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What does the Board want from its legal advisers?

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As a result of my experience leading a company for a period earlier this year, I've been asked on several occasions to speak to groups of lawyers about the role of a company's in-house Legal Department when viewed from the CEO's chair. The exact questions that people suggest I attempt to answer vary and are phrased with more elegance but, in ordinary language, they boil down to this: (1) What is Legal's job? (2) How is Legal doing? (3) Does anyone care?
Arguably, there's a danger of Legal Departments becoming overly introspective in seeking to answer these questions. Indeed, in the very first post on this blog, I asked "Why is it that, when it comes to the world of business, lawyers spend a lot of time agonising about their role and trying to articulate clearly how they add value, instead of getting on and leading their organisations?" But that was intended to be provocative and it's too harsh. Legal departments have been on a necessary journey over th…

Lies, damn lies and ... metrics

The word “metrics” is so commonly used in modern business life that nobody thinks they need a definition of the term. It hardly occurred to me to look it up before starting this blog. But we probably ought to, because there's a fair bit of groupthink on this topic. If you open the Oxford English Dictionary, once you’ve made it past the definition of the “metric system”, which remains a surprisingly lively political topic, you'll find “metrics (in business)” defined as: “a set of figures or statistics that measure results”. That’s short, but it will probably do.
After discussing metrics with a large number of senior legal colleagues over the past year, I’ve concluded that metrics are widely distrusted by the legal profession. The topic certainly polarizes opinions. The most common charge made against metrics is that they provide a reductivist view of an activity which involves complex interactions that aren’t really capable of or susceptible to numerical measurement, such as the…

Not so special

I found an hour this week to attend a very interesting roundtable discussion at Allen & Overy organised by RSG Consulting, who run the annual Innovative Lawyers awards in the FT. The topic was "In-house legal: Talent engagement and retention". Various heavyweight luminaries of the in-house scene were there and the debate was very interesting.

Inevitably we covered the interaction between in-house Legal teams and HR. There were a couple of comments in this section which deserve to be examined more closely, because they tell you a lot about why Legal isn't part of the mainstream in many companies.

The first comment was that lawyers looking to broaden their career could go into HR. Excuse me? Let's just try that the other way around. HR managers looking to broaden their career could go into Legal and give that a go. Or perhaps if people in Legal or HR are bored, they might like to try being the company's Financial Controller? A quick read through IFRS ought to do …

Big 4 a reason

In 2011, the Big 4 "accountancy" firms reported revenues of $29.2 billion (PWC), $28.8 billion (Deloitte), $22.9 billion (E&Y), $22.7 billion (KPMG). The world's largest law firm reported revenues of $2.1 billion (Baker & McKenzie).

OK, you got me. That law firm number dates from 2010. Perhaps 2011 was a barnstorming year and they added a zero after 12 Stakhanovite months of wild billing. But probably not. In fact, based on published numbers, you'd need to add the revenues of the world's top 15 law firms before you get one Big 4 firm.

The largest law firms are very respectable sized businesses, but the Big 4 are so massive they make the law firms look like boutiques. I'm not suggesting revenue is everything, but it's a perfectly reasonable measure of how much the rest of the world wants you around. 

The Big 4 don't just sell audit or accountancy advice, they sell all kinds of professional services. That statement also describes one of their weakn…

Footnotes to The Bizzle's "The only way is ethics"

In a wittily titled recent post "The only way is ethics?", The Bizzle raised a whole series of issues about what companies say about ethical behaviour. I agree with his post and the conclusion "either walk your talk, or stop going on about it" is unarguable. But it seems to me there are several different strands wound together under this topic of "corporate ethics". I'd like to try to separate those strands. 

The debate in the room at the Corporate Counsel Forum focused on the "compliance" side of ethical behaviour and on creating a culture in a company to meet the challenge of legislation like the UK's new Bribery Act. That was the subject of my own post "Ethics and the General Counsel". As he said in his post, The Bizzle didn't set out to discuss this topic (but he has promised to at a later date).

We might call the next strand "ethics as a fig-leaf for the profit motive". Companies often talk about how ethical th…

It's criminal on the 07:43 from Woking

This morning, just by coincidence, two people I follow on Twitter had very similar experiences while commuting on the train. Both saw a fellow passenger working on a laptop. We'll omit the names to protect the guilty, but the laptop-jockeys were lawyers, one of them at a famous magic circle firm. The details of their clients and the matters they were working on were clearly visible to their fellow passengers.

This sparked a light-hearted debate on Twitter about work life balance. Workaholic lawyers are using their train journeys to finish off those crucial PowerPoint presentations. The phrase "get a life" was used. But what went through my mind was "get a grip". There are serious issues involved.

Anyone who reads my blog regularly will know I am an advocate for normalising legal services, demystifying communications between lawyers and clients and bringing the profession up to date. But there are some things that are too important to compromise. A fundamental par…