Legal summit hits all-time high

The Lawyer’s sixth annual legal summit for the in-house legal profession took place in Monte Carlo on 9-11 November, with the 200-odd delegates agreeing that it was the best yet.

The keynote address by Citigroup chief European economist Richard Reid kicked off the proceedings. He delivered an enthusiastically received speech on long-term economic developments, which drew on the lessons of history to describe the structural forces at work. He urged law firms to be outward-looking and revealed the economies with the biggest growth prospects. “Freshfields [Bruckhaus Deringer] should open in Cairo,” Reid declared.

The 17 sessions ran the gamut of business law and lawyering. Helen Mahy, group company secretary and general counsel of National Grid, spoke with Lawrence Graham corporate head Christopher Tite about the nuts and bolts of restructuring a major legal department and how to align in-house legal services with corporate strategy.

Barlow Lyde & Gilbert partner Clare Canning led a session with Jack Naylor, head of UK litigation at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), on the pros and cons of mediation. Litigator Canning is a sceptic when it comes to mediation, but Naylor is an enthusiast, saying that alternative dispute resolution (ADR) was cheaper and faster. Naylor commented that he had never involved the PwC partner against whom the case had been brought. The difficulty with ADR, Naylor and Canning agreed, was finding good mediators in the first place.

Mike Morris of Philips Electronics led a session with Pinsent Masons partner Nigel Kissack on project management and its practicalities, with particular reference to decision trees and quantifying choices. They argued that this approach was particularly well suited for litigation and for construction and PPP projects. Kissack revealed that Pinsents has in-house forensic accountants working to assist with managing costs – one of the rare firms to do it.

One of the liveliest sessions was led by Joanne Bower, corp-orate counsel at IMI, and Shoosmiths partner Gary Assim. Entitled ‘Is there an alternative to billable hours?’, it elicited much audience comment.

The in-house lawyers present bemoaned the system of hourly rates, saying they did not reflect creativity on the part of external lawyers. Other bugbears included being chased by accounts departments for payment of bills that were still sitting on partners’ desks; increasingly bizarre inclusions on said bills; and having to pay for training. Bower argued that the fixed-fee approach was easier to sell to the rest of the company, but admitted that in reality “guarantees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on”.

Yet despite the dissatisfaction with hourly billing, there was little agreement on alternatives. Assim said that, for all its faults, the system has established itself because of the ease of use and its innate measurability.

Private practice lawyers at the session hit back at in-house complaints, saying that value billing works only one way: clients subtract for poor work, but rarely add a premium for good. The other problem with the fixed-fee approach, noted one delegate, was that it necessitates very detailed specifications – something that is often mismanaged in the first place.

Financial Services Authority (FSA) director of enforcement Margaret Cole led a session alongside Kingsley Napley partner Stephen Pollard on dealing with the regulators. Cole offered practical guidance to in-house lawyers dealing with the regulators. Reporting anything out of the ordinary was high up on her list. Or, if it was too late for that, she advised in-house lawyers to reply promptly to FSA queries and to take a constructive approach to negotiations with the regulator.

QinetiQ general counsel Lynton Boardman and Corus deputy general counsel Eleanor Evans spoke on risk management. Evans said Corus had recently undertaken a global risk review to establish the perceptions of legal risk within the business.

Another well-attended session was on the criminalisation of regulation. Tim Langton, general counsel for global compliance at BOC Group, and Nick Benwell, white-collar crime head at Simmons & Simmons, led the discussion, along with recent Simmons arrival Louise Delahunty, formerly of niche white-collar crime firm Peters & Peters. Langton focused on what in-house lawyers can do to protect their companies, while the Simmons pair gave some insight into current developments.

One of the most popular sessions featured Microsoft’s Chris Parker and DLA Piper partner Mike Pullen. The pair offered in-housers some guidance on what to do when facing the wrath of DG Comp.

Parker revealed that Microsoft’s strategy involves rehearsing dawn raids at least once a year, every year. Parker’s general advice in the event of a raid was to keep calm, make sure everyone (including the secretaries) knows what to do – and not to start shredding documents.

Parker added that it is probably not a great idea to sit the DG Comp chaps in a room with any incriminating evidence in it either, and shared one true-life (and presumably not Microsoft-related) scenario in which DG Comp officers entered a room with a whiteboard that had “Cartel information” in big letters written on it. That could be construed as something of a giveaway.