We catch up with Marcus M Schmitt, general manager of the European Company Lawyers Association (ECLA), about their work, the benefits of membership and the threat of Brexit.

What is ECLA, and what do you do?

ECLA is a 35-year-old non-governmental and non-profit umbrella organisation that represents company lawyers all across Europe. We have 19 national company lawyers’ associations as members from 18 different European countries.

Our core objective is to establish legal privilege as an accepted norm throughout European national jurisdictions, which would entitle organisations to classify advice provided by their in-house lawyers as confidential (currently, roughly half of European national jurisdictions provide for such protection).

Brexit does not mean that the UK will break away geographically from the continent – close ties will remain

We identify and promote regulatory changes that are or would be beneficial to company lawyers. We identify regulatory developments that pose a threat to the profession.

We have six main activities:

  1. Monitor and promote the professional status of company lawyers
  2. Represent company lawyers and building recognition for legal professional privilege across Europe
  3. Cooperate with other legal associations, institutions and law firms internationally
  4. Share best practice through relevant media channels
  5. Provide networking opportunities, through events, conferences and media platforms
  6. Deliver training through seminars, webinars and other means.

Our top priority for 2018/19 is to engage more closely with national associations to better understand their individual needs and goals. We organise regular events in various member jurisdictions, like the very successful GC roundtable on antitrust law, which we held in Rome in September, our upcoming general assembly in Berlin on 8/9 November, and our first legal technology summit on 13/14 February 2019 in Dublin.

What kinds of organisations would benefit from ECLA membership?

Currently, our membership solely consists of national company lawyers’ associations. As a member of ECLA, you gain up-to-date information regarding any relevant new developments, and access to a large network of company lawyers across Europe.

National associations are able to provide unified responses through ECLA to specific industry developments on a supranational level. Our activities – best practice sharing, networking and training – and the content we produce is directly beneficial to individual members.

What are the most pressing issues facing your members at the moment?

The status of company lawyers varies largely according to their jurisdiction, so members have different priorities. The French system does not recognise company lawyers as having legal professional privilege, for example, so it’s a priority issue there. A comprehensive overview of the opportunities and challenges facing company lawyers across Europe can be found in the ECLA Yearbook, due at the end of 2018.

Legal work has been increasingly ‘internationalised’, and is more regulated than ever. There has been a flood of regulatory developments over the past few decades – our newsletters, webinars and other resources (accessible at ecla.eu) filter out the most essential developments and explain them clearly and concisely. They have been very popular with members.

What do you think the impact of Brexit will be for members?

ECLA membership is in no way connected to EU membership. The Norwegian Company Lawyers Association is a long-standing and very active member of ECLA, even though they are not a member of the EU.

Brexit might change some rules, but it will not change the practice of companies doing business beyond their country’s borders. And, of course, Brexit does not mean that the UK will break away geographically from the European continent – close ties between the European countries will remain, as they have for centuries.

This means that company lawyers will still face very similar challenges in the future, no matter what side of the channel they sit. We will continue to listen to those challenges in the UK and provide up-to-date information, training, best-practice sharing and valuable networking opportunities for company lawyer members of the Law Society.

What is your legal background? Have you always been a company lawyer?

I started working as a company lawyer shortly after I graduated from law school in Berlin, with a little excursion into investment banking in between. Before becoming general manager at ECLA at the beginning of 2018, I worked for the German Company Lawyers Association (BUJ) for six years. This was a very interesting assignment, since BUJ was only founded in 2011. With a great team, we build up many benefits for company lawyers from scratch. Also, it was the time when the professional laws relating to lawyers in Germany were changed significantly. This provided an extraordinary opportunity to get actively involved in the law-making process, and proved to be a great success for company lawyers in Germany, who are now recognised in law for the first time in history.