BT’s in-house legal team has begun a wide-reaching strategic review on how to change its internal structure to bring its lawyers closer to the business, while the telco also prepares for its next panel review.
Chris Fowler, general counsel (GC) for UK commercial legal services, said the review will see the team ‘centrally manage the legal resource (such as litigation and certain commercial functions) but keep senior lawyers as close as possible to individual business units to act as a business partner and meet their specific business needs’.
Led by group GC and company secretary Dan Fitz, BT’s legal team currently comprises 400 lawyers and paralegals.
The strategic review was derailed by the telecom giant’s proposed £12.5bn acquisition of mobile group EE during the summer. Fowler said that as a result the in-house team has not pursued its strategy as quickly as planned but the aim is to ‘manage the work around what people do rather than who they do it for.’
‘Each individual business unit within BT has different cost pressures. If we’re not careful these can be arbitrarily applied and undermine our ability to provide a consistent service therefore managing people by what they do allows us to mitigate and better manage peaks and troughs.’
The legal department, which was one of the first in-house teams to obtain an alternative business structure licence and launch its now long-running and legal process outsourcing venture, is also preparing for its panel review of external advisers, as the existing one is expected to expire in March 2016.
Its current core roster, which was set in 2013 for three-years, comprises Bird & Bird, CMS Cameron McKenna, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Wiggin and Sheridans. There are also arrangements with alternative legal providers Obelisk, Axiom, Halebury and SSQ Interim Solutions.
BT is working out a strategy for the procurement process and assessing its external spend with its traditional and non-law firm service providers. Fowler said the upcoming panel will be ‘more nuanced’ and firms will be categorised under ‘capacity’ and ‘expertise’.
‘In the past we haven’t articulated our buying strategy as fully as we could. What’s changed most notably is there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It would be great if firms had more strategic conversations with us, otherwise it tends to be very tactical and matter-in-hand. It’s not often at a higher level. In the worst case, it’s a bit like having a talk with a plumber as opposed to an interior designer.’
BT has no minimum commitments to its external law firms and the panel is neither fixed nor exclusive. However, work fielded to external firms in the past has become increasingly more niche. In the GC Power List 2015 BT said its external legal spend was down 90% since 2010.
Read more on what GCs think of external advisers in ‘The In-House Lawyer Survey 2015: Balancing Acts: Bang for your buck’ here.