Reading the runes with in-house counsel
This week, The Lawyer published a very interesting article in which in-house counsel provided their predictions for what Q1 of this year held in store. Here is a summary of their feedback:
Budget is king
- Despite tightening budgets and smaller margins in the face of supply-chain and personnel shortages, companies are still expecting their biggest legal spend to be on hiring and retaining talent.
- Attention is also being paid to using automation and legal tech to streamline any inhouse work. There will also be increased emphasis on reducing external fees, with teams looking for more competitive pitches and greater cost transparency – they will want to see where their money is going.
ESG is the ABC
- In today’s politically charged climate, consumers expect companies to react at pace to political events. This is incredibly challenging for firms, as they have to strike a fine balance between proactivity and reactivity. Silence can be just as damaging as saying the wrong thing, and companies have to take heed of the conclusions various stakeholder groups might draw from what is said or left unsaid regarding a company’s ethics and views.
- Regulation will play an ever bigger role in setting the ESG agenda, and GCs will have to stay abreast of the changing regulatory landscapes surrounding ESG, GDPR, digital industries and more. Many GCs also feel that ESG is being shaped by the unwritten rule of law, including recent major litigation cases of the sort they wish to avoid at all costs.
- GCs will have to weigh up carefully how to balance competing stakeholder interests with the tools available to them. These include remediation, better management of ESG impact reporting, setting the right tone at the top of the organisation, and effective strategy guidance.
Keeping the board onside
- Many GCs cite this issue as a recurring theme: they have to keep translating the value of their strategy and approach to the board. One novel suggestion for making this task easier is for GCs to advocate for a place on the executive committee, so that their voice can be heard more clearly at the top.
- In this context, GCs often don’t know who to turn to when they need support or to check whether something is permitted. A way around this is to maintain a regular dialogue with their industry’s regulator to keep them apprised of any new tech or processes that the company is implementing. This is a great way to manage risk and develop strategies that conform with the board’s expectations.
- The board’s approval will also be important when GCs have to justify new hires or new approaches to more effectively outsourcing work in order to streamline workloads and budgets. Here, time capture can be useful to highlight how long certain tasks are taking, thereby helping to make a business case for hiring new talent or outsourcing more of the inhouse tasks.
Plugging the talent gap
- Speaking of hiring new talent, the dearth of junior lawyers continues to be a major issue as teams struggle to fill vacancies. One approach to overcoming this problem is for in-house teams to develop their own talent via in-house training contracts and solicitor apprenticeships (see below for my thoughts on this). This quarter, many companies expect to feel the benefits of having their first ever NQs who have never worked anywhere else but in-house.
Pannick stations – Manchester City field a different kind of defender
In a story that has rocked the world of football this week, the Premier League announced on Tuesday that Manchester City FC has allegedly committed more than 100 breaches of the League’s financial rules over a nine-year period. In accordance with Premiere League rules, the alleged breaches have been referred to an independent commission. Man City is now fighting for survival within the top flight and has instructed Lord David Pannick KC of Blackstone Chambers to lead its defence team.
Retaining the services of such a leading light of the legal world could cost the club as much money as the wages of one of their top players: Lord Pannick – who was once chided by a High Court Judge for treating the court like “a casino” – is said to charge his clients anywhere between £5,000 to £10,000 an hour.
Even at the bottom end of this pay scale, this esteemed member of the House of Lords would be getting paid more than all but seven of Man City’s top players. And £10,000 an hour would put him on par with the club’s – and the Premier League’s – best-paid player, the mighty Kevin de Bruyne.
So whatever the ultimate outcome for the club itself, Lord Pannick will certainly be quids in. As Alan Partridge might (and did) say, “back of the net!”
Beyond belief? Sadly not.
What do Tory MP Anne-Marie Morris and listed City law firm Rosenblatt’s ousted CEO Nicola Foulston have in common? They have both publicly used the same awful racist metaphor loooooong after they could ever have thought it socially acceptable to do so – during a meeting about Brexit in 2017 in the case of Morris, and at a firm dinner in 2020 in the case of Foulston.
In his judgment on a racial discrimination suit brought against Rosenblatt by black lawyer and former partner Noel Deans, Judge Brown of the UK’s employment tribunal wrote that the respondents admitted that Foulston “used at a dinner (in front of [Deans]) the phrase ‘n-word in the woodpile’”.
That’s terrible enough, right? But then, for good measure, the firm’s founder Ian Rosenblatt responded to Noel Deans’ resignation letter – in which he alleged that he had suffered race discrimination – by allegedly calling Deans “just a f***ing anti-Semite”. Charming!
The case is ongoing and a full tribunal is scheduled to take place over the space of a fortnight in October this year. We will be interested to hear the outcome – Foulston was removed by Rosenblatt’s board last month in part due to “cultural concerns”.
How far has the rot allegedly spread?
The Lawyer has just announced that later this month, Mishcon de Reya is going to host disgraced former health secretary turned reality TV star Matt Hancock, who will give a talk to the firm’s lawyers (sadly, this will probably last for longer than half an hour – sorry, I just couldn’t resist the headline) focusing on his new book, Pandemic Diaries. As part of the Mishcon Academy format, Hancock will follow up his doubtless fascinating presentation with an interview with Katy Colton, the firm’s head of politics, and a live Q&A round with the attendees.
Following this announcement and in light of Liz Truss’ re-emergence onto the political stage last week in the form of a Spectator interview and 4,000-plus-word article in The Telegraph – in both of which she showed her customary level of profound self-reflection – I can’t help but be struck by how little time our politicians spend in the wilderness (I mean the political wilderness, not the I’m a Celebrity jungle) these days after their very public cockups.
In the wake of his eponymous scandal back in the 1960s, John Profumo left politics forever and did penance by cleaning toilets in London’s East End for the rest of his life.
If it had happened in 2023, Profumo would now likely be offered redemptive airtime with a leading City law firm as part of its edgy brand strategy.
The difference is stark.
Dates for your diary
- 10 February – Deadline for non-London-based firms to submit their entries for the Legal 500
- 15 and 16 February – International Conference on Administrative Law and Law Discussions – This conference aims to bring together leading academic scientists, researchers and research scholars to exchange and share their experiences and research results on all aspects of Administrative Law. It also provides a premier interdisciplinary platform for researchers, practitioners and educators to present and discuss the most recent innovations, trends, and concerns as well as practical challenges encountered and solutions adopted in the fields of Administrative Law. A virtual event.
- 21 February – Digital Conveyancing: How can technology help minimise the impact of market downturn – This Law Society webinar will explore how firms of all sizes can leverage digital solutions across the entire conveyancing process to ensure they come through this challenging period in the best possible shape.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s edition.