Pawel Stykowski is the Head of Legal at InterRisk in Poland. His early career included brief experiences with law firms such as working as a Praktykant with Miller Canfield, a Trainee with CMS in London, an Apprentice with Linklaters, and a Tax Assistant with KPMG. In May 2007, he became an Associate with CMS, where he stayed until March 2009, when he joined the AXA Group as a Legal Specialist. In July 2011, he rejoined CMS, this time as a Senior Associate, and worked there until August 2014, when he accepted the offer to return to InterRisk as Head of Legal.
Tell us a bit about your experiences leading up to your current role.
P.S.: In 2006, just after completing my year at the Cardiff Law School, I did a four-month internship with the London office of CMS Cameron McKenna. I enjoyed it very much, but I wanted to find a job in Poland. This turned out to be quite difficult. After a few months, while I was finishing my International Relations studies, I managed to secure a position with Warsaw KPMG, but eventually I was accepted by the the Polish CMS and was allowed to choose between five practices: labor law, life sciences, IP/IT, competition, and financial services.
I chose the latter as it seemed the most exciting practice – at the time I was familiar with most of investment instruments on the Polish market. I was quite surprised when, after a few weeks, I realized that 90% of our work involved insurance and my supervisor was a well-known insurance lawyer!
All-in-all insurance law turned out to be very interesting and I decided to join a life insurance company (AXA). The company had at the time (and still has) a great legal team. I faced many challenges, such as negotiating IT contracts with foreign contractors, verifying investment agreements, and drafting general terms and conditions for products that had been just developed.
In the meantime, there were many personal movements in CMS and they were looking for an English-speaking Senior Associate specialising in insurance. This seemed a good career opportunity.
And it was. When I rejoined the firm, I worked on multinational projects involving opening new businesses, restructuring existing business models and capital relations, and developing new insurance products and new distribution channels. Also, I had the opportunity to publish articles and speak at various events. This was fascinating, but also very time-consuming. After three years I stumbled upon a very interesting job advertisement ...
And now I’m the Head of Legal at InterRisk, a Polish insurance company (member of the Vienna Insurance Group). This job seems perfect for me and, although it’s very challenging (a company of this size produces an impressive amount of legal work), I’m able to spend evenings with my children and, at night, to sleep.
You’ve worked in law firms, then in a Big 4 environment, then law firm, then in-house, followed by rejoining the same law firm, and, lastly, back in the in-house world again. What are the main differences between these environments and which do you enjoy the most?
P.S.: In a big law firm, one has the opportunity to work on huge, multinational projects. Often one analyses legal solutions that, up to that point in time, were never tried in practice. Most of the work is done in English. CMS is one of only two big law firms employing insurance regulatory lawyers in its Warsaw office, so I had the opportunity to participate in most of developments in the Polish insurance market in the last three years. However, the job is unpredictable. Sometimes there is little to do, and suddenly we are flooded with instructions. Some of the clients had a habit of calling me after 6 pm and request something to be done overnight. Deadlines simply cannot be breached.
For an in-house lawyer the most important part of the job is to eliminate – or at least minimize – legal risks. Time is a less important factor. Also, normally one works from 9 to 5. This does not mean that the work is less intense – there is plenty to do. As an in-house counsel I need to verify contracts, general terms and conditions of insurance, review claims, business ideas, etc. Also, a lot of work management is required of the head of legal, including assigning tasks, supervising their implementation, improving team efficiency, and ensuring cost-effectiveness.
You’ve just recently taken on the role of Head of Legal at InterRisk – what were the first few steps to “settle in” your new role?
P.S.: Two matters are most important: to learn what is expected of you and to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your team. The former is fairly easy as the management board will provide you with its expectations. The latter is tricky, because you can’t rely on opinions of internal clients (as they are not lawyers) and the only way to do it is to review the advice given by your team. This is very time-consuming, but absolutely necessary.
My first important task was to develop a way to implement InterRisk’s intention to modify the role of the legal team, particularly by using the legal team to handle claims. We introduced the new model (involving, among other things, a relocation of employees between offices in different parts of Warsaw) within only two months of my first day at work.
What parts of your induction/getting to know the company phase did you find most overwhelming?
P.S.: Evaluating the work of team members. I did not know anyone on the legal team. I could not rely on impressions of other employees as they were not lawyers. I requested that every team member copy me on every bit of advice they were sending out. This seemed unusual for them, since almost all of them were qualified (as advocates or legal advisors), but gave me thorough knowledge of their capabilities. However, it was very time consuming (in order to evaluate someone’s research one has to do his own research, and in order to evaluate someone’s work on a contract one has to review the contract).
The next step was to show how I expected the work to be done. For example, instead of long, complicated memoranda, usually internal clients require simple yes or no answers (and a short explanation). Instead of asking for detailed explanations via e-mail, it is easier and faster to call the person in question. Instead of making comments to a contract, it’s more efficient to introduce the suggested changes in the track changes mode. Also, I suggested a new approach to certain legal issues. All these tiny things summed up make a huge difference.
Are there any changes to the legal team’s structuring you expect to implement now that you’ve started getting to know your new home?
P.S.: I think that I already made all the most important changes. Now I need a few weeks to see how the new model is working and, based on observations, perhaps a few further modifications will be necessary.
Are you likely to use the same law firms your predecessor used or will you be looking to build new working relationships? What are the main criteria you use in selecting the external counsel you work with?
P.S.: We intend to do the regulatory work in-house. As far as claims are concerned, we have just introduced significant changes. Instead of using multiple law firms throughout Poland we chose three law firms who met two conditions: (1) proposed competitive fees; and (2) have long experience in handling insurance claims. This model seems optimal and I don’t think we are going to change it in the foreseeable future. However, if any large claims end up going to court, we may have to find a law firm specializing in the field in question so that we would feel confident that we have the best men on our side.
We receive an impressive number of small claims, which can be easily dealt with based on our instructions. This can be easily done by law firms specializing in handling thousands of easy claims.
However, there are tasks that require a thorough knowledge of the issue in question. These can be only addressed by specialists. For those issues two factors are relevant: the experience and professionalism of the law firm and (unfortunately) the cost of advice. The bigger the case, the greater the importance of the experience and professionalism.
The financial services industry in general in Poland seems to be in a phase of market consolidation. Would you say that applies to your business, and if so, how does it affect your work?
P.S.: The Polish insurance market is unique. There’s one huge insurance company (mostly state-owned), which dominates the market. There are branches of foreign insurance companies gaining market share mainly in car insurance. And there is the Vienna Insurance Group (for which I currently work), which gained an impressive position on the Polish market through acquisitions, but also through organic growth of each of the companies.
I don’t think that we may expect any major consolidations soon. Currently, the most important issue that we are facing are the changes to the market caused by directives of the Polish Financial Supervision Authority. Within the last few months the FSA has adopted a number of directives which will drastically affect the market. They cover virtually every field of activity of insurance companies: distribution models, outsourcing, intermediaries’ remuneration, claims handling, loss adjustment, IT, reinsurance …
At this point no one knows exactly which activities will be questioned by the regulator.
On the lighter side of things, what were you most excited about when you first sat down in your new office?
P.S.: Frankly, I was hoping that I would not have to check my mail when I’m out of the office. And I must admit that I check it only occasionally. But after a few weeks I realized that the thing I enjoy most is something that I did not consider when I applied for this job. I feel that I’m creating a great team which will help to improve the whole company. I feel that by solving the legal problems of other teams I have a part in building InterRisk’s image and market share. And I hope that the solutions that I have already implemented and will implement in the next few years will permanently improve the company. It is a great feeling.
This Article was originally published in Issue 6 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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