Colt resolver: Robin Saphra, Colt Technology Services

Robin Saphra, group GC at Colt Technology Services, uses a combination of legal models to boost service levels. By Luke McLeod-Roberts

Robin Saphra
Robin Saphra

As some companies are starting to ­tinker with their panels and increasingly engaging legal process outsourcing (LPO) providers, Colt Technology Services general counsel Robin Saphra has gone a step further.

The legal chief has taken a long, hard look at the spectrum of legal services used by Colt and has plumped for a combination of models that takes in internal advice from a 45-stong team; panel firms; an offshore captive operation; contract attorneys; and a deal with an external firm, which is Colt’s preferred interface for a string of overseas relationships.

“You take the machine apart and ask, ’Does this really need to happen here?’” he says. “We’re looking at things in-house lawyers do and asking if it makes sense for us to do it.”

One of the more high-profile ­elements of this disaggregation was a deal he signed with Berwin Leighton Paisner’s (BLP) newly established ’managed legal services’ (MLS) department, which will see the firm manage all of Colt’s employment work (The Law­yer, 20 September).

Colt had worked with BLP on employment matters for around a year, but had been “in the process of migrating away from other firms and the MLS deal locked it down”, clarifies Saphra.

“Employment was a good area to start with,” he adds. “We don’t have the scale to have an employment lawyer in every jurisdiction. If it works I’ll ­continue to look at areas where this might be an appropriate model, but I need employment to get wings first.”

He says this was driven by the need to create a “scaleable service for my business that’s high quality, responsive and able to cope with peaks and troughs.

“Also, when it comes to employment law, although there are ­similarities across Europe that lead to harmonisation, there are still strongly varying local practices.

“Having a firm that’s able to grasp all of that – manage the differences between countries and regions and give a single answer – is a valuable service. The alternative is to have lots of law firms for each territory. With that you’ll get quality legal advice, but no joined-up approach.”

Prior to the BLP deal Colt had one in-house employment lawyer responsible for instructing multiple firms.

“We’ve not made anyone ­redundant as a result of this deal,” emphasises Saphra.

Under the new arrangement Colt has two lawyers provided by BLP’s Lawyers on Demand contract attorney business.

“I can ring on Friday and say I need to get a lawyer on Monday,” explains Saphra. “We’ve got a rate card – it’s low stress for me.”

This is not the first time Saphra has engaged alternative models to the traditional in-house/external adviser matrix.

“We’ve set up a captive legal team in India,” he says, pointing to a six-lawyer offering in Bangalore established earlier this year, which is poised to grow to eight by the end of the year. “The team provides a shared legal service across the business.”

Offshoring by major corporates to India is nothing new. Mining giant Rio Tinto embarked on this on a big scale last year through a deal with LPO provider CPA Global. But Saphra falls into the camp of those who prefer the captive model because he believes it offers more control, while complex work enhances ­retention rates.

“We looked at LPOs and concluded that we could do it better ourselves,” states Saphra. “LPOs are a different business model, set up to do high-volume, repetitive transactions. We’re focusing on medium-volume transactions that require a higher level of legal and commercial skill. They’re working on real, live transactions, it’s not just basic work.”

Saphra says Colt also maintains a panel of “around half-a-dozen” firms in the UK, including Baker & McKenzie and DLA Piper, and ­similar numbers in 12 other ­jurisdictions. It also has a footprint in the US, but no employees on the ground there. But this too is up for a rethink.

“I think we probably have too many firms,” Saphra concedes. “We’re being quite selective about how we’re using them. Unless there’s a recurring need, it’s better using in-house lawyers. We only go external if there’s no internal expertise, if there’s a sudden demand or if a matter is particularly complex.

“As long as you do decent planning you can prevent that. The name of the game is building stronger ­relationships with fewer firms.”

Saphra is keen to point out that this ongoing revision of his company’s legal needs is not primarily motivated by financial considerations.

“The numbers have to add up,” he says. “Obviously, you can’t do it if it’s more expensive than the next best alternative. But we’re not doing it to save money – it’s about creating stronger service levels.”

Name: Robin Saphra

Organisation: Colt Technology Services Group

Position: Group general counsel

Sector: Telecoms

Legal capability:45, including legal and regulatory

Employees: 5,000

Turnover: e1.62bn (£1.42bn)

Annual legal spend:e3.5m (forecast for 2010)

Main Law firms:Baker & McKenzie, Slaughter and May (Germany and Italy); DLA Piper (UK and Belgium); Latham & Watkins, SBR, White & Case (Germany); Thouvenin (Switzerland); Garrigues (Spain); Elvinger Hoss & Prussen ­(Luxembourg); Berwin Leighton Paisner, Hogan Lovells, Luthra & Luthra, Mayer Brown (India)