Unable to find one firm to cover its global needs, Reuters’ head of legal Rosemary Martin tells Ben Moshinsky she is happy going local
Few global legal departments are truly as global as the Reuters group. The company has operations in 94 countries, and general counsel Rosemary Martin has overall responsibility for legal and governance matters in all of them.
No problem, you might think. With all the huge law firms around these days, it is surely just a case of picking one and letting it do all the work. Well, if you did think this, you would be wrong.
“I tried to find a global law firm,” says Martin, “but in the end I gave up.” Martin held a panel review a year ago and found that the main barrier to choosing a single firm was Asia, where the company instructs a range of local firms.
“We find the local firms there are better because they have good local knowledge and are very much cheaper,” says Martin – and it is hard to argue with her reasoning.
Not even Clifford Chance with its extensive coverage is able to take on all the work. Reuters uses the firm chiefly as an emergency back-up for the editorial teams.
“I think a number of the law firms were disappointed we didn’t take a global law firm for everything,” says Martin.
On the bright side, the international flavour of the work is handy for keeping the 31-strong legal team interested and engaged in the company and its legal matters.
UK-based M&A lawyer Matthew Foss is spending three months in New York and Emma Worthington, head of data privacy, is on secondment in Singapore for a year. And if they were not already blessed with travel opportunities, the lawyers have the chance to work on cutting-edge human rights issues.
In 2005 the Reuters lawyers secured the release of three Reuters journalists held by US forces at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison. Working with the Pentagon, Martin’s 31-strong legal team “spent a lot of last year working on their release”. US lawyer Tom Kim and Americas general counsel Nancy Gardner covered much of the ground.
Legal is not just a troubleshooting department, believes Martin, but a pillar on which to rest a business plan. “I see our function primarily as supporting Reuters’ growth strategy,” she says. “Reuters has grown through transactions and there’s an explosion in transaction requirements. Because Reuters’ business is based on IP rights, the legal aspects are more important.”
New products, such as a foreign exchange trading platform, mean parts of the business are subject to the same regulations as financial service firms.
The changing regulatory environment has inspired Martin’s lawyers to compile an in-house newsletter on topics such as the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID), which has become so popular that journalists, and even Reut-ers’ customers, have begun to sign up.
In fact, Martin is adamant that regular communication helps to raise the profile of the legal department within the organisation and gives her worldwide network of lawyers some cohesion.
Reporting in to Martin are three area general counsel. Clare Chapman covers Europe, the Middle Eeast and Africa; Nancy Gardner is responsible for the Americas; and Han Yang Yap handles Asia. Every week Martin holds a conference call with her area counsel and tries to meet in person when she can.
High up on the agenda is how to make the team work more efficiently. “Our plans are to keep up with the business – we need to stay flexible,” says Martin.
Martin has embraced technology to keep the team up to date. She has put in place an electronic document production system this year and wants to introduce in-house time reporting to log how the legal team works.
Legal may be a support to the business, but it can get lonely in the boardroom if you are the only lawyer. Luckily for Martin it is not a familiar sensation.
Chief executive officer Tom Glocer was an M&A lawyer at Davis Polk & Wardwell before joining Reuters and two of the three executive directors have come from the legal department.
“I feel I’m included in all the decisions I should be included in,” says Martin.
Head of Legal
|Legal capability||31 lawyers, 11 support staff|
|General counsel and company secretary:||Rosemary Martin|
|Reporting to:||Chief executive Tom Glocer|
|External legal spend:||£10m|
|Main law firms||Burges Salmon, Clifford Chance, Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw, Slaughter and May, Weil Gotshal & Manges Rosemary Martin’s CV|
|Education:||1981 – gained Philosophy and Literature degree at Sussex University|
|Work history:||1983 – joined Rowe & Maw as an articled clerk; 1989 – made partner in the corporate department; 1997 – joined Reuters as deputy company secretary; 2003 – appointed general counsel; 2005 – became co-vice chair of the GC100 group|