Rob Thomas on his recent presentation at the UK Legal Week Corporate Counsel Forum
This post was written by Rob Thomas, vice president, Market Development Group, Corporate Legal segment at Thomson Reuters
The recent Legal Week Corporate Counsel Forum in Surrey provided a look into the latest developments in the in-house profession, from the evolving role of the general counsel, to pressures on law departments to operate more efficiently, to more active management of outside counsel firms, to recent legal developments in consumer protection, data privacy, and more. As I often speak at legal conferences for corporate counsel in the U.S., it was interesting for me to compare certain trends that, over the past decade, have become an accepted part of in-house practice, many of which are just beginning to gain a foothold in the UK.
It was particularly interesting for me to hear about the ten years of results from the Legal Week Client Satisfaction Report. Many of the findings reinforced perceptions of the growing power of the client, the in-house counsel who pays the bills of the law firms. During the presentation of the results, it was pointed out that years ago, when you told your colleagues that you were going to work in-house, the reaction that you often got was something like, “So sorry that things haven’t worked out with you and your firm.” Now, by contrast, some of the most highly sought after legal positions are general counsel roles with corporate clients.
This shift in the relative power of in-house and outside counsel is manifest in the new ways in-house counsel retain, supervise, and compensate their law firms. During the session that I moderated on methods that law departments are using to become more efficient, we discussed the ways that in-house counsel in the UK are beginning to adopt some of the practices which have become more commonplace in the U.S.: requiring firms to agree to consistent retention terms set by the client, adopting case plans and budgets to set realistic expectations and track progress, evaluating the work of outside counsel and re-using work product on future projects, and creating fees that incent performance as alternatives to billing by the hour. We also discussed the adoption of client-centric systems like Serengeti, with which in-house counsel can connect directly with their firms to more efficiently process bills, budgets, status updates, and results – giving them clear visibility into their entire legal landscape.
A growing priority that came out in several sessions was the need to collect and report on data that shows the value that the law department is providing to the company. From showing how legal spending is declining as a percentage of company turnover, to reducing cycle time, to adopting systems to improve the management of projects and vendors, law departments are developing metrics to show senior management the progress that they have made to improve the services that they provide. The most efficient way to capture and report on such metrics is to have a system that connects directly with outside counsel, so that reports have the latest data on spending, budgets, and results immediately available.
An unexpected bonus was the wonderful keynote speaker, Wendy Addison, who gave an inspirational talk about her life after becoming a whistleblower who brought down a prominent company for whom she was treasurer. From being at the height of her career, she found herself out of a job, lost her house, and had to move out of her home country. Wendy now travels the world speaking about the importance of supporting those insiders who report fraud and other illegal activities, including changes to the legal system as well as to cultural norms. Her story made it clear that whistleblowers may pay a serious personal price, and provided ideas on what we as a society could do to encourage the reporting of illegal activities in both government and business.