12 March 2001
Banque Indosuez was taken over by Caisse Nationale du Crédit Agricole in 1997 as its international banking and investment banking arm. It deals with a range of transactions, from commodities and project finance to general and private banking. Its London office is just one of many that extend worldwide from Paris to the Middle East, Tokyo and New York.
Margaret Garner, who heads the London in-house legal department, is just one of many lawyers who work within the bank around the globe. This anonymity is one of the main problems she faces when outsourcing work to firms in London. The work outsourced by her and her department is simply not big enough to demand the attention that they feel they deserve.
Garner says: "Some of the firms here have got so big that they don't know who you are anymore. It would be different if we were the Paris head office with lots of work to outsource and could demand tremendous support. In London, we're never going to be the client that makes a difference."
But in an office where as much as 90 per cent of the work is handled in-house, external relations, while important, are never going to be as essential as keeping your in-house staff happy. The five people in Garner's team have their own specialisations. Together they cover private banking, structured commodity finance, acquisition finance, project finance, export finance and shipping law. This huge range of work can encourage staff to stay, but it can also be the reason for them leaving.
Garner, who has been with the bank for 15 years, says: "Salaries are quite important of course, but for younger lawyers it's just as important that they learn. You have to give added value and make things interesting. Most of the lawyers in this office haven't done two things the same since they sat down and joined me here."
She also highlights the quid pro quo of salary demands. She explains that while her lawyers do work very hard, they are not expected to work beyond 7pm, and certainly not overnight or at the weekends, as is commonplace for their peers in private practice. In her mind, it is a choice between more money elsewhere and variety of work, responsibility and a better environment within her office. But with an average age of 35, some departures are inevitable as people pursue their careers.
Much of the outsourced work has an international element, and the department tends to look to UK firms with a presence in the appropriate regions. Garner says: "For example, we use Trowers & Hamlins. We have work in the Middle East, it has an office in Oman and is not conflicted out, so we use it. It's as simple as that."
But availability is not the only criteria for getting work from Garner's department. Value for money and a good working relationship are vital ingredients of any match.
Garner says: "We use a spread of firms because we haven't found one that can do everything, despite them marketing themselves as one-stop shops. Most importantly for me, when I put it out I like to be able to hand it over. I don't want to have to keep calling to make sure the work is being done or supervising strategy in a litigation case. You want a firm that will keep absolutely on top of it."
Indosuez's spread of firms range from the magic circle to the middle-tier, which Garner sees as better value for money, particularly in smaller matters. She says: "Big firms have such high overheads and they charge so much for a small matter that you simply can't go to them. It just can't be justified and they simply don't have the ability to be more reasonable."
However, Garner does use large firms on a range of issues. Allen & Overy deals with some of the bank's coprorate and insolvency work and a small amount of litigation. Norton Rose works on much of its corporate work as well as giving some general banking advice and handling some project work. Clifford Chance works for the bank from its international bases in Tokyo, Paris and London, while Lovells deals with acquisition finance, securitisation and structured finance. But smaller firms, such as Middleton Potts, are highly favoured by Garner. The firm handles the majority of the bank's commodity work, including litigation.
But can a such a huge range of firms be practical? Garner says: "When you think of work going out, we've only got issues out one or two at a time, and because they don't have very much handed out we can divide it as we see fit. We have got the luxury of being able to say who is going to work on what. We wouldn't be able to do that if we were giving out more."
Ultimately, Garner will only outsource something if her in-house team really cannot handle it themselves - for example, if it is new to them, if it is litigation or if the transaction is syndicated between more than two parties.
It has been a busy year internationally for the bank. December saw the surprise departure of head of equity capital Vincent Hubert, while Eric Fromaget took over as head of the private banking division in February.
Just weeks ago, the Moscow court of arbitration satisfied the $75m (£51m) claim put forward by the National Reserve Bank (NRB). The claim against Indosuez was a means of compensating NRB for losses resulting from the arrest of too many of its assets abroad.
The bank was also heavily involved in deals such as the financing of two Airbus A330-200 planes for Emirates Airline.
Although the legal department is just one part of an international group, it is undoubtedly a busy office with a different working environment. Garner says: "Ours is not a formal organisation; like it or not, people are always popping in and out to ask questions. You don't have the protection from clients that you might have in a firm - if you want to avoid them you just don't pick up the phone. That's not something we can afford or are able to do here. We're a support service." n
Head of Legal
Crédit Agricole Indosuez
|Organisation||Crédit Agricole Indosuez|
|Parent group||Caisse Nationale du Credit Agricole|
|Issue capital||euro893.8m (£565.5m)|
|Legal Capability||Five lawyers|
|Head of legal||Margaret Garner|
|Reporting to||Chief executive officer for London Jean Francois Marchal|
|Main location for lawyers||London|
|Main law firms||Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Denton Wilde Sapte, Lovells, Middleton Potts, Norton Rose, Speechly Bircham, Stephenson Harwood, Trowers & Hamlins, Watson Farley & Williams and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in the US.|