21 March 2011 | By Catrin Griffiths
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The genesis of our In-house Thought Leaders project can be traced back to our annual summit for in-house lawyers last year, when we eavesdropped on conversations among delegates. Whatever sector those lawyers were operating in we found that a consistent set of non-industry-specific topics animated them, from workplace issues or reputation to regulation or data protection, and they were relishing the opportunity to learn from their peers’ experiences.
Although The Lawyer is the only legal magazine that runs an interview with a leading in-house lawyer every single week (and has done for the past 11 years), the news coverage of in-house lawyers in the legal press tends to concentrate on panel reviews and discounts off the hourly rate. We would be the first to admit that this focus on the management of external advisers has a major drawback in that it fails to take into account the fact that most in-house lawyers do not spend their entire lives thinking about procuring external legal services.
With our In-house Thought Leaders project we wanted to re-engage with legal issues that dominate our in-house readers’ daily lives, regardless of the industry sector in which they operate. We wanted to explore how they are navigating their way around these tricky areas and how, at the same time, they are having to provide top-notch commercial advice to their organisations.
When we put this project together the idea was to find a set of topics common to the majority of in-house lawyers and explore the ways they were tackling these - which is where the ’thought leaders’ part comes in. All the lawyers profiled in this publication have led the thinking in their organisations, and are dealing with the application of new legislation or regulations. (We were helped by a number of private practice lawyers working in these areas who suggested interesting candidates.) Unfortunately, while the in-house lawyers were invariably interested, we did run into the odd difficulty with corporate communication policies on the part of some organisations, with the result that we were unable to feature some equally innovative lawyers.
Following a period of research, the editorial team - Joanne Harris, Luke McLeod-Roberts, Andrew Pugh and especially Abigail Townsend - identified eight areas to cover. An obvious topic was bribery and anti-corruption, given the imminent introduction of the Bribery Act, but we wanted to avoid a group of in-house lawyers discussing their training programmes, so we approached companies that have experience of dealing with the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and have been at the sharp end of regulatory investigation. All the lawyers were keen to showcase the procedures they had put in place, and each interview has a slightly different emphasis that interrogates different elements of the legislation.
The workplace section was particularly fast-moving. One in-house counsel who agreed to speak to us had, reluctantly, to withdraw because of live litigation. In a similar vein, an in-house lawyer who wanted to talk about how his company was dealing with the Coalition’s immigration cap as a potential sub-topic in the workplace section, was overtaken by events after the High Court ruled in December 2010 that the cap was introduced unlawfully. In the end, the chapter is pleasingly broad, ranging from the Remuneration Code to unpaid interns.
We decided to keep the relocation section separate from the workplace chapter, given the number of tax issues that dominate
Learning from experience
The IP rights chapter focuses on brands rather than patents. Subsequent editions of In-house Thought Leaders may have a different emphasis, but counterfeiting in China, the forthcoming Olympics and the meeting of copyright protection with social media are simply too topical to ignore.
Similarly up-to-the-minute is the section on competition, where we interview two telecoms GCs on the current knotty issues of refarming and spectrum auctions.
Of course, we couldn’t help but return to the issue of follow-on actions, an evergreen topic within competition law. It’s worth noting that we made an effort to ensure that this section was balanced between producers and consumers, and so that chapter does not only feature senior lawyers from UK plc, but also those from the public sector and consumer groups, pushing the boundaries of competition on behalf of their own organisations.
Data protection and privacy is a wide-ranging chapter, covering topics ranging from data transfer to dealing with freedom of information legislation, including the WikiLeaks saga. In truth, that chapter could have been twice the size, as could the section on regulation. As the response to our forthcoming congress on 8-9 June on Governance Risk and Compliance shows, the welter of regulation that affects companies has created huge issues for in-house lawyers.
If you are an in-house lawyer who would like to get involved in any future editions of In-house Thought Leaders, or if you are a private practitioner who would like to recommend a client, do get in touch. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy learning from the experiences of in-house counsel. After all, they’re the ones shaping UK business.
Catrin Griffiths, editor, The Lawyer