13 December 1999
Unisys describes itself as an electronic business solutions company and its European head of legal Victor Sonsino expects the law firms that he works with to tailor their product to his needs in the same way as his company makes bespoke solutions for individual clients.
The in-house legal team consists of 10 lawyers in Europe. Four are based in the company's headquarters in Uxbridge. They are Sonsino, the UK counsel and two others.
Day-to-day Sonsino does not get involved with UK affairs, but oversees the legal work of Unisys' European subsidiaries.
In continental Europe there are two lawyers in France and one for each of the other countries in which Unisys operates.
Sonsino allocates work to external firms on a "horses for courses" basis. "We don't go to one law firm and ask them to do a variety of things," he says. "I go to people in whom I have confidence in terms of their reputation.
"I don't like this rigid way of setting up beauty parades and panels. I have been in the business long enough to know who is good."
In Europe, Sonsino has longstanding relationships with local law firms in each jurisdiction.
In Belgium he uses De Bandt van Hecke & Lagae and in Germany and Switzerland Baker & McKenzie. The French firm he uses most is UGGC, while in Holland it is Loeff Claeys Verbeke. For European Union-related work, especially competition law, Sonsino prefers US firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton's Brussels office, as he believes that it houses one of the top competition lawyers.
If other law firms are willing to sign up to Unisys' way of working, then Sonsino says that he will consider using them. "I will try new people if things go wrong with the people I use," he says. "I prefer to talk about people than firms, because if someone I use moves then I tend to move with them."
Sonsino does not like the term outsourcing: he feels it implies the in-house department abrogates responsibility for work it delegates to the law firm. He insists that firms understand they are to work with Unisys' in-house department.
"[Outsourcing] sounds like I hand over the file to the firm and then they tell me when it's finished," he says. "I only work on that basis in real estate.
"When we need outside assistance, whether it's for litigation, corporate stuff or employment, we work on the basis that we have a resident expert in-house but the extent of the resource is insufficient to deal with the matter efficiently.
"We expect to work with the outside lawyers as a team and the in-house lawyer is where the buck stops."
Sonsino keeps a close eye on billing. He says: "One of the things I have often heard of is lawyers taking liberties and providing the whole gamut of information on a subject in order to clock up the hours.
"In one particular instance we asked one of the firms, that I continue to use, to advise on an issue that is peripheral to the areas where we were dealing. I think that the problem arose because the person who was working on it did not know enough about the area.
"The firm billed us for 10 hours work when it should have taken someone who knew what they were doing no more than two or three hours, then they brought in two other people without informing me. The whole episode made me think very seriously about going to the bar direct in future."
Chambers that Sonsino has consulted directly in the past include Essex Court, Brick Court and Fountain Court.
Head of legal for Europe
|Employees||3,500 in the UK, 35,000 worldwide|
|Head of legal for Europe||Victor Sonsino|
|Reporting to||Senior vice-president general counsel Harold Barron, based in the US|
|Main location for lawyers||Uxbridge|
|Main law firms||Baker & McKenzie, Nabarro Nathanson, Allen & Overy|