Thursday, 29 July 2010

Pick n' Mix

A corporate lawyer in private practice asked me recently, "What's it like to have just the one client then?"

"Not quite as simple as having just the one specialism," I replied. Because, when it comes to being an in-house lawyer, life is like a  box of chocolates pick n' mix.

As a sole in-house counsel, I don't have the luxury of a specialism. My employer relies on me to know just the right amount of law about any event which happens to affect it that day of the week (and sometimes not necessarily the "right amount of law" just "the right amount of knowledge generally"). So, that could be a dose of contractual drafting on a Monday, a dip into a property lease on a Tuesday, approving the HR policies on a Wednesday, a dose of contract drafting on a Thursday and a dabble in collecting debt on a Friday*. Although more often than not, its all of those things and then some on a Monday and the rest of the week continues in a consistently random manner.

*I always leave anything litigious to a Friday, I'm a non-contentious lawyer and, to me, opposing counsel seem much more inclined to strike a deal with less antagonism on a Friday than any other day of the week. This just happens to be my observation of the world of litigation, any litigators out there who concur or disagree can drop me a line. On a Friday please.

Anyway, the point is an in-house lawyer has to be prepared to deal with any type of issue which drops onto his or her desk and be able to choose the correct legal tool to conjure the solution required. We just need to get things done.

I've acclimatised to being a general commercial lawyer through a combination of in-house roles in different industry sectors and also a good grounding in the Commercial teams of a couple of private practice firms. I recall being a trainee in the Commercial team of a law firm, and on my first day in the seat I asked the outgoing trainee what type of work I could expect to do in the team, he replied "Well, if it doesn't fall into Corporate, Property or Litigation, you'll be doing it".

However, I think there's much more discipline to being a general commercial lawyer than that rather glib welcome to the Commercial team suggests, and Richard Russeth, author of the blog The Last Generalist, agrees.  Richard claims that the legal generalist is the new specialist. In his post More Sheriff Taylor Less Wyatt Earp, "Not a “jack of all trades, master of none” but a master of the breadth, height and depth of the law, its reason and its wisdom. She sees the forest. She sees the trees. She sees all the little pieces of the deal/business/environment, the mosaic they create, and, as a result, what needs to be done, the specialists needed, the knowledge to be tapped. She brings ethics, finesse and wisdom to her counsel. She is a counselor at law."

Liquorice allsorts anyone?

Branded Part 3: Roll up for the Round up!

2010 marks the beginning of the The UK Blawg Round Up, the UK Lawyers’ Blog of Blawgs. Its mission: to highlight the UK legal blogging scene and the players in it.

UK blogging lawyers are playing catch-up to our counterparts in the US, where the mighty Blawg Review is published weekly.  At present, the UK Blawg Round Up is published quarterly, and there have been 3 editions to date:

Its Not Blawg Review

New Beginnings

Midsummer Madness

I’m thrilled to announce that the 4th edition of the UK Blawg Roundup will be hosted by me. Due out 31 October, the theme will be, unsurprisingly, a Halloween Hoot!

If you’re a lawyer on the UK blogging scene, please submit your blog post for me to review via the Blog Carnival by 17 October.  I'm looking forward to reading all submissions and finding out more about you all.

The UK legal blogging (or blawging) is in its infancy and there really is no better time for home-grown legal bloggers to make their mark and establish a personal brand. So jump on board and get involved!.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Legal Department v. Sales Department: Round 1!

In my post, The Essential Tool-Kit for the In-house Lawyer, one of the contributors of an idea for an item to include in the kit mentioned the essential requirement of "an effigy of a sales manager to stick pins in".


In each in-house legal position I've held there has been, without fail, a friction between the Legal team and the Sales & Marketing team.  The reason?  Our teams respective purposes within the company are diametrically opposed.

The job of Sales & Marketing:- to sell the company's products and services to as many customers as possible. This more often that not entails a burning desire on the part of the Sales & Marketing team to raise the expectations of the customer, consequently making the customer believe that the product or service is a whole lot more than it likely is, and at a great price to boot.

And the job of the Legal team:- to manage expectations, to manage risk.  To ensure that the customer knows exactly what they're buying, and at exactly what price too.

It's a battlefield at the best of times; and I pity any fresh-faced law graduate starting from the top of the ivory tower, when placed in front of an aggressive and experienced Sales Director at month-end intent on reaching his target.  However,  in my experience I've learned that there's no reason that the friction can't be a healthy friction.

The Defence?

The best Sales Director I've worked alongside was at a previous role I held in the package travel industry.  A highly-competitive industry, low margins, a pile 'em high sell 'em cheap mentality, and heaving with regulation particularly advertising regulation.  I say "worked alongside" this Sales Director because that's Rule 1 of working in-house: no matter which department of the company you're in, you're all on the same team.

This Sales Director knew his product and his target market inside out, but he also knew the law inside out too.  Which meant he tested me.  Every product, every promotion, every advertisement was pushed to the limits of what was legally acceptable.  It became apparent to me very quickly that it wasn't enough to simply say "you can't say that in the ad, its against such and such regulation": he knew the regulations word for word, he knew what the regulations did and didn't say, he knew every code of conduct on the subject, every discussion which led to the code of conduct being formulated, and every case bought to the attention of the ASA.  This guy knew his stuff! Which meant that I needed to know it better and more thoroughly than he did to stand my ground when it mattered most.  It was a great lesson in law and, more importantly, its practical application.

Opposing counsel?

They're not all like that and most dis-regard the law, or alternatively make up their own version of it.  But keep in mind Rule 1, and your battleground will become a more workable place to be.