Scaling the Summit: On the 7th of June, less than eight hours after saying final good-byes to the private practitioners attending the Deal of the Year Awards Banquet, CEE Legal Matters greeted the hundred plus in-house counsel attending the fourth annual regional General Counsel Summit, located this year at the Congress Center of Prague’s Czech National Bank.
The GC Summit provides a two-day forum for General Counsels across industries, sectors, and jurisdictions to exchange information about best practices, review strategies for effective time and personal management, consider methodologies for dealing with boards and external counsels, receive compliance updates, and much more. Of course, the event also provides an extremely valuable opportunity to meet with peers, and learn about shared challenges, frustrations, and responsibilities, while making valuable new connections and establishing new friendships.
The panels and presentations of the Summit covered a wide scale of topics, focusing on Day One around questions such as how to create greater efficiency for the in-house legal function, how to build up the in-house legal function from scratch, and how to build up a successful compliance culture.
“I was honored to participate in the CEE GC Summit for the first time,” commented Tom Hammack, Chief Counsel at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, who gave the Keynote Presentation on “Creating Greater Efficiencies in the In-House Legal Function” to lead off Day One of the event. “Given the ever-increasing tightening of belts in in-house legal functions, in my presentation, I attempted to shed some light on what our large legal department is doing to address efficiency drives in the area of outside counsel and knowledge management, and some of the initial results of such campaigns. I hoped it was of interest and benefit to attendees.”
“Building up a legal department from scratch is one of the most challenging tasks an in-house lawyer can face,” said Edit Rosta, General Legal Counsel for 3M. “The idea of having an in-house legal department usually means that the business of the company has reached such a level of complexity where such activity is badly needed, but at the same time employees who have perhaps never worked with an internal lawyer may consider it as an unfriendly step the company takes in order to restrain their previous freedom in making business decisions.” According to Rosta, learning the rules of a company is time consuming, but she thinks the real challenge in creating a new in-house function is establishing a cooperative relationship with colleagues so that, within a short period of time, they are able to realize the enormous added value of a legal professional who speaks their language and understands their business from inside out. “Once this is done, the war is won, all the daily battles will be relatively easy to win – or lose, as the case may be.”
One important challenge that General Counsels must accept is building up a successful compliance culture. The panel discussing that challenge touched upon topics like what budget is necessary to create and implement such compliance programs, ensuring business ownership for compliance, and the extent of the compliance counsel’s responsibility for the program. “In my speech I specifically mentioned that Compliance Counsels and General Counsels assuming the role of Legal and Compliance should involve themselves in business processes and should know the business targets in order to be able to challenge how the company will be achieving these targets,” explained Olga Ivanchenko, Senior Compliance Counsel at Oracle, adding that in her opinion, Compliance Counsels are not responsible for setting the compliance culture, but instead for promoting and facilitating the programs, educating the company’s workforce, and engaging in compliance discussions. “They help business leads enforce the compliance initiatives and remediate conduct which is not in line with the company policies.”
When it came to the topic of how General Counsels can maximize the value of input from external counsel, Balazs Kokeny, Head of Legal at Nokia in Hungary said that if he had to sum up in one sentence, “external lawyers should at all times become the trusted business advisors of a General Counsel and should deliver tailor-made solutions to complex issues.”
After a busy but meaningful day with eight presentations and three panel discussions, participants gathered for a reception and gala dinner at the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia, located in the center of Prague. In a medieval atmosphere, with gentle live music, attendees were able to engage with each other in a social setting, and – while enjoying some Czech delicacies – to the discuss the challenges of their profession, while kicking back and unwinding after a full day of sessions with a glass (or, for some, more) of wine.
The second day of the Summit started on the morning of the 8th with a special presentation by Sasha Borovik, CFO & General Counsel at the CloudEO startup on the impact of blockchain and cryptocurrency on companies and the ways General Counsels can keep up with the pace of innovation. “A year ago, the World Economic Forum in its white-paper identified the Distributed Ledger Technology – aka blockchain – as the platform for the next industrial revolution,” he said. “Not surprisingly, the DLT and the related business models are attracting attention. This is the time for businesses to experiment with blockchain.” He added that the rapid development of these tools is creating many challenges for in-house counsels as, similar to the Internet in the early days, blockchain remains largely unregulated and not widely understood. “Business leaders will be increasingly looking at their counsel, who should be ready to answer their calls,” he insisted.
Ioana Regenbogen, Head of Legal & Corporate Affairs at ING, Romania, agreed that over the next few years innovation and technology could indeed have a disruptive effect on the legal sector, even if much of the technology appears at the moment to have a relatively low level of maturity and sophistication. “However, innovation, transformative or not, may lead to better or faster legal services, save costs, and free up time for more strategic, higher-added value legal work,” she emphasized, adding that as a result, it is important to build the necessary capacity to innovate in the legal function by transforming the culture towards experimentation, questioning of assumptions, and exerting smart risk control or mitigation. “The catalysts of an innovative culture are, in the first place, our senior leaders who need to give their staff the inspiration, the freedom, and the support they need to innovate,” she said. “Support means funding, dedicated staff or dedicated time for innovative projects, and a proper working environment. Legal staff also needs to be empowered to act autonomously, be exposed to work in small innovative communities to benefit from diverse areas of specialization, approaches and skills. And they need to develop new skills & competences like technical skills such as IT knowledge, coding understanding, data analysis, project management and further broaden their knowledge and expertise to be able to quickly understand the problems and the changing customer demands and find as fast as possible the best solution to it. And here I think we play an important role as coaches and as facilitators of this development.”
Staying within the general subject of mechanization, subsequent panels touched upon specific topics like in-house robotization and the importance of technology in the legal function, as well as broader topics such as crisis and cross-border team management.
“Companies are sitting on tremendous amounts of inactive data which can be re-purposed to improve internal processes and save time and materials,” explained Vasile Tiple, General Counsel of Romanian software automation company UiPath. “These few considerations are generally applicable irrespective of the domain in which a company activates,” he explained, noting that, “although the variety of processes and amount of inactive data that can be used for the benefit of better internal efficiency and compliance may be different from company to company,” depending on the rules it is given, a robot can compare documents, flag changes, and replace provisions – with all actions being registered and kept for auditing purposes. “This is only an example of small tasks and review of low risk documents which can be given to a legal robot,” he added.
Jordan Ellison, Partner at Slaughter and May emphasized that the crisis management panel he moderated provided attendees with important information on how businesses should handle a corporate crisis. “Lawyers play an increasingly important role in dealing with crises and reputational issues and it was really valuable to share insights into how corporate legal counsel are tackling these challenges,” he said. “What emerged in particular was the need for lawyers to build a multi-disciplinary team which, depending on the type of crisis, could include legal, finance, communications, and IT.”
Looking Back and Looking Ahead
“Allowing for reflection on what you can do better as a GC is what these two days are all about” explained Vaida Stockunaite, Events Producer at CEE Legal Matters, who played a key role in organizing the Summit.“Knowing what the latest trends in your function in leading companies are, whom to turn to when you need business advice, or simply getting the assurance that your peers are facing similar challenges can be priceless sometimes, and I hope that the attendees will benefit from the new connections they made at our event.”
“Of course, we would not be able to put this event together without the considerable input from our sponsors, who don’t just make it commercially possible, but also add a great deal of insight in terms of preparing the agenda and the content delivered on stage,” said CEE Legal Matters Executive Editor Radu Cotarcea.
“It’s important that we thank those firms who contributed so much to its success. We were honored to have Slaughter and May, Allen & Overy, Drooms, Stratulat Albulescu, Drakopoulos, and PONTES at our side in Prague,” he added.
“This is the 4th edition of the GC Summit, and it was another success,” Cotarcea continued. “We’ve learned a great deal and we’re blessed with a hyper-involved network that is always keen to share their thoughts as to what the agenda of the Summit must include, and we work hard every year to improve and to grow both in reach and depth of the topics covered. That is our challenge, and we are eagerly looking to meeting it at the 2019 Summit – our fifth – next summer in Vienna.”
This Article was originally published in Issue 5.7 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.