The key themes that dominated The Lawyer’s in-house summit in Berlin were litigation, regulation and, of course, costs.
Should law firms deliver a pared-down service, or should they add more frills? NEC Group general counsel Keith Marriott and Shoomiths partner and commercial litigation head Alex Bishop took the idea of a pick ’n’ mix of services to a tasty level – literally, with bags of sweets on offer. But the debate was a serious one for all that.
Most of the delegates came up with plenty of thoughts on how both sides could add value to the relationship, but Søren Lundsberg-Nielsen, group general counsel for Group 4 Securicor (G4S), came out as an unapologetic sceptic on the law firm extras.
He told The Lawyer: “Shoosmiths explained what they put into their pitch, such as 24-7 access, meeting facilities, having trainees in the business and knowledge-sharing. All of this is very good and nobody could argue that it’s not.
“I raised the question of whether in the current circumstances and economic situation there’s now a space for selling high-quality legal services without the additional add-ons. This is different from reductions or discounts on fees. It means paying only for the services you want, instead of having to get into a debate about rebates and reductions.
“The response to my question was very much that nobody would believe that the law firm is providing a high-quality service without the add-ons.
My answer to this was that it was no different from the debate around easyJet when it first started.
“People said that it couldn’t work and that it would go bankrupt within a year without giving all the services. But the reality is that easyJet has provided brand-new flights – you get exactly what you pay for and now it’s one of
the most profitable airlines in the world.”
There was a substantial number of in-house delegates in Berlin who also voiced a desire to get quick and basic legal opinions. Several, including James Blendis of T-Mobile, recommended using the bar.
Indeed, Blendis, who recently set up T-Mobile’s first barrister panel, presented a talk on the topic along with 39 Essex Street clerks Michael Meeson and David Barnes.
So keen on the bar is Blendis, that he even uses chambers’ clerks to gather intelligence on specialists in key areas.
A discussion led by Justine Campbell of Telefonica and James Eady QC of Blackstone Chambers provoked some discussion of how to deal with the regulators. Can you be helpful without giving everything away at the first stage? Can you ever be off the record? Which path to take is a tricky one.
Perhaps the most surprising finding to emerge from Berlin was how little
in-house lawyers like arbitration. In a session led by Pierre Bernard of Elia Group and Jamie Curle of LG, there was plenty of debate on how user-unfriendly the arbitration process was. Equally, there was praise for the Technology and Construction Court judges and their use of mediation.
There were more surprises in a session led by Derek Patterson, director of IM Litigation Funding. Litigation funding is still very new and unfamiliar to most
in-house lawyers, so there was much relief when a detailed flowchart of the process was flashed up. And there were plenty of questions from an audience keen to hear how the Australian experience of litigation funding was panning out.
Any assumption that litigation funding would not be used widely in the construction industry was demolished when not one, but two in-house counsel from that sector expressed enormous interest in the topic. A sign of things to come, maybe?