Dimitris Smirnis holds senior in-house positions with Metro, Optima, Grantex, and Diagnosis, all while also working as the Managing Partner of Smirnis & Associate Law Firm.
CEE Legal Matters reached out to him to learn more about this rather unusual set-up.
Please tell us a bit about your career.
D.S.: I studied at the Law Department of University of Athens and I started my career as a lawyer in 1998. In the first years I practiced as an Attorney at Law dealing mainly with civil and penal law cases.I provided legal services to my clients – both individuals and companies – and had many court appearances. Later, I focused on practicing corporate and business law. In 2005 I started working as a counsel at Metro S.A., a leading company in retail and wholesale of food and household products. Also in 2005 I started working as a counsel at Optima S.A., a brother company of Metro S.A. dealing mainly with cheese and dairy products. Today I’m the Head of Legal of both companies, which continue to grow aggressively despite the economic crisis in Greece.
I’ve also been a Legal Counsel at Grantex S.A. since 2008 and Diagnosis S.A. since 2011. Grantex S.A is a brakes and parts company and Diagnosis S.A. provides health services.
So you’ve been the Managing Partner of the Smirnis & Associates Law Firm since 1998, and you are simultaneously working as an in-house counsel in several companies. What exactly led to this set-up, and how common is it in the Greek market?
D.S.: According to Greek Law, a lawyer in Greece is a “public servant,” who practices law in private. It sounds conflicting but it’s not. It means that lawyers cannot be employees while they provide legal services to companies. So I decided not only to keep managing the Smirnis & Associates Law Firm but to also to develop the firm. This is not common in the Greek Market. Most lawyers who work as in-house counsels stop practicing in private but I preferred to go against the mainstream and this decision proved right.
How do you split your time between all of these functions and your private practice?
D.S.: Time management is an everyday challenge. As a counsel I devote most of my time to the companies I work for and as a manager at Smirnis & Associates I supervise but I also trust my colleagues to serve our clients.
I’m assuming at least some of the companies where you work as counsel have other in-house legal team members. How do you manage to coordinate their work without your physical presence?
D.S.: Yes they have. Our cooperation is excellent. When my physical presence is not possible, we stay in touch thanks to technology.
While the companies that you currently work for operate in different jurisdictions, how do you manage potential conflicts between them and clients of the Smirnis & Associates Law Firm – or do you simply not work with clients from these industries at all?
D.S.: We do not represent other clients from these sectors of the market in order to avoid conflict issues.
When you spoke with Grantex and Diagnosis about taking on in-house functions with them, a few eyebrows must have been raised at your set-up. What were the main objections/concerns, if any, and how did you circumvent them?
D.S.: Both companies honored me by proposing to be their Legal Counsel having full knowledge of my professional status, so there were no objections or concerns.
Of your current in-house roles, which do you find to be the most challenging and why?
D.S.: Being the Head of Legal at METRO S.A. is the most challenging role. Its continuous growth and development requires not only leadership and efficiency but also thoughtfulness and essential and timely consulting.
As things stand, would you take on any more in-house roles should the opportunity present itself?
D.S.: Not for the time being, but I keep my mind open to future challenges.
It is in many ways a matter of comparing apples and oranges but, since you are exposed to both on an ongoing basis, which of the two worlds (private practice or in-house) do you find to be the most rewarding and why?
D.S.: Both worlds are rewarding. Private practice provides freedom of choices. In-house counseling provides knowledge of interacting inside a corporate environment.
On the lighter side, if you would have the opportunity tomorrow to pick any other profession than a lawyer, what would it be?
D.S.: The essence of life is living the present but I’ll answer your question. I would be a novelist.
This Article was originally published in Issue 2.5. of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.
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