ODI Law Firm Partner Matjaz Jan interviews Miha Ursic, the General Counsel of HIT d.d. in Slovenia for CEE Legal Matters’ Face-to-Face.
In a challenging economy, in-house lawyers face higher expectations from their clients. On one hand, legal costs are usually seen by businesses as a strong candidate for potential savings. With that in mind, in-house counsels must navigate budget limitations through different measures, including curbing external spend.
After the failed military coup in Turkey on July 15th, 2016, The Council of Ministers of Turkey declared a State of Emergency (SoE) in the country. This article focuses on the position of a GC when suddenly confronted with a SoE, needing to ensure the transformation of the company to ensure compliance with the SoE regime.
Legal fees are a necessary business expense in every company. The eternal feud between the legal and the financial departments in regard to the “unnecessary” external legal expenses seems to be the daily bread of every general counsel. The fragile beauty of all legal issues is that they parade as “unimportant and deferable” at first sight and to the untrained eye; but the reality of all parties and state authorities involved may be completely different.
Reflecting upon my career, I cannot remember a single employer who did not propose “let’s increase income and cut down expenses.” Yeah! And that always reminds me of the joke when the Bear complained to the Fox, a Consultant, about the problems caused by his size: He was difficult to feed, in need of a big house, and in constant danger as everyone wanted his fur. The Fox told him: “You should become a mouse. They eat little, can live in any hole, and have very few enemies.” The Bear was happy, but puzzled: “How do I become a Mouse?” And the Fox replied: “I am a Consultant. I can tell you what you need to do, not how to get there.”
For those who are part of a legal department of 20 in-house lawyers or more, are regularly invited by their Managing Director/CEO for breakfast (to speak about the weather and soccer results), and for whom workload and cost pressure are foreign concepts, there is no need to read further. For all others, welcome to the In-house Club: A club of increased pressure and an increased workload with an increased scope of duties and scarce resources and budget. Welcome to the world of, as Richard Buckminster Fuller put it, “To do more and more with less and less until eventually you can do everything with nothing.”
Growing has never been easy. Think about your childhood, when during the night, you would feel pain in your legs without really understanding they were growing pains. The same thing happens when you start the journey of developing an in-house legal team. The key question is: How can we experience the growth together and start running towards to same goals as one unified team?
The First Two: The Setup
It’s not the equivalent of announcing the discovery of a distant land to say there are two basic approaches in setting up an in-house legal function. The first is a more generalist approach, which works perfectly in companies which do not require very deep professional expertise in a particular area of practice on regular basis. Instead they require broad legal expertise across various areas.
External counsel play an important role to an organization, when engaged. The value of their contribution depends upon their experience and expertise. Therefore, selection of external counsel needs to be done carefully. Their engagement in itself is not enough. Once selected, constant interaction with them is necessary to evaluate their performance. In this article, an attempt has been made to articulate how external counsel can be employed to the utmost benefit of an organization.
After working for over ten years in a large international law firm in the United States and another six years in an in-house capacity in Austria I have come to the conclusion that the team you create is the key to your success as a leader. No matter how smart, talented, driven or passionate you may be as a general counsel, the success of your legal department depends in a large part to a strong and motivated team that works well together in accomplishing the tasks and goals that come along.
Throughout my career I have worked at small legal departments (and by that I mean departments with fewer than five people – small at least by Greek standards). They have their own characteristics and challenges. In my experience, they tend to rely heavily on the advice of external counsel, who often becomes a true partner of the in-house attorneys. This reliance becomes more pronounced when in-house counsel has to manage tasks across different jurisdictions. In those cases, engaging external counsel becomes indispensable.
The process of selecting external counsels is quite a challenge to management of an-house legal department and poses unavoidable risks. It has an important effect on the department’s relations with its internal clients and with executive management team members. It is a pity that in some cases this picture may be explained as “The cobbler’s children have no shoes.” The risks inherent in selecting external counsel may in the worst case trigger the chief legal counsel’s professional liability and even directors and officer’s liability when not managed and regulated properly. Accordingly, it is essential to review the specific terms to be applied while selecting the External Counsels (ECs). It is essential to perform conflict checks, review the EC’s market expertise, and analyze the EC’s relation with public authorities when selecting an EC, as is setting out key performance indicators in legal services agreements.