Fees and privilege are the talk of Lisbon

The Lawyer’s seventh annual summit for in-house lawyers took place in sunny Lisbon from 15 to 17 November, attracting more than 200 delegates.

The conference was kick-started into action with the first-ever in-house-only session, which was hailed by delegates as one of the most fruitful networking opportunities yet.

The early session gave lawyers an opportunity to speak freely about their issues and overall grievances with the legal system. The session was facilitated by Baring Asset Management global general counsel Sandie Okoro and CEO of New Vistas Consulting Susan Sneider.

In-house lawyers discussed unreservedly the obstacles and shortcomings of their employers’ legal functions with their counterparts sharing experiences and solutions from similar situations.

The keynote speech by acting deputy director general of the European Commission Emil Paulis on the new EU integrated policy and its effects on companies provided an appropriately energising and fiery extension to the morning’s events.

While his dialogue was both informative and insightful, once the floor had opened to questions Paulis was mobbed by queries from delegates on the Court of First Instance’s (CFI) recent ruling on privilege on Akzo Nobel Chemicals v Commission of the European Communities last September.

Lawyers quizzed Paulis on why the EU felt it right to distinguish between in-house lawyers and private practitioners by allowing the latter to exercise greater privilege than in-housers.

Paulis was not swayed by the questions and argued the case of the EU with great conviction. He said the scope and sanctions of privilege in an in-house capacity have to be regulated. He argued that, without these regulations in place, privilege could not be awarded unanimously to both private and in-house practitioners, and consequently managed to silence the floor.

The following 14 sessions of the two-day conference covered an array of topical issues, from the commonly raised panel and internal resource management issues to matters relating to the Companies Act, crisis management and climate change.

Arguments on hourly billing
The afternoon saw SJ Berwin partners David Meredith and Michael Bywell and Barclays senior legal counsel Lyndon Coppin lead a well-attended interactive session on building and managing relationships with firms. Delegates were divided into groups to discuss the matter further.

While talk initially centred on managing relationships with external firms and trust, discussions quickly progressed into heated debates over the age-old issue of law firm billing.

Meredith, who is also head of outsourcing for SJ Berwin, attempted to steer the debate forward, but it was in vain. The floor continued to argue the pros and cons of hourly billing, with in-housers calling for itemised billing, private practitioners responding by stating that they have been doing so, and general counsel admitting that they in fact do not read the itemised bills.

The session ended, but the debate remains, with Coppin’s last statement being: “No matter how you slice and dice it, fees are based on hourly methods.”

Day two of the summit began with Tyco general counsel Trevor Faure announcing deadpan: “This is going to be boring.”

Together with Eversheds‘ Tyco relationship partner Stephen Hopkins, he talked about how he has shaped Tyco’s legal department.

Boring? Hardly. Faure urged in-house legal teams to hold the hands of management on critical legal issues and not bother with mundane day-to-day legal work, which can be handled by secondees and paralegals. This is how Tyco uses Eversheds to allow an efficient distribution of skills.

Kendall Freeman managing partner Laurence Harris stepped in to Michael Parkinson’s shoes to quiz Coca-Cola Enterprises vice-president of legal Eva Bishop on her methods of management and motivation to create and nurture an in-house team.

Bishop suggested encouraging and planning development for lawyers as an impetus for the in-house team. She explained that such development may not necessarily be vertical and could include other areas of the business.

Following the Bishop interview, delegates were separated into groups and asked to address scenarios that occur within legal departments.

The presentations by the groups of in-house lawyers revealed that they approached legal team management with commercial objectives taking precedence over the morale and development of the team.

Another well-received session was the panel-beaters talk, hosted by 3i’s David Dench and Mourant de Feu & Jeune chief executive Stephen Ball. New Vistas’ Sneider facilitated the session by constructing a list of panel-related questions from in-housers in the room, with Dench and Ball spending the remainder of the session providing their insights to these queries.

Dench revealed the key criteria he considers when appointing a firm. He said 3i looks at the firm’s position in the industry, its culture and ethos, and said the firm has to have the “right partners”.

Ball outlined what impedes and what secures a firm on a panel. He explained that firms should spend their pitching time illustrating an understanding of the different drivers of the company’s business.

He said law firms tend to talk about themselves, their past experience, clients and transactions, but instead should convey knowledge specific to the prospective client.

Competition commitment
Blackstone Chambers’ Brian Kennelly and Microsoft director of competition Carel Maske spoke about public and private enforcement of competition law in a well-attended talk.

Kennelly debated the claimant’s point of view in the Competition Appeal Tribunal and weighed up taking private action against leaving a regulator to perform its role.

Maske and Kennelly conducted a straw poll of the room, which revealed that not many in-housers had changed procedures since the Akzo Nobel ruling, although the show of hands did reveal that more in-housers were now having face-to-face meetings.

The afternoon’s liveliest session was an innovative interactive game held by Corus group in-house lawyer Elly Evans and Shoosmiths partner Peter Duff.

The session involved playing a communal game of snakes and ladders, with the snakes representing the perils of being an in-house lawyer and the ladders signifying issues that would facilitate their work and careers.

To read the Editor’s blog on The Lawyer Summit 2007 click here.