomplishments, in a Covid-compliant manner, and said details would be provided in due course.