Significant matters – Autumn 2016

Agenda |

Panel roundup

Unilever is currently carrying out an informal review of its panel firms, after the existing roster expired in June 2016. Led by operations legal director Saswata Mukherjee, the last panel review began in February 2014 and constituted the company’s first formal panel arrangement.

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Author(s)

  • The In-House Lawyer, , The In-House Lawyer

‘Trust the lawyers’ won’t cut it

Are you a Capitulator? A Coaster? A Champion? Comfortably Numb perhaps? To an in-house profession used to having its qualities of leadership and innovation praised to the hilt, the recently-produced report on ethical standards among general counsel from UCL’s Centre for Ethics and Law is an awkward read.

Leader |

The report, Mapping the Moral Compass, is the second stage of an initiative to assess the ethical approach of and pressures on the in-house profession. Based on 400 responses, the report documents what was already apparent anecdotally: employed lawyers face considerable and specific ethical pressure points. While those tensions are not obviously more severe than in private practice, there is a far less developed framework to manage them. [Continue Reading]

Working smarter

As in-house teams handle more complex work, GCs are coming under pressure to rethink their tactics. IHL puts forward eight ideas to upgrade your team.

Strategy |

Let’s start with an assumption: we will reach peak in-house. Though the in-house profession has hugely expanded over the last 15 years – those in the private sector growing threefold since 2000 to over 16,000 solicitors in England and Wales by 2015 – in-house legal teams cannot keep growing forever.

At some point companies will tire of employing more lawyers. At some point lower cost providers than law firms will make such expensive recruitment harder to justify. At some point the money for expanding legal budgets (and the available data in the US and UK shows they are still expanding) will run out. And, as the joke goes, when the money runs out, it is time to start thinking. [Continue Reading]

The lexicon of inefficiency

Paul Gilbert argues that in-house counsel’s focus on artisan improvisation is out of touch with modern business realities.

Comment |

It is not easy to be an in-house lawyer. Thank goodness, however, because if it was why on earth would any business want to employ a lawyer? In fact, why would any lawyer go to the trouble of that expensive and gruelling training and working hours that risk burnout; then, just when they reach the point they can capitalise on their powers, decide to hop into a featherbed of routine, low-risk work that is more ‘admin’ than law? Surely the job being difficult is part of the attraction? Difficulty is also some justification for lawyers to be among the most expensive bodies on the payroll. [Continue Reading]

If it is lonely at the top for your CEO, sort out your reporting lines and help

Corporate excellence is a team game, says Stefan Stern. Have GCs joined up?

Comment |

Can Dave Lewis save Tesco? Will Bob Dudley turn BP around? Journalists and financial analysts ask these questions, and headline writers dutifully stick them at the top of the page. But the questions are absurd. We should stop asking them.

Consider an international business employing tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people. There are country managers, divisional heads, and a senior executive team, all reporting into a board of directors that sits above the lot of them. No big decision should be taken by a chief executive on their own. Good corporate governance requires that checks and balances are applied, in particular by the board. [Continue Reading]

Author(s)

  • Stefan Stern, Columnist for the <em>Financial Times</em> and visiting professor at Cass Business School, The In-House Lawyer

    Columnist for the Financial Times and visiting professor at Cass Business School

Perspectives: Dan Fitz, BT

Dan Fitz is group general counsel and company secretary for BT.

Perspectives |

I love my career. I haven’t loved it at all times. Over the years it was tough. But over time I became more confident, the anxiety passed and I got into the interesting aspects of what I was doing. I got to enjoy it very much. [Continue Reading]

Profile: Oscar Grut, The Economist Group

The iconic business title’s GC on the company’s sale, the pleasures of generalism and stepping way outside his comfort zone.

Profile |

It was third time lucky when IHL finally managed to catch up with The Economist Newspaper’s general counsel and company secretary, Oscar Grut. The GC offered a stream of apologies on IHL’s arrival at his Canary Wharf office, explaining that he had been busy selling off the company’s London headquarters in St James’s.

The sale of the property was part of the biggest deal Grut has worked on since he was appointed as the company’s assistant legal counsel 18 years ago. The London headquarters, which is being sold to gain funds for a buy-back of The Economist’s shares following its divestment from Pearson, is a high-stakes move for The Economist. Grut says the company expects to make a profit of around £110m on the sale. [Continue Reading]

Profile: Richard Vary, Nokia

Nokia’s globe-trotting litigation head on running disputes at the sharp end and the thrill of the next case.

Profile |

When asked what keeps him in-house, Nokia’s Richard Vary touts two key selling points of the job: travel and adrenaline. His role as head of litigation has placed him in some interesting scenarios over his ten years working for the multinational communications and IT company. ‘It was my birthday last year when I arrived at work and then discovered we had a hearing in India the next day,’ Vary told The In-House Lawyer. [Continue Reading]

Profile: Bjarne Tellmann, Pearson

The plain-speaking Pearson law chief on driving change and pulling up your role models.

Profile |

Last month, Pearson’s high-profile senior vice president and general counsel Bjarne Tellmann was attending an executive leadership course at Harvard Law School when he bumped into Ben Heineman, General Electric Company (GE)’s former veteran legal head who is lauded by many for inventing the playbook for the sophisticated, globe-trotting GC.

Tellmann grabbed the opportunity to have dinner with America’s most celebrated in-house counsel (appropriately in the local arm of Legal Sea Foods, slogan: ‘If it isn’t fresh, it isn’t Legal’). But the plain-speaking GC is not one for merely buttering up his role models. [Continue Reading]

Lost in translation

As the SRA prepares to overhaul its handbook, we ask whether its new focus on in-house will be enough to help tackle the ethical dilemmas general counsel face.

Regulation |

‘There’s a serious danger of a regulator trying to regulate something that it doesn’t understand,’ says Kingfisher group general counsel and company secretary Clare Wardle. Her comment comes as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) works on another overhaul of its handbook, halfway through a two-year review that will end in 2017, a process that has clear plans to be more inclusive of the in-house profession.

When asked what in-house lawyers would make of its current handbook and code of conduct, SRA chief executive Paul Philip concedes: ‘They would probably say quite a lot of the regulations that we put out are not directly applicable to them and they need clarity. That’s what we’re trying to provide.’ [Continue Reading]