Waldemar Koper, Legal Director at Kompania Piwowarska, was one of the co-founders of the Polish Corporate Lawyers Association in 2009 and is currently serving as its President. CEEIHM spoke to Koper to learn more about the association and its activities over the last decade.
CEEIHM: To start, tell us about the Polish Corporate Lawyers Association and its mission statement.
Waldemar: The Polish Corporate Lawyers Association (or PSPP) has been present on the Polish market since 2010 as the only association representing the interests of in-house lawyers.
One of our fundamental objectives is to facilitate networking and create a communication platform for legal departments of business entities. The association consists of 300+ members, including the representatives of leading companies from the main economic sectors in Poland, such as the banking, automotive, pharmaceutical, publishing, food, construction, IT, and telecommunication industries.
Our main statutory activity is the organization of meetings, workshops, and conferences for the members of the association. Our rich educational offer, the continued patronage of over 20+ events a year, and the opportunity to grant awards and host the annual Gala Dinner have actively shaped the development of the association. Its main objectives are to represent the professional environment of in-house lawyers, promote best practices, and bring together chief legal officers of Polish companies.
CEEIHM: When and how was the association established and what were the main drivers for you to get involved?
Waldemar: In response to the demands of the legal community, 24 leaders of legal departments established the PSPP in 2009. I can still recall the lively exchange of thoughts and expectations, powerful energy, and determination. The strong emotions of the moment were turned into action.
At that time, there was no other forum of in-house lawyers that would facilitate integration, exchange of experiences, and a raising of professional standards. We also noticed a great need to change the way our profession was perceived, both by corporate boards and internal customers. While providing legal opinions has always been our priority task, chief legal officers’ work responsibilities are much more than that.
However, it was not clear back then that a leader of the legal department should participate in the strategic decision-making process shaping the development of the company. We were determined to change that.
The potential of our initiative was quickly noticed by the leaders of legal departments from all major economic sectors, as well as by leading law firms, professional corporations, international law organizations, and media. All of them became involved in the activities of the association.
CEEIHM: How has the association evolved over the course of the past ten years? How is it different now from when it was established?
Waldemar: Ten years in, we can say that the PSPP is not only an organization that represents the interests of in-house lawyers but also a vibrant platform of educational services directed to lawyers and business people. As an entity, we have significant influence over the legal services sector. The PSPP is a community hub for professional and social integration. The association has had an unquestionable impact on shaping the image of in-house lawyers in Poland.
Together with our partners, we organized over 100 conferences and networking events in the last years. We conducted three large-scale research projects, producing reports which became an important source of information about the shifts in the work of in-house lawyers in Poland. We launched the Legal MBA – a professional program of business education for lawyers. The PSPP served as an advisor on many bills as a partner of the state. We have also collaborated during many prestigious events, such as the yearly Corporate Legal Counsel Forum and the Legal Directors Forum. We have also had a long and collaborative relationship with the most acclaimed economic newspapers in the country. We are a proud partner of the Ranking of Law Firms and the Rising Stars competition which recognizes the most gifted young lawyers. We also co-organized a number of training sessions and meetings dedicated to professionals from outside the corporate law area. For the last five years, we have been regularly giving out the Leader of Corporate Lawyers award.
Having achieved our main goals, we identified new areas of involvement – education being one of them. What puts us above other institutions organizing educational workshops and programs for lawyers is the thorough knowledge of the current needs in the corporate legal environment. Consequently, we can effortlessly tailor educational programs to answer particular demands in the field. Our flagship initiative – the Legal MBA – is the only such program for Polish in-house lawyers. It offers comprehensive business knowledge and helps develop soft skills that are indispensable in our daily work and in creating a leadership position in an organization. They are generally absent from most law schools’ curricula. More educational projects are to be launched in the coming fall.
CEEIHM: Looking back at your past decade, what would you highlight as the association’s main success?
Waldemar: I believe that our main success is that we accomplished all the objectives that we identified ten years ago. All members of the PSPP Board serve as a chief legal officer in their respective companies – a job that carries a lot of responsibility. Still, the association has been in full swing, organizing many networking events and conferences throughout the year. We strive to meet the immediate demands. In the first six months of 2020, we launched a new service for our members called Coronavirus and the Law. We are now conducting webinar-style training and continuously supporting the work of our members. So far, we have awarded the Leader of Corporate Lawyers prize four times. Our professional environment is integrated, aware of its function in the business world, and able to constantly develop skills and capacities thanks to our educational offer. We are also present in the economic press, where our members regularly publish articles under the column Corporate Lawyer’s Perspective.
CEEIHM: On the flip side, what have you not yet had a chance to kick-off and are hoping to in the near future?
Waldemar: The pandemic has curbed our plans for new educational programs for in-house lawyers. The prolonged restrictions have caused us to decrease our training initiatives. Nevertheless, we have not ceased searching for new ways and possibilities to develop our offer. As a result, the fifth edition of the Legal MBA program set off mid-March, this time in an online version. We were able, however, to attract almost the same number of participants as during previous editions, which is a big success.
We are currently working on adjusting other educational programs to the new circumstances, and we are hoping to start to brand new educational series in the autumn. They will be complementary to the present offer of PSPP and our Partners.
It is an essential part of our development plan, which responds to market demands.
CEEIHM: Why should any GC in Poland look to join the PSPP?
Waldemar: There are ample benefits of the PSPP membership for in-house chief legal officers, including integration, exchange of experience, and professional development support. Every year, together with partnering law firms, we organize free conferences, workshops, and webinars, as well as offer discounts on the prestigious events under our patronage.
Another successful initiative is an educational series for members of legal teams – the Corporate Lawyer Academy. It provides our members – note, they are only CLOs – with development opportunities for their whole teams, providing an excellent motivational tool for the most talented young lawyers.
Membership in the association brings prestige and a chance to build one’s brand, not only as a lawyer but also as a leader among employers. The nominations and the main prize in the Leader of Corporate Lawyers competition is the best way to highlight one’s professional capacity in the field.
Young lawyers, who have just started their work as chief legal officers, benefit immensely from the opportunity to share experiences with their more seasoned colleagues. It helps them in everyday tasks and makes their transition into their new position smoother. After all, even the best law school will not teach you how to be a good manager of a legal department. Through sharing experiences with other professionals, young lawyers can avoid making mistakes in their new assignments.
CEEIHM: How does one go about becoming a member?
Waldemar: The first step is to submit a member application on the PSPP’s site. The statutory assumptions require a law degree, a leadership position in the legal department of a company, and a reference from another PSPP member. The board of the PSPP examines the submissions against the statutory requirements and asks the candidates follow-up questions when necessary. The board’s decision to accept new members must be unanimous.
CEEIHM: Looking into the future, what project are you most excited about?
Waldemar: Certainly, our biggest challenges are our new digital strategy as well as the development of the association’s educational projects, as providing need-based products and learning from experts who are willing to contribute creates great prospects for our continuing operation.
A good example is the Executive Legal MBA program, which is the next version of our flagship initiative directed at the most experienced legal managers. Depending on circumstances, it can be offered online or in a traditional, in-class form. Developed by lawyers for lawyers with the support of PwC, it is an innovative program on the Polish market. Thoroughly practical and interactive, the program focuses on enhancing the non-legal skills needed by the most demanding heads of legal.
By Djordje Vesic