It was during a secondment to Texas in the early 1990s that James Ormrod got his first taste of corporate America. Initially with telecoms company BellSouth, then in the IT market with Compaq – a move that, following a $25bn (£12.66bn) merger in 2001, took him to Hewlett-Packard (HP) and his current role back on home turf as legal affairs director and company secretary for the UK & Ireland.
The transatlantic journey did not just represent a positive cultural experience for the young lawyer – “I went over there for a year and it took me 11 years to get back” – but a shift in career to in-house. Ormrod revels in the breadth of work he gets involved in. And right now, there’s a lot of it.
HP’s UK and Ireland head office in Bracknell, Berkshire, may be a far cry from the company’s home in Palo Alto, California, but it makes up a significant $8bn (£4.07bn) region for the $110bn (£55.96bn) global giant.
Since he took up the post in 2005, Ormrod and his team have been kept very busy indeed. Not least because the UK has almost doubled in size over the past four years, mostly through the acquisition of software companies. As Ormrod says of HP: “I don’t think there’s anything that we don’t do.”
To cope with this expanding portfolio of products and services a new model was needed for the legal department, both to cope with the workload and in response to where HP sits within the mature IT market.
Ormrod has had to decide where best to apply his team’s efforts. “That’s the easy bit,” he says. “The difficult bit is in figuring out how you’re not going to support what you’re not going to support. There’s a lot of work that’s gone into aligning the department to the pressure points of the business and driving efficiency with the way we work with our internal clients.”
The team has accordingly created a ‘legal file’ to run alongside the ‘business file’ that schedules all the sales for the coming year.
“The sales team has a business pipeline featuring all the deals it has a chance of closing this year,” explains Ormrod. “The legal file creates a subset of stuff that we’re likely to be working on each quarter – work that we know is right, has enough risk and is a priority for the business.”
Rather than instructions bubbling up from the sales accounts and hitting whoever they know in the legal department, all the work goes through a central gatekeeper. That way, “everyone knows” what the team is working on.
“We’re probably the only IT provider that provides all flavours of hardware, software and services in most countries to all segments in the market,” says Ormrod. “It’s a big, complex business with all sorts of opportunities for lawyers. We couldn’t possibly cover all of that, so we have to be disciplined with our model and, importantly, give the business visibility into how much legal support it has and what we’re working on. When we’re running out of capacity, as we do towards the end of a quarter, then we see it coming, and the business guys see it coming too, and we can manage around that.”
While the UK business has grown the headcount in the legal team is down 20 per cent and outside counsel spend has almost halved. Ormrod puts this success down to a working model that rarely sees him need outside legal support.
When it comes to recruiting external help, Ormrod says that apart from cost, the most important thing is predictability.
“One of the things I look for is a firm that will actually enter into a fee arrangement with us that looks like a business case,” he explains. “We’ll take an annual view, with targets, incentives and penalties in place to manage to that budget. We’ve got that in place with Shoosmiths and it’s working incredibly well.”
Away from all the technical machinations, worthy though they are, the most important question is, what does this Anglo-American think of the difference between US and UK lawyers?
“A typical American lawyer is much more comfortable starting with a blank piece of paper on a deal than a typical UK lawyer. However, a typical UK lawyer is a lot more technically precise. If you could capture both and roll it in to one person, they would be fantastic.”