Michael Kopec: 'The human appreciation you get as a legal interim manager is invaluable'
By Tina De Maere – June 13, 2023
Many lawyers and in-house counsels who are looking for a new challenge, hesitate to make the switch to a career as a legal interim consultant. Numerous questions pop up in their mind: What exactly does the legal interim profession entail? How does a job as a legal freelancer differ from a job in a law firm or a permanent position in a company? And should I worry if I’m short of assignments for a while?
Limine had a chat with Michael Kopec, currently working as a legal interim manager at Euroclear, about his experiences as an independent consultant. Together with him, we tried to find an answer to all those pressing questions.
‘As an interim manager, you always know: “the next few months, I will have to be firing on all cylinders.”‘
You are currently working as a legal interim manager at Euroclear. How has that assignment worked out so far?
‘Incredibly well. I am quite busy, but that also makes it really enjoyable. As an interim manager, you always know: “in the next few months, I will have to be firing on all cylinders”. But the team at Euroclear has given me a warm welcome which makes it a very nice atmosphere to work in. Moreover, my current client is very flexible in their home office policy, which makes the combination with my family life all the easier.’
Is your family the main reason why you decided to switch to a career as a legal interim manager?
‘There were several reasons for that choice. Firstly, it was important for me to gain experience in different legal niches and to expand my professional network. In addition, I also wanted to have more freedom in deciding on my own time management. As an employee, you work fixed hours and have fixed holidays; as a self-employed person, you have more freedom to decide on your own agenda.
However, I don’t necessarily work less now than I did as a lawyer. But compared to my period as an attorney, the time I spend on my job is more defined now. My client knows that I am available for 40 hours a week and in principle it stops there. Of course, I am flexible when needed and I will do everything that is required to get the job done, but as a business lawyer you really are occupied with your job 24/7. Thankfully, that is less the case now. That way, I can also free up more time for my family.’
‘As a legal interim manager, you have to take into account the impact of your advice on the business’
What do you think is the biggest difference between working in the legal profession and working as a legal interim manager?
‘It might surprise you, but in itself, the two are not that different from each other. The core of your work is the same: providing high-quality and pragmatic legal advice. The biggest difference is that, as a legal interim manager, you usually work for one company at the time and you get to know the organisation much better that way. Therefore, you have to adapt your advice to that specific context.
As a legal interim consultant, you are more closely involved in the economic and strategic decisions of the company you are working for. Unlike lawyers, you will be able to acquire some additional background information during internal meetings and discussions which you can then take into account in your advice.
Working in close collaboration with finance and business teams also allows you to further develop your business acumen which then helps you in translating business needs in sound legal contracts.
’What is the biggest difference between a legal interim consultant and a permanent in-house lawyer?
‘Both are part of the company, but the biggest advantage is that, as a consultant, you’re not involved in the internal politics of the business. People are always very keen on welcoming you, considering that you are an external force helping them to solve a particular problem (absorbing extra workload, replacing a long-term absentee…). That way, you can focus on what really matters. The appreciation you get for your work is therefore enormous.’
‘A smooth start of your collaboration largely depends on good onboarding’
Do you have any tips for companies who are considering hiring a legal interim manager?
‘I think a smooth start of your collaboration largely depends on good onboarding. A legal interim manager entering a new company has to get used to everything: a new environment, new people, new IT systems, new methods, etc. A good onboarding process is therefore crucial.
The aim should be to make the interim manager feel part of the organisation right away: involve your interim manager in meetings from day one, integrate them into the team, etc.
A textbook example of a solid start would be that, a few weeks after the legal interim manager has started, internal people are asking their questions without noticing any difference between the interim manager and the permanent members of the legal team.
’Of course, you also have to open yourself up as a legal interim manager. A good collaboration always depends on goodwill from both sides.’
‘The cooperation with Limine went very smoothly’
How do you generally find new assignments?
‘It depends. Sometimes I find assignments directly through my own network, sometimes through intermediaries. My last assignment was one I found through Limine. That collaboration went very smoothly. Within three days following my first contact, I had found a new assignment and concluded the contract. This is a very fast lead time.
Getting clarity about your future quickly is important for freelancers, because they always live in some kind of uncertainty, or at least a little bit. When your contract expires, you don’t know beforehand when you will find another assignment that suits you.’
Would you recommend a career as a legal interim to other lawyers?
‘That depends on your character. Do you want stability and solid ground under your feet? Then I don’t think doing interim assignments is something you should go for. But do you like regularly ending up in new environments, getting to know new people, learning about new legal matters? Then definitely, yes!
Do you have any final tips for colleagues who have just made the switch to the legal interim world?
‘Don’t panic. Sometimes, it can take a while before you find your first assignment, but once the ball starts rolling, things will happen almost automatically. Often, you don’t know whether your assignment will be extended and what you will do next. I found that really challenging the first time, but you shouldn’t worry too much about that either. Life doesn’t stop when you’re not working for a month or two.
In the end, that feeling of uncertainty is worth it all, because the human appreciation you get as a legal interim manager is invaluable. People sometimes struggle with that, but receiving appreciation from colleagues for your work is incredibly important. As a legal interim manager, you are considered an added value and that really is an indescribable feeling.’