Schops: “Our role has substantially evolved and evolved in the right direction”
In 2020, we are proud to present our interview series with company lawyers across Europe and across various industries. The series aims to give in-house lawyers the opportunity to express their views on legal departments and illustrate similarities and differences between in-house lawyers across Europe.
Today, we are proud to present the thoughts of Mr. Xavier Schops, a seasoned general counsel in Zurich with two decades worth of experience under his belt.
How does your average day at work look like? Can you give an estimate of how much of your time is dedicated to legal advice and how much to other tasks? (e.g. management?)
Schops: A given day at work hardly resembles the previous one. For instance, I would spend a third of the time with my team members, covering legal, compliance and privacy, to address legal support to business priorities with a focus on risks and litigation, key commercial contracts, in addition to people development. A second bucket is about working with the strategy and corporate development team to help grow our business. My input in these matters concerns legal and compliance support to M&A activities, but also the structuring strategic approach to the partnership. The third part of the day would be spent discussing key initiatives, governance and risk management with the management board.
What makes it special for you to work as an in-house lawyer? If you have worked in other legal practices before, how do they compare?
Schops: As an in-house lawyer, the substance is essentially similar compared to lawyers in private practice (contracts, corporate, litigation, IP), but the context is substantially different. 99% of your colleagues are not lawyers and you are here to follow through on the issues, from the risk identification to the assessment of the solution that was implemented. I particularly value being “in the mix” constantly with business colleagues, from the development of products to exploring new business opportunities to fighting alongside in disputes.
How has the profession of in-house counsel evolved since you began your career?
Schops: Our role has substantially evolved and evolved in the right direction. The expectations of the CEO, shareholders and stakeholders have materially increased and moved from the administration of the company to the proactive assessment and management of existing and upcoming risks and opportunities. The addition of leadership and management, compliance, privacy, government affairs, corporate governance and many more has made the role even more interesting and challenging. This has helped elevate the positioning of the legal department and its recognition as a value driver and a competitive advantage to secure the company prospects.
What trends do you currently see as transforming corporate legal departments? How have you responded to them? (including, but not limited to shifting legal trends, evolving work environment, and the advancement of technology)
Schops: I would highlight the growing need of regulatory and government affairs where lawyers have a decisive role to play to help defend and promote their company business and help shape if possible the upcoming applicable regulations. Naturally, the fast shifting gear in data and process management has created exciting opportunities to ease access to information and transform the way we advise the business. As in any of other department, the new general of lawyers join with new expectations from a role and recognition perspective and a different perspective with regard to commitment and engagement.
What would you tell current law students about working as an in-house lawyer?
Schops: You will love it! I would recommend having a diverse career made of building blocks in firms and companies in various field of business and geographies, this is extremely enriching. Explore the opportunities and think beyond your capital city and your country.
How would you respond to those who argue that external lawyers are more independent in giving legal advice than in-house lawyers?
Schops: How do you define lawyers’ independence in a 2000-lawyer firm with numerous layers of seniority persons where you are essentially receiving a salary? I would say that I have heard this fairly sterile debate for many years and still wonder why in some instances, we are still in the antagonistic approach between corporate and practicing counsels.
Xavier Schops is currently the Group General Counsel of Sonova, a Swiss listed medical devices company. He was previously General Counsel at global food, chemical, mining, advertising and automotive listed companies in Switzerland, France and Asia-Pacific. Xavier has a passion for M&A, business strategies and commercial partnerships as well as for the development of high-performing diverse teams. His functional expertise includes litigation, governance, privacy and compliance in regulated industries. A French trained lawyer with a master in Finance, Xavier lives in Zurich.