Editor’s Blog from The Lawyer Summit 2007

Day 2, 3.20pm: Burges Salmon has a lot to answer for. The firm sent all the delegates a nice little freebie last night in the shape of a torch.

Of polar bears, panels and overeating

Day 2, 3.20pm: Burges Salmon has a lot to answer for. The firm sent all the delegates a nice little freebie last night in the shape of a torch.

I got rather excited at this practical accessory, so I bounded up to Burges Salmon’s Janey Abbott and asked her how to find the battery.

Oops. It was solar-powered. Burges Salmon was doing a talk on green issues. Geddit?

Also, I’ve eaten too much. Truly. And I’m not alone; at lunch today I saw dozens of delegates brazenly going up for third and fourth helpings.

Still, I was in better shape than the private practice technology partner from a City firm who I sat next to at lunch. Having helped host a session yesterday, he confessed to a monstrous hangover today. Given that the glasses at the hotel bar are the size of your average moose’s head, I’m not surprised.

The session on panels with 3i’s David Dench and Mourant’s Stephen Ball (plus the conference’s star facilitator, Susan Sneider) went off with a bang, full of insights into the politics of beauty parades.

Stephen, who was general counsel of Nomura and Kroll before he decided to take over the offshore world, kept coming up with fabulously juicy stories about pitch and panel foul-ups, without ever quite divulging the organisations involved – though we had good fun trying to guess.

Interesting how the words ‘procurement professionals’ elicited a faint groan from everyone present, by the way.

The sessions are now all done; it’s just the networking left. It’s been hard to get to all the sessions I’d have liked. Actually, the session I regret missing today was given by none other those pesky green types at Burges Salmon. They gave a presentation on climate change and corporate social responsibility and gave out dozens of cute little furry polar bears.

The delegate who nicked five (five!) of them shall be nameless, but we know who you are.

Recovering from the clerks’ shirts

Day 2, 12.10pm: Despite the rigours of dinner, a late-night bar (and some truly shocking shirts modelled by Blackstone’s Martin Smith and Wilberforce’s Declan Redmond), the breakfast hall was packed this morning.

For some reason I’ve bumped into a number of in-house counsel who are in tiny departments servicing huge multinational companies, and their experiences have been fascinating to hear.

What’s clear is that despite the pressure from management to use global firms, general counsel are still adamant that individual relationships work best – and if that means going off-panel, then so be it.

So I’m looking forward to today’s session just before lunch led by 3i legal services director David Dench and Mourant chief executive Stephen Ball on ‘how to win at the panel game’.

There’s been a big regulatory theme this morning. One of the 9 o’clock sessions was Simmons partner Nick Benwell and Joe Babits from Shell talking about crisis management, followed by National Grid GC Helen Mahy and Ernst & Young fraud investigation partner John Smart giving a terrifyingly-named presentation called ‘Keeping your executives out of prison’.

Best moment of the morning, though – apart from making EMI’s Chris Ancliff show his new iTouch to half the delegates – was watching Kendall Freeman managing partner Laurence Harris turn into Michael Parkinson before our very eyes.

He was interviewing Eva Bishop, Coca-Cola Enterprises vice—president legal and company secretary about motivating and nurturing an in-house team. Funnily enough, Laurence had been at the other end of a microphone yesterday, when I interviewed him about his US merger for the next Lawyer Podcast – out next week.

Anyway, this session was splendidly interactive. In-house career development tends to be much less structured than in private practice, so there was plenty of discussion on the three M’s: managing, motivating and mentoring.

From 3 M’s to 3i: the next session calls.

A big fight over fees

Day 1, 6:15pm: Put in-house lawyers in a room with private practice solicitors and the talk will lightly turn to billing. Or not so lightly, if one of today’s sessions was anything to go by.

SJ Berwin partners David Meredith and Michael Bywell hosted a discussion on managing effective relationships with internal clients and law firms, but it turned into a philosophical debate over the itemised bill.

You might think, dear reader, that the itemised bill was there to facilitate economic communication between in-house and external lawyers, but no.

In-house lawyers barely have the time to go through them effectively and private practice loathe producing them – although one law firm partner observed that itemised billing was an excellent discipline. At times the discussion verged on well, outspoken.

What everyone reluctantly agreed was that hourly billing was the only solution, but far from ideal. (Will anyone ever come up with an answer that suits all parties? This debate has been going on for nearly two decades.)

Actually, fee rates formed part of another presentation this afternoon, from Jonathan Seitler QC of Wilberforce Chambers and Michelle Davies, group legal director and company secretary of English Welsh & Scottish Railway.

Michelle is a big fan of using the bar direct, while Jonathan gave a deft introduction to barristers’ fee structures. “Going to counsel is how I deal with the CEO not liking my advice,” quipped Michelle, while Jonathan warned against indiscriminate instructions. “Trophy opinions are the legal equivalent of solvent abuse,” he said.

But how should in-housers go about picking the right barrister? The message was clear. Don’t rely on directories, which are chock-full of received opinion and ancient reputations; do your research and ask the clerks, whose job relies on delivering the right barrister to the client.

At that point I noticed a couple of audience members nodding their heads very, very vigorously. The fact that they were senior clerks from Wilberforce and 39 Essex Street had nothing to do with it.

We got some therapy

Day 1, 4:30pm: It was like a particularly sparky therapy session. Fifty in-house delegates here at The Lawyer Summit in Lisbon got a whole morning to themselves to discuss issues ranging from succession planning and getting more lawyers for your budget to networking and panel relationships.

I sneaked in at the back and was amazed at how much – after only a little prodding – the delegates actually shared concrete experiences.

I have to give huge credit to the facilitators, Sandie Okoro of Baring Asset Management and Susan Sneider of New Vistas Consulting, who managed to get even the shyest in-houser chatting to their neighbour. I don’t quite know how they managed it – partly through banter and partly from wielding an enormous microphone, I suspect.

I promised Susan and Sandie I wouldn’t reveal details of the discussions, but the session was a bit like the first day at university used to be before Facebook. Two delegates got on so well they even had a good bitch about their bosses, so you can mark the session as a roaring success.

The energy released from the morning’s session meant that lunchtime was cacophonous. The private practice delegates were all there by now. But who are shaping up to be the ringleaders?

In the blue corner Blackstone clerks, who kicked off last night with a rowdy-ish dinner at John Malkovich’s restaurant in downtown Lisbon, though Martin Smith’s tale of squid in his shorts was frankly far-fetched.

In the red corner is a group of terrifyingly glam female in-housers including Barings’ Okoro, Investec’s Lauren Ekon, Gensler’s Diana Hird and K3 Business Technology’s Rebecca Smith. The joy on the face of Kendall Freeman’s Kevin Perry when he was invited on their lunch table was something to behold.

As I write, Emil Paulis, acting deputy of DG Competition at the European Commission is telling delegates about the new integrated EU business policy will affect their business. Competition issues and corporate investigations are shaping up to be a bit of a theme of the week.

I can, however, reveal that three prominent delegates went on a due diligence exercise of Lisbon’s shoe shops. That’s what I call multi-tasking.

Catrin Griffiths, editor, The Lawyer

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