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I have been working for Tesco for almost eight years, and when I joined the company, “compliance” was absolutely not a focus. We certainly followed values like “no one tries harder for customers,” but we did not know too much about compliance and about how important it should be for a well-organized company in the 21st century. 

Compliance Matters

The role of the in-house legal counsel in recent years has become intensely intermingled with compliance matters, which are of huge importance for international corporations. For example, American companies place great importance on anti-corruption compliance, and the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is widely known and complied with in Europe due to its extraterritorial application. 

It is good to have at least general idea of the answer to the question of where the added value of the legal department lies, otherwise you might become a very expensive administrator whose contribution to a company success is questionable. 

The rapid transformation (one could almost say the revolution) of the world of legal services is a fact and has been taking place for some time now. In fact, I believe it is now gaining its full momentum. This transformation affects both law firms and in-house legal departments. It started several years ago with cost-cutting, as clients expected more and more for less and less: in-house legal departments from external law firms, and internal clients from in-house lawyers. More changes followed. 

The legal department is one of the support functions in an organization which is, or at least should be, constantly evolving together with the organization it supports. It cannot be too static or too inconsistent in its approach and way of handling the organization’s legal matters. 

The method of providing legal services has changed a great deal over recent decades. This is true both globally and in CEE, which has been integrating rapidly into the global economy. In this process, local subsidiaries in the region have absorbed key trends and practices from their Western headquarters, business processes have upgraded and developed, and business itself has become more cross-bordered and technologically advanced.

Years ago, when a group of in-house lawyers entered the elevator of a bank, someone would mock, “Wow, what a bunch of handbrakes!” While this did not personally happen to me, I am well aware that internal legal counsels are often referred to as “problem factories” or “speedbumps” – the couriers of bad news, best to be avoided. I must admit, this scorn was not without reason. But, should this necessarily still be the case? In my view, not any longer.

In the 18 plus years I have been an in-house counsel I have had the opportunity to observe the evolution of that role. These days, in-house legal counsel do more than simply review contracts and provide legal counseling. We are no longer transactional clerks who merely approve what has already been done. General Counsels have evolved from being purely legal advisors to being strategic advisors. It is not enough now merely to provide guidance and business solutions on specific issues or resolve disputes that may arise. We must be forward looking business partners, seated at the table at which strategic decisions are made. 

The phenomenon of globalization has impacted almost every field of personal and business life of this generation – and the position of Head of Legal is no exception. In order to understand the evolution of this role compare what football or basketball looked like 30 years ago to what they look like now: Almost like different games. 

A significant anniversary inevitably causes us to reflect upon the period gone by. The sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US started in 2007 and, after spreading to other countries, became the global financial crisis that caused the longest-lasting recession of the post-war era. This recession, in conjunction with other factors, triggered sweeping changes in the Hungarian legal market. In retrospect, clear, recognizable patterns have emerged in the ten years since then. 

I have been doing deals in the CEE region in one capacity or another for over a decade now. My initial introduction to the region was during my time in New York and London with Cleary Gottlieb where I frequently instructed local law firms in the region on cross-border transactions.

In the European Union, competence of courts is harmonized and regulated by Brussels Ibis regulation No. 1215/2012 (the “Regulation”). The competence of courts determined by the Regulation is protected and applies unless the Regulation stipulates otherwise. Arbitration is not subject to EU harmonized regulations. It is governed by international treaties, most notably the New York Convention.

The unique political and administrative landscape of Bosnia and Herzegovina has resulted in far too many legislative levels and regulations for a country of its size.

2016 has been a challenging year for dispute resolution in Poland, due primarily to the numerous changes in regulatory framework that have come or will come into effect. In particular, since the country’s 2015 parliamentary elections, the government has been working on regulations related to group action proceedings, procedures for collecting claims, and various criminal law issues. 

Directive 2013/11/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of May 21, 2013, on alternative dispute resolution for consumer disputes (“Directive on Consumer ADR”) obliged Member States to bring into force the laws, regulations, and administrative provisions necessary to comply with it by July 9, 2015. 

Since former Of Counsel of Taylor Wessing Bratislava Lucia Zitnanska was appointed Slovak Minister of Justice in April 2016, the legislative changes prepared by her department have primarily been driven by the practical need to improve the enforceability of law and increase the importance of e-communication tools. To those ends, two major reforms concerning debt enforcement will enter into force in the first half of 2017.