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Today's many hats interview is with Jonathon Hogg, in-house lawyer at IPC. If you ask nicely, he'll do a cracking Elvis impersonation. Oh—and he's a damn fine lawyer too...
Who are you?
Jonathon Hogg, Senior Legal Counsel and Global Data Protection Officer in the London offices of IPC, a US telecommunications group
How did you end up being a commercial lawyer?
I qualified as a barrister and following a stint as an advocate on the Northern Circuit for a company called LPC, I was invited down to London by them to work in-house. LPC is an innovative company that provides advocacy services to firms of solicitors, calling upon its pool of up-and-coming young lawyers. I spent a very happy 5 years working there and was their senior advocate, meaning I had plenty of exposure to hearings at the Royal Courts of Justice. I also managed more than 100 advocates and performed a general commercial in-house lawyer role. LPC is a fantastic organisation full of good, bright people, and was the building block for my career.
It was there that I decided that I wanted to be an in-house commercial lawyer. As I have language skills, I also thought it would be a great opportunity to combine the two and so my career path was chosen. I have worked for various companies over the years but IPC is a market leader that gives me a good variety of challenging work in a friendly environment with a suite of products and services of which I am truly proud.
What type of projects are you working on at the moment?
My role is extremely varied (something I love!) and combines legal work with general commercial work.
To give you a flavour of my workflow, I am currently negotiating: an English language global master services agreement for the provision of voice and data network services to a financial services institution; a German language sale, licence, installation & maintenance contract for the provision of trading systems to a German bank; and a French language contract to provide trading systems to a French insurance company. I’m also working to ensure our network services compliance is maintained across EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa).
Finally, in the non-legal context, I am project managing the global implementation of a contract management system, right from vendor selection through to configuration, testing and roll-out.
Describe a memorable moment of your career. (You can interpret ‘memorable’ in whichever way you wish!)
The day I was plastered across two 50 feet high billboards in Times Square for 2 hours! I was in New York last Summer on the company’s 'Future Leaders Programme' and to celebrate IPC’s 40th birthday, we were invited to close the trading day at the NASDAQ. They do a photo session, I love the camera, and the NASDAQ liked one photo of me in particular and hey presto, there I was on the billboards! It was such a cool experience!!
What makes a lawyer a commercial lawyer?
Possession of highly developed academic legal skills combined with a finely tuned knowledge of your client’s business so you apply that knowledge in the interest of your client, topped with the ability to deliver legal advice that is both concise and clear. Oh, and being able to deliver everything yesterday!
Is there a common problem you come across time and time again as a commercial lawyer?
There are always the usual suspects of liability, warranties, indemnities and acceptance when it comes to negotiation. I will pick the concept of acceptance of an IT implementation because I work for a US group where 'revenue recognition rules' are of paramount importance*. I am regularly having discussions concerning signed/deemed acceptance and the various pivots behind the mechanism, and I find this to be a sensitive topic for both supplier and customer.
What tips do you have for making legal advice more digestible/ commercial for business?
Know your audience. If I am talking/ writing to another lawyer then I will happily indulge in academic argument if necessary. However, if I am dealing with my non-legal business people I dispense with talk of the law and simply apply the academics to the situation so that I can tell them 'yes', 'no', or 'yes if'. I will explain the law if they wish and always strive to boil it down to the basics and explain in layman terms.
What advice would you give to someone entering the commercial law arena?
Be flexible, be hard-working, know your onions, be approachable, and build good relationships with as many people in the business as possible.
Is the profession doing enough to make lawyers truly commercial?
No. I see academic training sessions but the profession needs to assist more with effective delivery to non-legal personnel
What could we be doing better to train lawyers working at the sharp end of business and commerce?
Improve the training on how to deliver legal advice that moves the business forward wherever possible, in a non-legal way to non-legal personnel. Too many lawyers are great when it comes to talking to each other but are terrible communicators with the business colleagues and they get so busy with an academic point that they forget the big picture.
Law is nothing more than common sense with brass knobs on but a lot of business people have experienced poor lawyers who over-complicate everything, always say no without thinking of alternative solutions, and who leave the business person with the impression that law is a sacred art that only boffins could ever understand.
Is there a recent development in commercial law that concerns you?
Yes, application of the EU Data Protection Directive. It has resulted in different approaches in different countries (Germany!) and a fear of any data going outside Europe. I have encountered a number of lawyers who have a poor grasp of its application in an international context and I long for implementation of the draft EU Regulation. There should be better guidance to help some of our colleagues understand that data protection does not equate to data lockdown!
What are your views on the increasing recognition of good faith as a concept in commercial contract law?
Doesn’t mean much to me as businesses would in the most part apply this anyway (unless things have gone properly pear-shaped with a relationship). For those instances where good faith is absent, I think contractual wording would not be overly helpful as it is such a subjective concept and wouldn’t be much ammunition—lawyer 1: 'you aren’t operating with good faith', lawyer 2: 'yes we are', lawyer 1: (silence).
Who in commercial law and/or the law generally do you most admire?
Douglas Kortrey, one of my colleagues based in New Jersey. The guy is a really brilliant commercial lawyer, a cool person, and someone I aspire to be more like.
Which hat is your favourite?
My negotiation hat is my favourite. I adore negotiating contracts and feel I am as good as anyone. I love the quick-thinking, legal arguments, the power of good communication skills mixed with a 'let’s do this' attitude, and the acclaim when you do a great job! My other favourite hat is my Elvis hat. I have been an Elvis impersonator for about 10 years and I am a born performer—when the crowd go nuts, I absolutely love it!
What do you do to switch off from the day job?
Music is big for me—I’ve been in various bands as a singer, have a London Underground busking licence, and aside from Elvis I like singing rat pack. Apart from music, I like fighting. I have done various martial arts over the last 20 years (Lau Gar kickboxing, Hung Kuen ‘Five Animal’ kung fu, taekwondo, Wing Chun kung fu, Muay Thai boxing) and have a 13-4 fight record across kickboxing, kung fu and boxing.
I also love learning languages in my spare time, watching movies, playing football, and watching Oldham Athletic’s gradual rise towards Champions League football.
There you go, folks. Thanks Jon!
So, are you all shook up? Do you want a little less conversation? Let us know. Comment form is below.
*In essence, revenue recognition rules are a set of accountancy rules that see beyond the act of a company getting cash through the door and look at which point can the cash be classed as 'safe.' For example, if a consumer buys a jacket over the internet and pays when ordering, there is an automatic 7-day cooling off period during which time the consumer can return the goods without reason and obtain a refund. Whilst the vendor has the cash at the point of sale, the revenue would not be recognised unless and until the 7 day period has elapsed without the customer seeking to enforce this right to return.
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