Who knows more about lawyers than other lawyers? In the Face-to-Face feature, we step back and allow private practitioners to sit down directly with in-house counsel to discuss their challenges, strategies, and solutions.
In this issue, Wolf Theiss Managing Partner Jan Myska and Counsel Petr Syrovatko talk with Edit Rosta, the General Counsel for Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic at 3M.
J.M.: Edit, you cover legal affairs for Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. How would you define your role and what sort of challenges are you facing in your daily business?
E.R.: My role in these three countries is first of all to define my role, because this region – which we call a central region – was created just two years ago (or maybe just a bit more). This was a huge change, as only one of these entities had an internal legal person before. So the organizational change was new, and the role is new, and so for me it’s very much the building phase at the beginning, with a lot of coordination and educating my internal clients about the value of in-house counsel and what we can do together and how far we can go together.
Of course, this is the beginning phase, I would say. I have been doing this now for just over a year and now I can say that we have created the foundation. Now comes the building itself, and that is a lot of contract management, contracting procedures, template creation, and making sure that people understand what the risks are -- because sales people of course want to do business. And sometimes they are too pushy and they just don’t feel like any risks are around the corner. It also develops trust and helps people become aware, to educate them a lot – a lot – so I am doing trainings in a big way on subjects like competition and data privacy, but also contract management (which is more like an internal question but at a moment when we can’t locate all contracts that we have to have that is also something that needs to be addressed). And, of course, we have a lot of compliance-related trainings, and their creation is also part of my job.
And for me the challenge of course are the languages. Czech and Slovak are relatively similar although I understand that these are two different languages. My language – Hungarian -- is like from the Moon. So obviously the common language is English. But I am working on my Czech and my Slovak as I work.
P.S.: What differences stand out to you as the most significant in the legal markets of the three countries you cover: The Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary?
E.R.: I think all three are extremely well developed and firms like yours are present everywhere. I knew Wolf Theiss from my previous life back in Hungary and I used to work with them a little bit. From this point of view I think we are extremely comfortable because we have a huge selection to choose from. I find in all three countries that the English penetration is really high in the profession – so I really didn’t have any issues with that – and so is the knowledge and professionalism. I think we are really developed so there aren’t many big differences. My strategy is to use firms like yours – let’s call them international firms – and I also like to use the local ones. I like the local small offices and I like to see how they operate. I really like to divide assignments between the two kinds of firms not only because of finances but also just to see their working styles. Sometimes it’s good to be slow and go through the details with a smaller firm and sometimes we need the expertise and the speed that a firm like Wolf Theiss can much more easily provide. Then it is done over the weekend and we are all happy.
J.M.: You said that you are using external counsels a lot. Do you tend to have a panel in each country and then a panel covering the entire region or do you select law firms on a case to case basis?
E.R.: When I joined 3M there were not really internal legal advisors on board so there were already law firms working for all the three entities – and of course the natural decision was to keep working with them. So first of all I gave myself some six to eight months to see how it would go and how happy we were together. In this regard I’m quite happy and I’m quite lucky that obviously the companies were selected carefully. Working with your firm is one of the first times that I am opening this up a little bit because I want an international firm that can cover the three markets because we do have questions – especially in competition – that need to be addressed in all three countries and then it is much easier to reach a common understanding. Also, as I mentioned, I like bigger law firms for their speed and also for their professionalism. Obviously you have the best translators and you have the best communication methods, so that is something that I appreciate.
P.S.: Who is the decision-maker in selecting external counsel and what are the criteria in selecting the firms you will be working with? Also, your company is US-based. Is there a preference for the US firms with offices in Europe?
E.R.: Surprisingly, for the Central Region I am very independent and there are not many instructions coming down. Meaning that our US headquarters do not really order us to use any of the big names. While we have some such instructions regarding tax advisors, that has not reached legal yet. Perhaps it is coming my way – I don’t know – but for the time being I am quite independent, as are my colleagues in similar countries. So we make our selections, and then of course we get approval from senior management. Your firm is a good example of this because Wolf Theiss works for the East Region – meaning the Balkans, mostly – and I got very good references. That was just about the time when I was starting to talk with you about cooperating, so in this respect your firm is a kind of good example, in that it covers many areas for 3M but we did it totally independently, so if I wanted a different firm than Wolf Theiss nothing would have happened I could have made that choice.
I am independent in my decisions and most important for me is always the chemistry – without which, at the end of the day, I think you cannot really select a law firm. I see how people approach my questions and it is very important to see how much an independent lawyer – whose job is already difficult enough – can understand my way of thinking and my company’s way of thinking, which is huge and extremely complicated. I’m sure all your clients are like that. What is very important for me is to see the lawyer’s eagerness to try to understand and try to put himself in my shoes and figure out what will be my next idea – which sometimes is easy and sometimes is not.
J.M.: That is very interesting actually. Have you identified certain trends in getting legal services provided by external counsels – in terms of how they behave – and what would you advise external counsels to do to attract you?
E.R.: External counsels have to realize that their clients at companies like 3M – fast-track companies, I would say – have very little time and sometimes have very limited interest. Sometimes my interest extends only to resolving the problem without needing to know the whole context in the given country. This means that I often have to read messages maybe on my phone – maybe I do not have the opportunity to open up my laptop because it is late at night and I am cooking dinner in the meantime – but I still have to check what is going on because we have a deadline the next afternoon or something. In other words, the legal advice must be concise and must be clear. I am organized like this – my brain is wired this way – if my questions are clear then I want the answers also to be clear. I like receiving the entire context, including legal cases and examples perhaps from the given country – but I may agree on it two days later or a week later, or I will return to it if I have an hour to kill or something. So for me it is very very important that the lawyer should be able to speak my language in this respect, as I do not really want to spend time trying to figure out what they wanted to say. I want concise and clear answers. Even if it is complicated sometimes.
The other thing I think external law firms need to realize is that today with big companies every other question involves a compliance issue.
P.S.: Have you noticed a lack of professionals in the legal market? How does that affect you and your firm?
E.R.: I can´t say that in the Czech Republic, in general, there is a lack of something. One more message to the lawyers not to forget is that very often your client is totally alone. For instance, I am the only lawyer here, and sometimes I only need a friendly confirmation from my external counsel that, yes, the way I think is correct or not correct – or maybe I should reconsider that. I am still looking for somebody who could be my best friend in this respect in the Czech Republic. And the questions are still very similar for all three of the jurisdictions I cover – especially as the operation of the companies is really matrix and cross-border, so obviously if you do something here with me it will also effect on the other markets, and vice versa. But I do not mean to say that there are no good competition lawyers in the Czech Republic because I am of course not in the position to judge that. But I am still looking for my best friend.
J.M.: Apart from the competition work are there any other challenges you foresee at the moment that you will have to deal with in the near future in your region, like – for example – the implementation of the data protection directive?
E.R.: Yes, that is coming our way. Luckily, 3M has realized that it is coming and the time is flying so there is already a project set up for this with the full legal project team high above. This is on a European level, not on the regional level, and will I have to understand sooner or later, when it reaches my level, what to do. For me the challenges are definitely data privacy and data protection in all three jurisdictions. It is very similar obviously – we are all in the EU – but Slovakia seems to be the strictest for the time being. Another new thing coming our way are the new health care regulations that are going to be implemented in this country next year. I do not see any big issues with employment law, which is pretty stable. In all the three countries we have the regular questions, of course – but then usually the regular answers.
P.S.: You lived in Budapest for 16 years before moving to the Czech Republic. What do you like the most about the Czech Republic and Prague?
E.R.: In Prague, the Fringe festival, of course, which is on now. We usually do not sleep when the Fringe is on. What I like about Prague is that it is safe. The public transport system that you have is absolutely world-class – and I come from a city that has a good public transport system. What you have here is … come on, you are spoiled. Or should I say we are spoiled, because I am also part of it, enjoying it. I like the culture, cultural life, I like that there is always something going on, that it never sleeps. I also like the size of the city – it is not too big but it is not too small. Lots of parks, and I love the riverside. So it is kind of a second home – as it should be.
J.M.: That’s great to hear. What about the Czech cuisine?
E.R.: Oh, I do not like knedliky. I am so sorry. My son loves it. So sometimes we buy it and just prepare something with knedliky.
J.M.: Good, I think, I think it is a perfect way to end our conversation.
E.R.: Definitely. Thank you guys.
J.M.: Thanks a lot.