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In-house counsel jobs benefit from changing relationship with external advisors

Posted by: Laurence Simons 09/10/12

And Ben Heineman Jr did come down from the mountains in a great storm and with a grizzled beard and did decree, after much soul-searching (sat at his desk and thinking), after many years in the wilderness (sat at his desk in a nicely air-conditioned office) that lo, the role of the general counsel in a modern corporation is changing. And he did cry it down upon the people from great heights. "[There are] two critical trends for major companies in the US!" he did scream. "The general counsel is now often the go-to counsellor for the CEO and the board!" he cried. "There has been a dramatic shift in power from outside private firms to inside law departments!"

So that happened this week. And it couldn't have come at a better time: firstly, well, this power shift is at a pretty crucial point, what with 2012 being a difficult year for private law firms. And secondly because Legal Week has just profiled HSBC Holdings general counsel Richard Hennity.
 
No industry has come under quite the same legal pressure as the banking sector since the start of this financial crisis thing 2008, basically so they don't mess up again. And with stricter regulation mixed with a change in business focus, the work of banks such as HSBC's global legal department has transformed, making GCs like Hennity's job all the more difficult.
 
Well, different. Different and difficult. 'Differcult'. Because as Hennity notes, the 75 staff directly under his stead have had to come with a more streamlined approach to global finance as well as negotiating over a raft of disposals - which is nothing like what they were doing in 2008. And that means his role has changed, too.
 
"The general counsel role is more and more defined by the industry they work in," Hennity told Legal Week. "If you are general counsel of a regulated industry that is present in 87 countries with profits of $20 billion, then your days of worrying about being close to the business have gone."
 
And Hennity also offered some insight into the changing relationship between corporations and their external advisors, which should be useful for those on both sides of the legal careers fence. "It's all about the relationship. You leverage off the relationship to ensure you receive a quality product and have the right people on the file," he said.
 
Which affects the cost. "If you focus purely on price, of course it will affect the service you're given," said Hennity. Essentially: your good relationship with a corporate client is another service you can sell. "If I receive a quality product, I am happy to pay a fair price for it," he concluded. So be nice.