Ahead of his session at The Lawyer’s GC Strategy Summit, Banco Santander’s head of legal global corporate banking for Germany, Austria and Switzerland Timo Mathias Spitzer talks about the role of the modern in-house lawyer and making a difference within your organisation.
How can the legal function be a competitive advantage to its company?
A modern in-house lawyer needs to fulfil a dual role by not only being a protector of the company but also by being a pro-active business partner. In that sense, in-house lawyers need to act pragmatically to add objective value i.e. by providing commercially-minded legal advice, hiring cost-effective staff and external counsel.
They should take a positive attitude by not only reviewing documents but also by being able to practically apply the law. Essentially they need to be perceived as trustworthy problem solvers rather than “chief blocking officers”. If an in-house lawyer steps up to become fully integrated in a relevant project, the business units will much appreciate the increased level of teamwork towards a mutual goal, essentially closure of the transaction. The in-house lawyer needs to assess potential legal pitfalls carefully but facilitate the transaction as far as possible within the boundaries of his/her professional integrity.
What are the 3 main ways in which a lawyer can make a difference in his/her company?
As simple as it may seem, lawyers can contribute to the overall success of their company first and foremost by providing a quick turnaround as well as an effective and efficient service. Business units appreciate a swift feedback without undue delay. Furthermore, in-house lawyers who are involved from the initial stage of the transaction can structure it to avoid potential problems from arising. Last but not least, lawyers need to be technically up-to-date communicators and networkers to serve as ambassadors for their relevant organizations.
What will the in-house function of the future look like?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question which very much depends on the culture and setup of the relevant institution. Large in-house teams may handle as much work as possible internally whilst leaner staffed legal departments with a high level of responsibility attending to a vast number of global transactions must increasingly work together with external advisers. In the latter case, an increasing task for such an in-house lawyer is to manage external relationships efficiently in order to obtain the best value for money whilst keeping such relationship mutually beneficial. For the future I anticipate both scenarios will continue to apply but in an even more extreme manner as digitalization and legal technology are bringing about a paradigm shift.
If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what would you have liked to be instead?
Had I not become an in-house lawyer, given that I very much enjoy meeting and interacting with people having diverse backgrounds from all across the world, I believe I would have also enjoyed working as a diplomat and be involved with foreign affairs in that sense.