Andrzej Posniak started his career in law at CMS in 2003 as a corporate trainee and, step by step, become a qualified tax advisor, then a Partner and Head of the Tax Team in CMS Warsaw's Corporate Department. In addition, Andrzej also fulfills General Counsel and Risk Manager roles for the firm in Poland. CEE Legal Matters sat down with Andrzej to learn more about his unique role.
CEELM: You're both a Partner and the General Counsel for CMS in Poland. What does that in-house role entail?
A.P.: As CMS has recently grown in size and in the scale of its business, and the legal environment is getting more and more complex, we decided to adopt the best market policies and practices to make sure we comply with all the changing regulations. To give some recent examples, we have new tax regulations in Poland and GDPR reporting comes next – not to mention anti-money laundering regulations, BEPS, and others.
All these new legal acts bring many changes for our clients, but we need to adapt as well. My responsibilities cover areas tied to general compliance – both external and internal. The external part encompasses mainly taxes – I provide general supervision in this field at CMS. I make sure that we are consistent with all procedures and requirements. Internally, I focus on implementation of our firm-wide international policies, regarding for instance which activities we can undertake as a firm and which we should not, and what presents a risk to the firm. I also work closely with fellow partners, so to make sure that our standards are understood by our people and implemented across the organization. Additionally, the conflict of interest procedures also fall under my supervision. All these elements are important steps towards reaching excellence in client service and limiting the risk for our operations, although they usually go unnoticed.
CEELM: Is there a regional or global GC that you report to or do you report to the firm’s country Managing Partner as regards this in-house role?
A.P.: There is no regional GC, but there are two global GCs in London. We cooperate closely and we share information and support each other, but it is not a reporting line. I do report to our Managing Partner here in Poland. We cooperate very closely within the MP’s “core team,” and I provide consultation and support on various issues in the firm, including internal affairs.
CEELM: Are there others in your “in-house” team or do you simply ask colleagues to step in and support on the basis of need?
A.P.: Being a Corporate and Tax Partner here, I have my team. On the in-house side, I do not have a dedicated team. If expert knowledge is required, I use the expertise of our lawyers and the resources that we have available internally as a full-service law firm. When it comes to GDPR, the data protection team can help; for HR issues I consult our employment team; for anti-bribery regulations we have a very experienced white-collar crime team. I may potentially need various expert support for various projects, so having a dedicated “in-house team,” which would be utilized only occasionally, is not justified.
CEELM: What are the recurring in-house legal matters that you have to deal with?
A.P.: Generally speaking, issues concerning tax compliance and internal agreements with our employees, contractors, and partners. I overview all non-standard agreements with our clients, but insurance or conflict of interest-related questions are also very common. I have to make sure that we are not conflicted, and that we stay consistent at every level.
CEELM: How did you end up in this role? Was there some form of internal competition for the position or was it more a matter of drawing the short straw?
A.P.: When Malgorzata Surdek became the new MP, she diagnosed a need for a local GC due to the complexity and the scale of our operations here in Poland. This is the biggest CMS office in the CEE region. I was offered this role by the MP directly – my knowledge of internal procedures definitely made the difference, as well as the fact that I am a Corporate and Tax Partner, which is very much connected with general compliance and to an extent with general risk management. I think if you add up all these factors, plus the fact that I have been with the firm for a long time now, this probably explains why I was asked to become the General Counsel for the firm in Poland.
CEELM: How do you manage to split your time between the in-house matters and also serving clients?
A.P.: Clients are always first. Our core business revolves around legal services. I focus on clients first as the main part of my duties, and on top of that, I accomplish my internal duties as well. This means that I need to be more efficient and better organized to find time for my GC obligations. I am not saying this is always easy – sometimes it is very demanding and exhausting – but I like this role. I find it very challenging, but also fulfilling.
Whenever needed, I involve our expert teams, thus I do not have to spend much time on every case personally, so that is why this double role is feasible.
CEELM: Many in-house counsels talk about their need to adapt their communication to match the business drive of other functions. Do you think your “in-house” role has made this easier by the fact that your internal clients are other lawyers, or do you think it’s made more challenging … because they are also lawyers?
A.P.: Being a lawyer and working for a law firm definitely means that I do not have to translate the legal aspects of a project into a more comprehensive business language. From this perspective it is easier, but a GC’s job – beyond the language, beyond making stakeholders aware of the rules and ensuring they obey them – is also to take care of the follow up. It is not only a matter of explaining the best practice, but also making sure that our advice is followed. And this is what all GCs definitely have in common, no matter where you work. My double role definitely helps me better understand the client’s perspective and the challenges they face on a daily basis.
CEELM: You have spent your whole career with CMS. Assuming you were to move at some point down the line, would this experience make you more or less likely to move in-house? Why/Why not?
A.P.: I do not have plans to move anywhere, but if I did, I would probably continue this model of work. If you are a legal counsel at a law firm, you do legal work. But if you are a lawyer with an in-house role, you have other duties, apart from providing legal services. I enjoy the diversity this brings and the managerial perspective. Also, after the experience of performing the GC role at CMS, it would be definitely easier for me to find my way around as a GC on the business side.