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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. 

We first spoke with Pawel Stykowski, the Head of Legal at InterRisk in Poland, two years ago, in the December 2014 issue of the CEE Legal Matters. We decided to follow up with him now to see how his role and expectations have changed in that time. 

Vladimira Jicinska is the Head of Legal at AHOLD, responsible for the Czech market. She first joined the company in December 2012 after spending a little over two years in China working as the Head of Legal and Compliance of Home Credit China. Before that, she worked for AAA Auto holding for nine years, initially as an Acquisition Lawyer, and later as the Group Legal Manager of the company.

Chief Legal Officers know how demanding their jobs are. They have to create and manage effective teams, retain and instruct external counsel, advise their employers on strategic decisions, and implement new technology, all while putting out 20 fires a day.

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