What do in-house lawyers look for when engaging external solicitors?
The same as internal clients seek from their in-house lawyers – added value.
What value do lawyers add? At British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) we consider this to be principally twofold: we provide support to the business to help it meet its commercial objectives and we ensure the company acts within the law.
How then do lawyers add value?
By providing legal expertise appropriate to the business; by providing accessible, prompt and accurate support and advice focused on the business objectives; by proactively identifying and managing legal issues and risks; by monitoring and managing the provision of legal resources; quality; cost efficiency; and by being involved early.
In engaging external solicitors, BNFL adopts the integrated team approach. The external lawyers become an extension of the in-house team. To that end they are expected to have a clear understanding of the business and act in the way an in-house lawyer would.
It is BNFL’s policy to perform as much of the legal work as possible in-house. We seek to engage external legal services when we require either: a particular specialism we do not possess in-house; experience beyond that we possess
in-house; resources; and advice on foreign law.
External lawyers become part of the BNFL team. It is not our policy to package work up and send it out to external lawyers.
What then can external advisers do to help the in-house legal team deliver?
Be available and responsive; meet timescales; offer transparency of costs – there must be no surprises; be good team players; provide the appropriate level of resource; understand the business; and provide legal updates and training relevant to the business.
There are, however, also steps the in-house legal team can take to assist external advisers.
These are: provide clear instruction; define the deliverables; agree realistic timescales and budgets; establish clear lines of communication; give regular feedback; and adopt the integrated team approach.
BNFL’s approach to engaging external legal advisers is primarily to single source Freshfields. This has enabled us to establish excellent relationships with the solicitors with whom we work. Over the years they have built up an intimate knowledge of our business and the relationship has brought benefits both in relation to flexible and innovative charging schemes and in-house training. It also ensures there is a uniform approach in handling our work and it gives us the capacity to secure the people we want on any particular job.
This approach suits BNFL given the nature of its in-house legal department. We are somewhat unusual in having a significant litigation department and in having a function that is substantial compared to many others. As a result, we tend only to require external legal advisers in relation to major projects, the majority of which are based in London.
David Symonds is deputy group legal director and head of litigation at BNFL.