Skandia Life’s head of legal Ken Morrison is getting tough. Not only with his own company (of which more later), but also with external law firms.
To this end, he and his team – which recently won third place in the In-house Commerce & Industry Team of the Year category at The Lawyer Awards – have drawn up a statement of requirement, which they present to any would-be panel firm. If the firm does not like it, then tough – it can find another client.
“It lays out some of the requirements that we expect from our law firms and some of the experiences that we’ve had from firms,” explains Morrison. “For example, we don’t expect to pay someone £450 an hour who leaves typos in your document.”
Other bugbears that Morrison will not put up with are City firms that lose interest as soon as a bigger piece of work comes in. “We’re not a million pound a year fee-providing company,” admits Morrison. “But we still want attentive service.”
And last, at least for the moment, there are firms that will not pay overseas lawyers that they have instructed on Skandia Life’s behalf, leaving the overseas firm having to chase for payment.
Morrison says he could continue with his list, but for the moment pauses at that point. The life assurance company – which, according to its own figures, is now the seventh-largest company in the business – currently uses Lovells, Eversheds and Bond Pearce for nearly all of its legal work.
Lovells, Morrison says, is currently working on a very large piece of fund-related work, which for the moment has to remain under wraps. The firm was originally selected to work for Skandia Life after an introduction from Lovells’ German arm, the former Boesebeck Droste, which Morrison had worked with previously. He met the firm’s head of insurance John Young and decided: “Let’s give them a bash.”
Eversheds, says Morrison, he uses to a certain extent. “There are some things that we go to Eversheds for, but for other things we wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole,” he says. The work he does send the way of Eversheds is mostly Financial Services Fund-related work and small pieces of litigation.
Bond Pearce, the last of Skandia Life’s main law firms, has a strong Southampton presence. This is a firm that Morrison had an uphill struggle to include in the panel.
“Skandia Life is a blue chip company I like to think,” says Morrison. “Its traditional approach was to head to London [for legal advice]. I felt the right thing to do was to try others locally, and that’s something that we’ve implemented over the last couple of years. We were already using a smattering of local firms, but on smaller work on debt recovery et cetera.”
Bond Pearce he regards as a very strong regional firm and so uses it on relatively large pieces of work. “It also has the advantage that we’re seen as a slightly bigger fish than with the City firms,” he says.
The firms were chosen after Morrison and his team went out into the market and did, as he says, a lot of digging. At the end of the statement of requirements is laid out a short list of what the team does not like from its external advisers. They are: chasing for updates; having to devise the strategy themselves; over-promising and under-delivering; lawyers who do not try to understand what makes the difference; and surprises relating to costs, changes to team and non-delivery.
One would think that it is straightforward enough, but according to Morrison, some firms do not feel up to the challenge. He says: “We’ve had quite a few firms, in whatever circumstances, who’ve arranged a beauty parade for us and sat down to talk things through, but it doesn’t go further. We’ve had two or three who haven’t even bothered to do the follow-up calls. One of those won a category in The Lawyer Awards and sent us an invitation to an event celebrating that. But it’s two fingers up to them when they couldn’t be bothered to follow up when I went up to London to see them.”
The firm in question will remain nameless to spare its blushes, but the name is well known.
On the more positive side, Morrison has recently been talking to Bristol-based Bevan Ashford about sending some work its way. “They have a very refreshing approach to added-value services,” he says. “They’re going to allow us access to their research people as well as offering us a trainee solicitor for a few hours a week free of charge. In addition, they’ve promised proactive briefings, which for us is important as we’re fairly reliant on them emailing stuff through.”
Morrison also expects his external lawyers to become part of the team, and to that end he has welcomed around half-a-dozen secondees in over the last four years. Bond Pearce has sent along two trainees and one newly-qualified for a particular project when the Skandia Life team was short staffed. At another time, Morrison pulled in someone from a City firm to look at UK and European regulations, which he said was mutually beneficial.
As hinted at previously, it is not only with the external advisers that Morrison is getting tough. Over the last couple of years, the team has been evaluating how productively it spends its time and has made decisions that are going to impact on the rest of the company and the manner in which it operates.
To kickstart this initiative, the team drew up a mission statement, which reads: “To provide proactive and commercial legal advice to all areas of the UK group so that business can develop within agreed acceptable levels of risk and so that any exposures are limited.”
In essence, explains Morrison, this means that the team has learned to say no. “It’s a question of us not looking at the £2.50 Microsoft contract while ignoring the £100,000 risk around the corner.”
It has also meant freeing up the legal department to be able to set its own goals and decide for itself what is important. Morrison says: “We’re not sticking two fingers up at the other departments, we’re looking at things where it’s not necessary to slow things down by having us involved.”
An example of this, he says, would be in the case of ex gratia payments by brokers, where something goes wrong and the broker writes in demanding payment for himself and his client.
“The regulatory authorities don’t want you to cough up money to brokers [for independence reasons], and those have always been decisions made by a lawyer, and we had all the claims coming through,” he adds. “But the legal department only needs to get involved if we’re saying yes to the payment; if we’re saying no, then there’s no point. That’s already 50 per cent of one person’s workload gone.
“We want to look at things where we add legal value. There’s absolutely no animosity with this strategy from the executive board. We’re just streamlining out the bits where we don’t want to be involved.”
Internationally, Morrison’s department oversees work covering a large area of the globe. First, there is a lot of work from the Isle of Man which is international, then business covering the Middle East and Europe. In Ireland, the company has an operation within the Irish fund structure, which is sponsored through the UK, and for that work Morrison used Arthur Cox.
Skandia Life has branches in Finland, Norway and Germany and Morrison’s remit includes overseeing the in-house lawyers in those countries. There is one lawyer in Finland, one in Norway and one in Germany. There has also been the recent recruitment of a lawyer for Skandia’s headquarters in Sweden, who will deal with the Skandia Life subsidiary.
As for law firms in those countries, Morrison uses Hannes Snellmann in Finland, for Norway he uses the London office of Thommessen Krefting Greve Lund, in Germany Lovells Boesebeck Droste, and in Sweden he breaks from his normal rule of instructing local firms and uses Baker & McKenzie.
Morrison says of this last firm that it seems to have missed a trick. “To date, they haven’t tried to chat us up to use them in the UK,” he says. “Which is not a problem, but they may have missed something.”
Hopefully, some bright spark at Baker & McKenzie has just put down their cup of coffee and picked up the telephone.
Head of UK legal
|Legal Capability||Six lawyers|
|Head of UK legal||Ken Morrison|
|Reporting to||Company secretary and head of risk services Roger Philips|
|Main location for lawyers||Southampton|
|Main law firms||Bond Pearce, Eversheds and Lovells|