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In-house 'must be independent'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 07/10/13

It is crucial that in-house lawyers stay at one remove from their colleagues in a business if they are to carry out their control function effectively, a leading member of the Barclays legal team has claimed.

Lara Oyesanya, vice-president of legal counsel at Barclays UK retail and business bank, told the Law Gazette that calls for in-house lawyers to become 'more embedded' within the system can make it harder for them to operate as a check on any potentially litigious behaviour.

The debate over what constitutes being independent for corporate counsel is a constant one and highlights the ways in which the position has changed over the last decade, with lawyers increasingly being asked to contribute to business-focused debates and deal with areas they would previously not have featured in.

"It is important that their independence is maintained and maybe maintaining some distance helps to achieve this," said Ms Oyesanya.

However, she warned against the possibility of becoming "ivory towers", figures completely separated from the business section of an organisation.

While in-house lawyers might dream of dealing with corporate issues like Alec Baldwin's character from James Foley's Glengarry Glenn Ross - third prize is you're fired! - the reality is that they need to form relationships with people across their business if they are to fulfil their role appropriately.

Leaving the corporate end of an organisation to go about their day-to-day work until they make a mistake will add to the difficulty of doing this, even if it does offer the opportunity for satisfying Mamet-esque dialogue.

Centralising legal teams is one way of ensuring they are engaged with the business, claimed Ms Oyesanya.

"There are many benefits and at the heart of these are efficiency, quick response time, knowledge sharing and leverage of resources, both internal and external," suggested the Barclays vice-president.

Legal departments are likely to continue keeping much of their work in-house until the economy recovers, meaning this debate is sure to rumble on.