Do the right thing – or else

I spent several days last week in the company of around 100 general counsel at The Lawyer’s in-house summit in Berlin. It’s one of the most illuminating events of the year, because it’s almost the only way the rest of us have to get a feel for in-housers’ collective thinking.


Do the right thing – or else I spent several days last week in the company of around 100 general counsel at The Lawyer’s in-house summit in Berlin. It’s one of the most illuminating events of the year, because it’s almost the only way the rest of us have to get a feel for in-housers’ collective thinking.

Here are some broad conclusions.

If transactions and deals drive the mentality of private practice, then coping with regulatory demands is what dominates in-house lawyers’ thinking. I’m not sure private practice still quite gets this. Deals lawyers may be twiddling their fingers, but in-house counsel are still snowed under.

For in-housers, coping with the economic climate takes a different form to worrying about work-in-progress. In-housers do enjoy bitching about ­private practice bills – it’s part of their rhetorical make-up. But they’re very aware of the impact of the crunch on their small suppliers, particularly when it comes to extending days on payment terms.

It’s clear that corporates are increasingly ­interested in litigation funding to hedge some of the risk they report. I met plenty of delegates who have suddenly become rather taken with the idea. This won’t go away. The hourly rate isn’t going away either, but relationship management is absolutely imperative. The odd free legal update seminar, on the other hand, just won’t cut it.

Law firms are going to encounter considerable competition from the bar. In-house lawyers absolutely love barristers and clerks. They’re fast, they’re focused and they’re an easy sell for anyone who wants one-off advice with no frills.

Lastly, diversity and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are still big. External providers shouldn’t be under any illusion that these issues are going away just because the economy’s taking a battering.

A few years ago there might have been an ­argument over the intrinsic merits of a CSR and diversity programme, but that’s not the case any more. There’s an embedded belief that it’s the right thing to do, not simply the right thing to be seen to do – and it’s not just big, well-resourced legal departments such as Tyco and BT who think this way.

Cynical private practice lawyers, beware.

Read our View from the Summit blog here.

catrin.griffiths@thelawyer.com