Martin Strnad has been the General Counsel of Y Soft – A Czech Software company headquartered in Brno, with offices in ten countries – since March 2016. He was previously an Attorney with Havel, Holasek & Partners and a Managing Associate with PwC Legal. Earlier still, he was a Clerk responsible for drafting bills of law and assisting in the preparation process with the Legislative Office of the Czech Ministry of Interior.
CEELM: What’s your background, and how did it lead up to your current role?
M.S.: Well, each of my past experiences seemed to gradually prepare me for the one that followed: I studied Law and Legal Sciences at the Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. During my studies, I participated in a number of extra-curricular activities, such as the student magazine and the European Law Students Association. Afterwards, I worked for a short period as a clerk and the legislative department of one of Czech Ministries and, after that, I switched to big law firms, namely Havel, Holasek & Partners (the largest Czech firm) and PwC Legal, where I dealt predominantly with IP & TMT work. After more than ten years in the business, which also included partial in-house work for a few clients, I received an offer to go in-house full time from Y Soft, a Czech-based global company that develops intelligent enterprise office solutions to help build smart business.
CEELM: In what ways is what you are doing at Y Soft different from what you were doing before?
M.S.: As I said, I have had several in-house positions before, including with one of the largest global IT companies, so there was no major surprise. Of course, the work is indeed quite different. The internal client is much closer in all senses of that word, which allows for a more efficient and less formal cooperation. On the other hand, the responsibility is greater, as being a lawyer in the position of General Counsel or something comparable you are ultimately responsible for all legal affairs of the company and cannot afford just to react on individual external requests as, typically, an attorney-at-law does.
CEELM: How large is the legal team at Y Soft and how is it structured? Are you responsible for all the jurisdictions Y Soft operates in or just the Czech Republic?
M.S.: My team is small but efficient. We currently have two lawyers and will be expanding the team further this year by at least one additional colleague. All in-house staff are currently located in Brno and are Czech-qualified. We handle work in other jurisdictions by using local law firms either directly or via one of the Czech-cooperating law firms and their networks.
CEELM: What does a regular day in the office look like for you?
M.S.: Each day is different as each day brings something new. There are days where closings or general meetings take place and we can´t catch a break; there are days when we have to travel outside the office for meetings, which always bring some new exciting experiences and people; and there are slower days back at the office, when we deal with the backlog of operational work and administration. I´m really happy to say that the majority of my time I get to spend on actual legal work, not on some kind of back-office related paperwork.
CEELM: TMT tends to be a sector in which regulations are not always up to speed with the latest technological developments. Does this create ambiguities for you in your line of work? If so, what strategies have you developed to handle them?
M.S.: Yes, law in the TMT sector does fall behind and hopefully it always will as it simply means that the environment is moving forward quickly. Probably more than in any other sector, it is necessary to estimate the future regulations and the actual impact of the current ones, which may not be suited for our specific purpose. Legal departments must, to a certain extent, share the can-do attitude and low risk aversion of the IT business. That being said, in some heavily regulated areas such as data protection, employment, or corporate law, we have to defer to external expert legal services to duly protect the interests of the company.
CEELM: What types of legal work do you tend to outsource to external counsel and what are the main criteria you use in selecting them?
M.S.: We tend to outsource rather little as the internal capacity is, at the moment, a more cost-effective and, at times, even more time efficient alternative. Typically we would use an external law firm for larger transactional work (such as SPA negotiations, closing organizations), the majority of the work abroad, and for specialized IP work, such as patent registrations/litigations.
We have a pool of cooperating law firms which we use for work in their respective fields of specialization. If a particular case can be done equally well by more than one law firm, we decide based on price.
CEELM: If you could change any piece of legislation affecting your work, what would it be and how/why?
M.S.: Our partners and customers are facing frequent challenges in the field of data protection, especially in connection with cross-border data transfers. I would say that a DP legislation easier to implement and slightly more lenient would be a great help for them.
CEELM: On the lighter side, who would you identify as a mentor that most shaped you professionally and what was their impact on you?
M.S.: Oh, where should I start? I am incredibly thankful to many great mentors and colleagues I have had the privilege to work with during the last few years. If I had to choose one, it would have to be Robert Nespurek, a HHP Partner responsible for IP & TMT matters who taught me not only the subject matter but, more importantly, how to approach and serve clients; basically what makes a good lawyer great!
Thank you for having me!
This Article was originally published in Issue 4.2 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.