Skoda Group General Legal Counsel Karol Marsovszky talks about the Skoda Group’s legal team and what shapes his in-house team’s workload.
CEELM: You’ve been working in-house since 2009. Looking back, what was the biggest shock when transitioning from the private practice world?
Marsovszky: That’s a tough question!
As an Attorney, you are providing legal advice to your client and, more or less, once you provide the advice and the contract is signed, you’re done. As an in-house counsel, your responsibilities and tasks related to a matter are much broader, from the very stage of the idea all the way to implementation.
CEELM: On the flip side, what was the most pleasant surprise?
Marsovszky: I would say that these two – the biggest shock and the most pleasant surprise – are, in fact, the same. In some situations, you perceive this difference as a pleasant aspect, and in others less so – but that’s the biggest change in perspective that happens when transitioning from an external attorney to an in-house lawyer.
Being involved in implementation aspects was the most colorful surprise for me – finding out how layered, complex, and surprising even the implementation part of a project can be. In some cases, the underlying legal transaction itself is less complicated than the legal issues that arise during a transaction’s implementation stage.
Of course, you gain experience with time. Compared to when I first started in-house, I can now foresee and even expect in some cases certain issues to arise. Based on that experience, one is better prepared for the worst while still hoping for the best.
CEELM: How large is your in-house team currently and how is it structured?
Marsovszky: My team consists of 15 lawyers right now, myself included. It’s structured relatively straightforward – we provide legal support for the entire Skoda Group, i.e., to all group companies worldwide. I have two deputies, one that will start in September and one that is already here, and the rest are legal counsels.
It is not as much about the structure of the team, as it is about the organization of work tasks and workstreams. We tried to develop an effective system to support our colleagues across all group members so that there is a general platform for contact and communication used for legal support. The tasks are then distributed centrally, ensuring that the work is distributed equally, which greatly optimizes the usage of our capacities.
Given the fact that the Skoda Group operates primarily on a project basis, each of our in-house lawyers is also working as a project contract manager, meaning that they take care of the legal issues related to a specific project from the initial phase all the way to the project’s execution. This ensures that the person who is dealing with a particular project already has the requisite knowledge. Again, this serves the optimal use of our capacities as no time is lost with onboarding team members onto projects that they are not already familiar with.
CEELM: What would you say most influences the workload of your team?
Marsovszky: I would say that, in general, the legal department has been kept quite busy lately – and will be kept busy – by our projects. Projects-related work involves cooperating with other departments and other teams and is therefore very complex and interactive. The Skoda Group is a project-orientated business, with 99% of our customers being public contractors that order goods and services based on public procurement procedures, i.e., tenders we participate in.
Our duties and tasks start with the tender phase and contracting phase. When it becomes a project, we run with it until completion and execution.
A high percentage of our work often takes place in diverse countries and markets – it is all very international. While there are common elements, there are also considerable differences, so we are never bored. We often work with external lawyers to ensure the utmost levels quality of legal advice.
CEELM: What has been keeping you and your in-house team busy over the last 12 months? What about the upcoming 12 months?
Marsovszky: In the last 12 months, we were kept busy with legal issues related to two major force majeure events – the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. These had a negative impact on all industries, including that of the Skoda Group, and we are still dealing with their impact.
Looking at the horizon, I’d mention two things as most likely to dominate our work. The first is that the Skoda Group recently signed two major contracts in Egypt which will likely keep us as busy during the implementation stage as it did during contracting.
Second, there is the ongoing perfection of the compliance system of the Skoda Group, for which we are working day and night on enhancing our compliance systems to be prepared for all ESG-related and other requirements that we will have to fulfill in the nearest future. I do expect that ESG will evolve into an even more interesting and important topic in the future and we, as lawyers, are already quite intensively involved in the “G” part of it.
CEELM: You mentioned external lawyers. How do you decide if you are outsourcing a project or using internal/in-house resources?
Marsovszky: It is relatively simple. In our team, we have people who have been educated and exposed to diverse jurisdictions. For example, we have a colleague in Finland who is very experienced in public procurement, so when we do business in Finland, we do not need an external partner for Finnish public procurement matters. On the flip side, if we do not have a personnel asset that was exposed to a particular jurisdiction or an area of law we go to an external lawyer.
Other instances involve special topics where we need some highly specific legal advice for which we don’t have sufficient internal capacity or know-how. For example, for very specific IP-related issues or certain aspects of employment law in diverse markets, we turn to externals.
We do reach out to external advisors quite often. That said, even when we do reach out, it is never us working with external lawyers in a way that we completely outsource the matter. There is always somebody from our internal team who is acting as the quarterback for the project.
Local and expert knowledge complement our knowledge of the Skoda Group ambits and internal capacities and capabilities – it is all about synergy, at all times.
CEELM: What do you foresee to be the main challenges for GCs in the Czech Republic in the near/mid future?
Marsovszky: It is very hard to answer at a broad level as it really depends on the background of the GC and the sector they operate in.
For example, if we are focusing on industry and manufacturing, then I’d say that the application of ESG principles and the changing environment of public tendering will be the biggest challenge in the near to mid-term future.