2015 challenges facing in-house legal teams

Yoga on clifftop demonstrating challenges for lawyers in 2015Looking towards 2015 - the challenges facing General Counsel

We have asked in-house lawyers to give their advice on how in-house legal teams can ensure they are being effective in assisting their business.

What are the challenges facing General Counsel in the coming year?

Katy Fixter, market development director at LexisNexis

2014 was another interesting year for in-house legal teams, which are continuing to grow in the face of:

o           increased volume of work as the economy recovers

o           cost pressures meaning that the relative cost of internal vs external resources supports recruitment

o           the increasing volume and complexity of regulation, meaning that compliance is a real headache for many

This is only going to ramp up over the coming years.

In response to this, we are seeing many in-house legal teams transforming the way they are doing business. There is a real focus on efficiency and more teams are using metrics to demonstrate a return on investment to the business, looking at process re-engineering, business 'self-serve' initiatives and traction in the adoption of technology to enable teams to work smarter.

It is also apparent that in-house teams are pushing their panel firms to work more efficiently. External advisors are also having to become more sophisticated as in-house teams drive ever harder bargains on fees, and all in the face of alternative models to outsource legal process in different ways.

Finally, as many of our panel below have noted, legal and regulatory compliance is a crucial element of the role and requirements have become more burdensome year-on-year, something which will continue to be high on the agenda in 2015 and beyond.

Ian McDougall, executive vice president and General Counsel at LexisNexis Legal & Professional

I think the greatest challenge a General Counsel has to face today is managing legal issues in an ever-increasing regulatory environment while at the same time trying to retain control of costs. It's a strange kind of perfect storm that we live in where the very regulatory environment, which makes doing business more costly, causes costs pressures on the legal department's budget who are charged with helping the business be compliant with those very regulations--so a kind of vicious circle.

I think that legal departments continue to evolve all the time as the business does, but I think that one of the most important ways that we will evolve over the next five years is to play a role in education; an increasingly important role. Raising awareness of the legal environment to business leaders, who are under an increasing personal liability for things going wrong. The traditional approach of 'that's for the legal department to worry about' is disappearing fast, and business leaders need an increasing amount of awareness of matters that can affect them personally.

Our greatest contribution as a legal department is to remember why we are here. We're here to help the company achieve its commercial objectives while complying with the law and complying with its legal obligations. For me, the importance of the legal department being commercially aware is paramount; that's both of the business and of the business environment in which we operate. That enables the delivery of high-quality and commercially-focussed legal advice so that business leaders can make good decisions.

Craig Stoehr, Group General Counsel at Thomas Cook

The greatest challenge facing General Counsel today is really to elevate themselves to become a real trusted commercial advisor in addition to being a legal advisor. I think it's always a work in progress to really understand the business and to be there as an advisor who is helpful to get the business things done as opposed to being a roadblock. I think that is probably one of the biggest challenges.

Simon Dowson-Collins, General Counsel at Harper Collins

I think the greatest challenge facing General Counsel is operating in an environmet that I call 'VUCA' - variable, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. When I first started, the environment was fairly straightforward. It was fairly hierarchical and you knew the problems that were coming around the corner. But in a digital age where you have competitors that you had never even dreamed of. I never dreamed that we would have, in a publishing business, competitors like Apple, Amazon and Google. You need to be flexible and you need to be adaptive and you need a different type of management style.

Michael Rasmuson, vice president, international legal operations at Baker Hughes

The role of the legal function over the past few years has got closer and closer to the business and I see us getting even more close to the businesses as time goes on (especially in the next five years). There is always this challenge of getting too close but still being able to be independent and separate as a function so you can maintain the role of a lawyer as being the business advisor no matter what from an operations perspective.

Natalie Jobling, General Counsel, Corporate at Network Rail

I think that legal and regulatory compliance is such an important element that General Counsel are going to have to take that into account more and more, and that is why they are going to be valued. But it means that they are also going to have a tension between their role as trusted advisors in the business and their role managing compliance. They have got to balance that role so they are a business player and a gatekeeper but so they are not seen as business prevention and policeman.

Hans von der Linde, General Counsel, Downstream at Shell

I think it's all about business partnerings:

o           being very close to the business

o           understanding business objectives

o           understanding business drivers

o           sharing them

o           making sure everything we do is adding/preserving value for the business

o           being pragmatic

o           being creative, coming up with ways of helping the business to achieve what they want to achieve. At the same time, being absolutely clear where there is no such way and holding our position

Gordon Finlayson, General Counsel at HBO Europe

I think, at all times, legal departments need to be thinking about adding value to any organisation that they are in. In business, you need to be thinking about controlling risk and the ways in which that can add value to your business as a whole. I think that controlling risk is essential to any business.

Liz Walker, General Counsel at BT Global Services

The most important contribution we can make to the organisation is to help understand and mitigate risk. The key word is 'help' - I don't think it's something we can outsource to the legal team to be responsible for risk, but actually understanding with the business:

o           What is our risk appetite?

o           What are the risks we are prepared to take?

Then we can help them take those, mitigate them where we are able to do so or help them see the landscape to enable them to be more effective themselves.

The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor.

 

 

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