Slaughter and May and Wolf Theiss were the two Chairman Sponsors of the 2017 General Counsel Summit in Warsaw, and the individuals from both firms who actually chaired the proceedings – Jonathan Marks, Partner at Slaughter and May on Day 1 and Ron Given, Partner at Wolf Theiss on Day 2 – were kind enough to speak with us about their involvement at the event.
CEELM: What was it about the event that drew Slaughter and May’s and Wolf Theiss’ involvement?
J.M.: As a firm, most of our work has an international element, and we are very keen to increase the amount of work that we do in the region. The event is a great opportunity for us to extend our knowledge of the CEE market and to meet a significant number of GCs and other in-house lawyers from companies within the region, which enables us to better understand their needs and how best we can work together. It also gives us a chance to invite some of our clients who are interested in the region to attend, as well as to catch up with a select number of other private practice lawyers in the region. The event is very well organized and we enjoy the ability it gives us to build and strengthen relationships with attendees over the years (this is the second successive year that we have sponsored the event).
R.G.: We have a great respect for everything that CEE Legal Matters does. We’ve been following this particular activity as it has developed since its first edition in Budapest and we have noted that it grows and gets better every year. We especially wanted to be a part of it when it came time for it to take place in Warsaw where we have a major office. In terms of the event itself, the biggest draw is its particular focus on the interests and needs of GCs – which is what we are ultimately all about.
CEELM: You and your colleagues were involved in sessions focused on competition, dispute resolution, cross-border expansion, and M&A and Financing trends. Why did you think these in particular were important topics to discuss with GCs in CEE?
J.M.: Many sessions were, of course, focused on the role of the GCs and in-house lawyers and some of the ways in which they can develop their skills and the future of their profession. We thought that it would be interesting to tackle other subjects, which are of major importance to GCs and in-house lawyers, but which aren’t necessarily something which all of them will deal with every day. The topics we selected involved a selection of the types of law our firm is particularly strong in.
R.G.: Looking at the expected audience, including its regional spread, we thought that recent developments in EU law with respect to competition was something GCs would want to know about. The same logic applied when it came to dispute resolution. The focus on expansions and cross-border deals came more from our own experience here in Warsaw with Polish companies growing and expanding abroad. When things like this happen, GCs are always called upon to help their companies and we, in turn as outside counsel, want to help the GCs.
CEELM: What was your favorite part of the Summit?
J.M.: The multiple networking sessions were very useful and interesting. It allowed us to meet GCs, share our knowledge of the region, and understand their needs. We found that all attendees were keen to learn more and meet new people, which is absolutely great. The awards dinner was also a great evening and it was fascinating to hear the accomplishments of the “Market Makers” of the region (including a few of the law firms we’ve worked with for many years). A number of the sessions (especially those focusing on technology) were also extremely interesting and thought-provoking.
R.G.: I was very impressed with the topics chosen and the presentations given by the General Counsel themselves. The enthusiasm level was just great throughout and it was obvious they took their undertakings very seriously and were keen to share their experience with their peers. In fact, I observed generally more enthusiasm and an appreciation of being there from the GCs than I often see at these things. Because it is such as good forum for them to communicate with one another and share their own ideas, problems, challenges, and best practices, you could just sense the energy in the room. In that context, even as a private practice lawyer, there was a lot to learn from.
CEELM: After two days with the GCs, what was your main takeaway in terms of your own service offering towards the region?
J.M.: It is clear that there are still growing opportunities across the CEE region for both domestic and international companies and investors, but there are also challenges – some common to all jurisdictions, others more particular to the region or individual countries within it. Our aim is to continue working hard to reinforce our connections in the region, so that we are able to assist our local and international clients, both old and new, achieve their objectives. We also want to maintain and develop our good relationships with the law firms we know in the region, with whom we work hand in hand whenever a relevant opportunity arises.
R.G.: The fact that GCs really “get it.” I am referring to the need for legal services – their own and that provided by outside counsel – to be delivered as efficiently and effectively as possible to help business succeed. It was clear that the pace and need for automation and continuous improvements will not stop for law departments and, as a consequence, it cannot stop for outside counsel either.
I came away with the impression that I spent a couple of days with very sophisticated purchasers of legal services – being that way in part because their internal clients are equally demanding – and it’s on us to help them meet that internal demand.