Blockchain: Piecing it together

Blockchain: Piecing it together

The proliferation of blockchain technology has led many sectors to re-examine traditional ways of doing business, even if the platform remains shrouded in the fog of confusion and hype. Nowhere is the potential more apparent, or the sector more traditional, than in the negotiation, creation and execution of contracts. If the blockchain evangelists are to be believed, the manner in which parties contract will be changing radically in the not-too-distant future. But while a number of high-profile success stories illustrate the potential of the technology, it is clear that there is a long way to go if it is to ever live up to the rhetoric.

To understand blockchain and the value that it may bring to business, think of how an ordinary business transaction works: there is an agreement and exchange of goods or services between parties. Each party will have their own ledger, which records the transaction. But because the ledgers are held independently, there is scope for discrepancy between them – be it through error, disagreement or fraud. Traditionally, this was mitigated by introducing a third party to the transaction – usually a bank. Continue reading “Blockchain: Piecing it together”

Client profile: Anna Cosgrave, graze

Client profile: Anna Cosgrave, graze

The self-confessed fitness freak and head of legal on the allures of in-house law and healthy snacks

‘I took the right decision for me,’ says Anna Cosgrave, head of legal at healthy snack brand graze, on her move in-house. ‘My husband – who is also a lawyer – and I needed one of us to be a bit more flexible and to take the lead with our children during the week. My office is a 15-minute drive from home and I leave work on time, almost without fail. Work/life balance is extremely important to us while the children are young, but – make no mistake – I am still very ambitious.’ Continue reading “Client profile: Anna Cosgrave, graze”

From monkey to organ grinder – assessing the modern in-house team

From monkey to organ grinder – assessing the modern in-house team

Sabine Chalmers was concerned about coming back to the UK. Absent for more than two decades, most recently in the US as chief legal and corporate affairs officer at drinks giant Anheuser-Busch InBev, she had built a reputation as one of the leading lights of the general counsel (GC) community. But when she first left the UK, the GC role lacked stature, particularly in contrast to the US. ‘I was concerned about how a UK role would compare to the experience I’d had in the US.’

But she did return in 2018, to one of the most senior legal roles in the UK – BT group GC. ‘It’s been encouraging and interesting because the role of the GC has grown. They sit at the top table and report to the chief executive, they have the compliance and company secretary hats: that’s great for the function.’ Continue reading “From monkey to organ grinder – assessing the modern in-house team”

Shake it all about: in-house versus external advisers

Shake it all about: in-house versus external advisers

Alongside the oft-spouted rhetoric of ‘more for less’, in-house lawyers are more frequently bringing work in-house and trying to wean themselves off external advisers and panels. In our survey, 85% said their company has a policy of retaining more matters in-house to reduce legal spend. When asked the same question in 2015, only 70% of GCs responded the same way.

Matt Wilson, Uber’s associate GC for the EMEA region, says that when he joined the ride-hailing app in 2017 around 75% of the company’s legal budget was being spent externally. For 2018, Wilson estimates that figure is around 58%. ‘We’re working through next year’s budget at the moment; I would love to get it to around 50%.’ Continue reading “Shake it all about: in-house versus external advisers”

The MBA all-stars: training and development for GCs

The MBA all-stars: training and development for GCs

In-house legal teams have become more sophisticated over the last 20 years but, according to many general counsel (GCs), the pressure to widen their skillsets over the next decade is intense.

For Pearson GC Bjarne Tellmann, the roundedness of the modern in-house lawyer starts with the training they receive, but he laments a hole in the market. He sends his trainees to receive mini-MBAs or ‘executive MBA-style training’ from a range of institutions, including Deloitte University. Oxford and Harvard also provide mini-MBAs. Continue reading “The MBA all-stars: training and development for GCs”

Legal ops of horrors

Legal ops of horrors

Despite clear progression in the use of non-legal business professionals within in-house teams, general counsel (GCs) often still see ‘legal ops’ as more buzzword than beneficial.

There have been successes. Mo Ajaz is the highly-regarded chief operating officer (COO) at National Grid and, according to GC Alison Kay, he is vital in driving efficiencies. ‘We have a drive to make us much more business friendly and to act more like a business, as well as bringing in tech. We know which outside vendors to look to when it comes to tech.’ Continue reading “Legal ops of horrors”

Assault on the alt: GCs on the new law providers

Assault on the alt: GCs on the new law providers

For all the rampant spin around alternative legal suppliers, it is safe to say general counsel (GCs) have been less than satisfied with their services.

Trainline GC Neil Murrin has few qualms around the quality of the people the likes of Axiom, Lawyers On Demand (LOD) and Obelisk provide, but finds pricing a sticking point. He has used Axiom and LOD for various one-off projects over the last year: ‘They provide very good people. Everyone they’ve sent has been really high calibre. If you want to bring in someone yourself, you have to interview thousands of people, but they do that filtering for you.’ Continue reading “Assault on the alt: GCs on the new law providers”

Under the influence – how pressure to climb the ladder can corrupt in-house counsel

Under the influence – how pressure to climb the ladder can corrupt in-house counsel

Being risk savvy and commercially aware is the equivalent of ‘leaning in’ for today’s in-house lawyer. Can one do this and retain the mantle of professionalism? Or rather, how can one do that? That is the central concern of our book, In-House Lawyers’ Ethics: Institutional Logics, Legal Risk and the Tournament of Influence. We interviewed dozens of in-house lawyers and surveyed 400, mainly from business but also from government and the third sector, to shed light on the ethical dimensions of in-house practice and risk management. Our central lessons? Organisations matter. Individual lawyers matter. Ideas about the in-house role and professionalism matter. Talking about professionalism and good decision making openly and frankly matters.

The usual academic analysis of in-house lawyers dwells on concerns that in-house counsel are business people first and lawyers a distant second, but we think other questions are more important and useful. In particular, we are interested in how in-house roles and practitioner mindsets about those roles influence their ethical inclination. When we work with in-house teams using the tools in our book, they are often astonished at the different views they and their colleagues have about what in-house lawyers should be like; how they draw on ideas of professionalism; and how to deal with ethical dilemmas. Gordon Gekko can be lurking in the most surprising of places. Continue reading “Under the influence – how pressure to climb the ladder can corrupt in-house counsel”

Client profile: Matt Wilson, Uber

Client profile: Matt Wilson, Uber

‘I wrote my own resignation letter twice in the first six months,’ Matt Wilson, Uber’s associate general counsel (GC) for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, says. ‘I didn’t hand it in either time, but it was close.’

A frank, but not surprising, admission. Wilson has, in the view of one peer, had one of the most difficult jobs in the GC community since he became the ridesharing company’s first domestic UK lawyer back in 2015. Continue reading “Client profile: Matt Wilson, Uber”