Is the In-House Counsel Movement Going Global?

Stockholm Centre for Commercial Law (SCCL) yesterday arranged a seminar with the title "Is the In-House Counsel Movement Going Global? The Future of Internal Lawyering and the Implications for Corporate Legal Practice". The guest lecturer was Professor David B Wilkins, Director for the Program on the Legal Profession, Harvard Law School and it was based on a study he has done of the role of legal counsels.

To give us a background of these changes, he started out with a description of the structural changes such as the globalization of economic activity, the rise of information technology and the disintegration of 19th century categories of knowledge and organization.  He also discussed the changing legal practice based on the rise of large law firms outside the US, the growth and sophistication of in-house lawyers naming Tata and Huawei as examples with about 400 lawyers each and expanding public legal departments and agencies. He describes this as the "institutionalization of legal practice". There has also been a rapid growth to produce new categories of competition within the legal markets, with examples such as the Legal Services Act in the UK and, the development of the Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO) and the integrated legal and business companies such as Thompson Reuters.

For corporate clients there are several implications such as the increasing need for cross-border, multidisciplinary expertise, the development of technology that will reduce the need for traditional "bespoke" legal services and the growing demand for sophisticated in-house counsel who can partner with multiple kinds of providers to provide cost efficient services to the company.

Prior to the 1980's general counsels had a relatively low status, which Wilkins demonstrated by calling them in "House Pet".  In the US this has radically changes with general counsels now often serving as key members of the senior management team. The trend is also aiming towards making these lawyers more and more participating in both business and leadership, acting more as "business enablers" within their companies. General Counsels most important advice to lawyers is that they should work according to the following two words: "Good enough". Companies do not want the best legal solution, they want a business solution. One sign of this changing role of the General Counsel is that they might receive the new title Chief Legal Officer.

This strengthening role of the in-house lawyer has been supported by the organization of legal counsels in the US who has been fighting for these in-house counsels professional rights. Interesting to note is that the name of the association used to be the American Corporate Counsel Association (ACCA) but to support the globalization and to be able to support legal counsels around the world they have changed to the Association of Corporate Counsels (ACC).

What now is being further analyzed is whether the changing role of the in-house counsels will also move to the BIC countries and other emerging economies.

You can also receive insights on how the strengthening role of the in-house lawyer are changing the dynamics of legal service and learn more about the insights from ACC by former ACC Senior Vice President Susan Hackett at the upcoming VQ Knowledge and Strategy Forum where Susan is key note speaker and will bring her decades of unparalleled access to, knowledge of, and experience in driving leading practices in "New Normal" legal service business models and share her insights on how newly emerging practices promise to turn the future delivery of corporate legal services "inside out".

 

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