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The following is a series of tips gathered from General Counsel running legal departments within international and multinational businesses. It is by no means exhaustive and is just the starting point. Make sure that you make time to think about how your department works and how it can be improved. Talk to the business about how you perform. Talk to your team. Talk to in-house colleagues at other companies. Talk to your law firms. Read the management blogs and use the materials on the ACC site.


1. Get together.

Whether your team is based in two locations or 20, it is important to bring the team together at least once a year. Depending on just how global your business and team are, you may also want your regional teams to meet too. Further on in this list of tips you will read the benefits of remote working and how it is important to work on shared technology platforms when thousands of miles apart. But even after all this technological change we are still human and need to meet and get to know each other to be able to work together most effectively. If you are based at corporate headquarters with a quorum of lawyers and compliance professionals, you may not feel the need to meet your fellow in-house lawyers in other locations quite as keenly as does the sole lawyer looking after a region on his own. It can feel lonely at times in-house - don't let it be so for your lawyers. A retreat is also a golden opportunity for you to organize some training for your team and to discuss the way you do things and how to approach issues such as how you deal with law firms, how you relate to the business, how you share knowledge and how you can make better use of technology.


2. Evaluate carefully whether you need a lawyer on the ground.

Can you get by without a lawyer in Italy? Could you handle it from a hub in Paris or do you really need someone close to the Italian business unit? If you do need a lawyer on the ground, does he really need to be full-time? Is it possible to retain temporary 'locum' or project teams, or can you come to an agreement with a local law firm to offer you one of their lawyers on secondment, full-time or part-time?


3. Push more to the business.

While there is no substitute for getting to know your own business and business processes better, one method of freeing up legal resources is to liberate the business people to manage some of their own legal issues (regardless of the internal legal structure adopted). The adoption of model contracts and precedents - whether facilitated by automated drafting or not - can help reduce repetitious demands being made on the legal team. Agreed points of contact with trusted referral or panel law firms can reduce the 'conduit' role of the legal department, and agreed value or 'write off' limits can cut down on litigation volumes and expense.


4. Consider remote working.

While not many general counsel have floated their team off into "the cloud" just yet, some are moving in that direction and experimenting with how it can work for them. For example, you could use an application like to store your documents and share information without having to fight for lots of your company's IT team's time. Some counsel are running models seen among outside providers within their own team; they have teams of flexible workers, off headcount, working remotely as and when needed from a location that is convenient for them. Keep a central list of tasks that need performing and documents that need drafting and assign them to your remote workers with deadlines.


5. Work hard on knowledge management and sharing.

There is nothing more dispiriting than re-inventing the wheel unnecessarily or spending inordinate amounts of time researching something that someone in the team has already answered. Systems (even just an Excel spreadsheet) to track experience of external counsel, for example, will enable your team to save time and work more effectively. Make use of what law firms can give you. Look at what legal publishers can provide you with - ACC Newsstand, Practical Law Company, Lexis, West or others. Assign team members to look at particular areas for the group. Use technology where you can - you might use an RSS reader to track a number of sources, you might build a team platform on SharePoint or you might piggy back on something your company uses. Don't underestimate the power of email systems - most lawyers spend much of their day in Outlook - and think about how you can use this to manage knowledge as well to communicate.


6. Make training a priority.

It is clearly important that the legal team remains up-to-date on legal issues, regulatory developments and the actual and potential impact of legislative changes. But managing day-to-day issues often leaves little time for formal training, and time out of the office on extended courses is often difficult to sanction or justify. Emphasis can therefore be placed on businesses' outside lawyers to help keep in-house lawyers up-to-date. Most sophisticated (and/or hungry) law firms will run regular training or update programs and will usually do so for nothing. Such programs offer not only substantive educational opportunities but also present a means of reinforcing relationships. Many law firms still adopt the 'doctor will see you now' approach, and will take any opportunity to bring their lawyers to your premises, to understand your issues and present legal developments as they affect your business or sector. This is mutually advantageous. Training on non-legal matters is key too. If you make sure your team understands the business they work in and can speak the language of commerce and finance they will win the confidence of their clients more quickly. Of course, as your team moves around the globe, language training will also help them enormously.


7. Work the time zones.

It is not only the major global law firms that can take advantage of the benefits of having offices, and lawyers, across continents. The use of legal teams across different countries, continents and time zones, and even legal process outsourcing, are models and methods that can be copied and adapted to suit companies' own legal and business needs. The relocation or recruitment of lawyers with varying jurisdictional qualifications can also prove significant - your Spanish lawyers don't all need to sit in Madrid. The passing between offices of legal issues, and the management of work flows between teams, can mean that the document you need 'tomorrow' will be in your internal client's inbox when they arrive for work the next day. Obviously this can only work for certain relatively routine issues and investment has to be made in establishing the correct workflows and processes, but a little effort can go a long way in terms of driving efficiencies and making the most use of 'down time'.


8. Make good use of paralegals.

Running an international legal team requires a good deal of research if you're not going to blow the budget on external counsel or hiring in-house lawyers in every country you operate in. Using paralegals to do much of the online research you need to get done will save you a great deal of time and cost. Make sure they are fully briefed on your protocols, attitude to risk and your preferred sources of information.


9. Prioritise jurisdictions, business lines and areas of practice.

You can't cover absolutely everything. Understand what issues need to be constantly managed and evaluated and what can be "monitored". Fundamental to this is for your lawyers to understand the companies' business, work and management processes, and the relative importance of recurring issues. Core and sensitive legal or business issues deserve a more dedicated legal focus. Routine matters may benefit from being pushed out to the business divisions - can the commercial teams handle some of their own legal "needs"? - and other issues may not demand full-time, dedicated legal coverage.

10. Balance the legal risks and commercial reward.

In the current economic climate it is inevitable that the commercial business teams are "hungry" for deals. Business is tougher and contracts are harder to close. In some instances there may be a trend to do business whatever the cost - an unwillingness to negotiate the finer points of the deal at the risk of losing it altogether. Being able to analyze and map risks, combined with an understanding of your business's appetite for risk is essential. Commercial teams also have to understand - broadly - the legal risks they are assuming on behalf of the company. While the role of the legal team ostensibly is to facilitate its operations, fundamentally it is also to protect the long-term interests of the business (and its shareholders). This is not an easy balance to achieve, but emphasis has to be made on educating the business divisions that everything carries a legal consequence - it is not easy to be a policeman, firefighter or doctor, but that risk is akin to the roles the legal team assumes. Engagement with the business managers, taking time to build relationships and to help them understand your position and responsibilities can help to prevent commercial short-cuts from becoming long-term headaches.

Region: United States
The information in any resource collected in this virtual library should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on specific facts and should not be considered representative of the views of its authors, its sponsors, and/or ACC. These resources are not intended as a definitive statement on the subject addressed. Rather, they are intended to serve as a tool providing practical advice and references for the busy in-house practitioner and other readers.

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