UK Roundup: In-house

In-house v private practice

Countless lawyers have argued the pros and cons of turning their backs on private practice for life as an in-house lawyer. The Lawyer recently had the pleasure of lending an ear to Rupert Pearce, group general counsel at Inmarsat, who turned away from Linklaters’ partnership, where he led the IPO practice during the dotcom boom, for what he suspected were greener pastures.

It made for interesting interviewing and, as there may be a few private practice lawyers considering a directional change in their careers as a New Year’s resolution, we thought it prudent to share some of his thoughts.

“People who move out of private practice want to make a difference and exercise their creativity and good commercial sense. But however commercial you thought you were in private practice, it’s a joke. Wait until you get out into the real world,” he said.

“It’s fun being in a medium-sized organisation – we’re big enough to have a Costa Coffee in the canteen, but not so big that the lawyers are lost in a complex hierarchy; they have a real ability to make a difference here.

“I’m not happy with a 9am-5pm day, there can’t be challenges if you do that, but you want a modicum of control over your life. I don’t miss weekends anymore, I don’t miss out on watching rugby matches with my mates, I don’t miss my kids in nativity plays. My daughter’s only going to be eight years’ old once, and I don’t want to watch it on a videotape.

“I don’t rule a return to private practice in or out. Once you’re off the ‘career-for-life’ trajectory, you can rule anything in or out, but I certainly don’t think about what I’ll be doing in five years anymore. I just know I’ll be doing something challenging and interesting, or something I want to be doing. You stop thinking about your career and what you’ve got to do this week and see the bigger picture of life.”

‘Incestuous’ pharmaceuticals

If you are a pharmaceutical in-house lawyer, chances are you know your way around the offices of your company’s competitors. “Incestuous” was how the industry was described to The Lawyer by one recruiter, with seat swapping at the senior level becoming a fact of everyday life.

Senior lawyers at GlaxoSmithKline and UCB have traded places, while Novartis has promoted one of its top UK lawyers to head its US legal operations: former UK deputy general counsel George Miller has become US general counsel and has been replaced in the UK with Allen & Overy (A&O) partner Thomas Werlen, who previously headed A&O’s US law group for Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

Pfizer and AstraZeneca have also experienced a number of ‘swaps’, particularly within the mid-tier of their corporate and M&A teams. UCB also recently lost a senior lawyer out of its Brussels office to Netherlands biotech group Innogenetics.

With each company demanding ‘industry experience’, there is plenty of movement within the industry and plenty of work for recruiters. Although, with so much merry-go-rounding going on, the pharmaceutical sector is becoming an increasingly tough industry to crack if you do not get in on the bottom floor.

Olympic law firms disqualified?

There is one event on the sporting calendar that everyone – businesses and law firms alike – has an eye on: the London 2012 Olympic Games.

But rumour has emerged that those firms which tried to jump the gun and get the inside track on securing future Olympic work may have made a false start. It has been speculated that firms which seconded a partner to key Olympic delivery organisations are likely to be barred from pitching for work by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) because of the Olympic movement’s strict ethical and anti-corruption rules.

This begs the question: did the firms know this before putting their partners forward to work in these high-profile and feel-good positions? No one is saying on the record either way, but if the rumours ring true the industry can expect plenty of red faces.

DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary project finance partner Peter Rout has been seconded as head of legal for the interim Olympic Delivery Authority, while Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) partner Frances McLeman has been seconded to the London Development Agency (LDA).

The LDA appointed some 18 firms to its panel last month, which includes BLP. The LDA appointment is understood to be a new one for BLP, and it is no secret McLeman had some input on the appointment. But the question remains: will BLP be in the line-up when Olympic-related work hits the table, or has it been black-flagged before the race even starts?

ABN Amro turns to training

Despite the advantages of working in the commercial world, it seems some sectors are struggling to fill their in-house legal departments. In particular, there is a drought in the market for derivatives lawyers.

In response to the apparent lack of suitable candidates, Dutch investment banking giant ABN Amro has taken a new slant on the old adage of ‘if you can’t find them, train them’ by rolling out a formal training programme to bring its in-house finance lawyers up to speed with derivatives law. It has called in the big guns at Clifford Chance to oversee the training – at a cut-price rate – in its Hong Kong, London and New York offices.

A number of other banks claim the initiative is nothing new and that they have been conducting similar programmes for years. ABN does, though, appear to be the first to formalise the system.

External advisers readied for reviews

Our friends across the pond are becoming more commercial, it would seem, after the Association of Corporate Counsel’s annual chief legal officer survey found for the first time that less than half of its respondents had considered firing an external adviser. That is down 18 per cent on 2004’s results. But before the US firms give themselves a pat on the back, the figure is still a ‘sit up and take notice’ 48 per cent.

Meanwhile, Eversheds, Field Fisher Waterhouse and Mills & Reeve are battling to remain on the General Medical Council’s (GMC) legal panel after the council predicted a 2006 budget blowout of almost 70 per cent, with estimates of spending nearing £14m on legal costs.

As a result, one firm will be dumped. The GMC will run a competitive tender early this year, benchmarking each of the firms based on value for money in order to force down the fees of the two successful firms.