In-house counsel fight EC rule

EUROPEAN in-house counsel are attacking the European Commission over a “discriminatory” policy which denies them client confidentiality and forces them to hire private practice lawyers to avoid discovery of documents.

The American Corporate Counsel Association (ACCA) is campaigning against rules allowing the EC to demand in-house lawyers hand over written communications with clients.

The EC is responsible for investigating anti-competition practices.

President of ACCA's European Chapter Susie Flook says: “In-house legal counsel have no legal privilege in Europe, therefore if we produce something which could be of prejudice to the company in subsequent proceedings then we have to give it to an outside counsel.

“That means we have to pay private practice lawyers for work we could easily do ourselves. This is discriminatory against the in-house counsel profession.”

Baker & McKenzie partner Lynda Martin Alegi says: “Some say the present rule is in the interests of private practice. But it is never in the interests of lawyers for the law to be irrational and stupid.”

Helmut Schroter, EC adviser to the director-general of competition, says the law can only be changed if all lawyers involved are subject to a recognised code of principles.

Schroter says: “We need a European solution. It is not discriminatory when the situation is different throughout each country. If we were taking into account the situation in each member state we would never get to European law.

“We would be in favour of this being resolved,” he adds.