The Growing Power of General Counsel: at the Corporate Counsel Exchange, April 2010
Contributor: Patrick Wilkins
Posted: 04/26/2010 12:00:00 AM EDT | 0
Posted: 04/26/2010 12:00:00 AM EDT | 0
We might all have been in the middle of the greatest aviation crisis in living memory, but it has to be said: many of those delegates at the second Corporate Counsel Exchange went to Herculean efforts to get to the event that right-minded general counsel are beginning to love. Held this time in Brussels at the luxurious Conrad Hotel in the fashionable Avenue Louise district, 48 hours of networking, learning, and fine wining and dining, proved once again to be the magic formula. Comments from all involved turned out to be favourable to say the least.
In all, with many unable to attend due to cancelled flights, we were about 65 in number. So well done to those who did make it, having resorted to long land journeys by cars and trains. At least for many, pre-booked tickets on Eurostar turned out to be a Godsend.
The business agenda was fantastic, with talks on the latest tips for managing legal departments, down to BrainWeave sessions on risk, outsourcing, and pricing issues. Indeed, from my own point of view, I was heartened to see that general counsel were beginning to see why I took the initiative last summer to dedicate my newsletter to the economics of buying and selling legal advice. These post-recession times have certainly focused the minds of both sides and new rules are gradually being introduced.
Certainly, from what I was picking up in private chats with general counsel, they now feel that, as buyers, they are earning the respect of law firms. And the latter are being more proactive in broaching the subject of fixed or alternate fee arrangements. There’s no doubt though that the world has changed in terms of the amount of money sloshing around for legal advice. We already know that in the US legal spending dropped by 17% last year, and the current £7 billion being paid out to law firms is likely to plummet in 2010 by more than that. Furthermore, as I pointed out in a previous blog – and in the latest edition of European GC – solutions to the doldrums economic climate are available. The main one being the profitable legal department pioneered by DuPont’s chief counsel Tom Sager.
I talked to several in-house lawyers about it in Brussels, and some, such as Malcolm Wood of Standard Life are already starting to follow suit. Malcolm already made a significant ‘recovery’ for his company last year. He cleverly won £100 million for Standard Life by spotting an anomaly in one of their investment products. So the advice of Tom Sager is gathering a head of steam and looks likely to change legal departments for ever over the coming years.
Should this be so, coupled with the new buying power, general counsel should rise to a new and unheard of position. They have never been so powerful within the legal landscape.
Which means that when the next Corporate Counsel Exchange comes up in October in The Hague they should be ready to attack another comprehensive agenda and boost their collective force - Icelandic volcanoes permitting!
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