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Role of the in-house lawyer

Posted by: Laurence Simons 24/06/14

By Hans Albers, Senior Director and Associate General Counsel EMEA at Juniper Networks

In my first job as an in-house counsel my CEO told me that I needed to bring down our external legal spend. Now that I was in-house he didn't see the need to use external lawyers at all. I was so green at the time I didn't even disagree. That didn't last very long.

These days the in-house lawyer needs to be so much more. He or she gets actively involved in constructed the deal, whether that's a acquisition or a complex commercial deal, usually legal is brought in at an early stage. We have become business partners or business lawyers and more than actually understanding the law (and usually that means the laws of many different countries), we need to understand how your business works. It is very rare that people ask me what the law says on a specific topic.

Several times a day I get asked, well how does this work here and how did we do this before. More than anything we need to understand, interpret and apply your companies internal rules: "the Law of the Corporation". Unfortunately this is not a law that is clearly documented and written down. It may be in various internal policy documents, a code of conduct or a template contract. Or just some best practice. But not always clear and easy to find. It means that it gets ever more important for any Law Department to manage its internal documents, policies and contracts.

Do not underestimate the efficiency that can be achieved if these things - your internal knowledge or Law of the Corporation" is well documented and organized. More and more law departments recognize this and have operations or similar functions to manage all this. Don't leave it to your attorneys to do this on the side. They may succeed initially but it doesn't scale in the long run and is inherently inefficient. In other words, every large Law Department will need non-lawyers, IT and/or Operations people to organize the department and make everyone more productive and efficient. Given the rising importance of Compliance this is getting more and more important and obtaining the necessary budgets from your CFO should really be a no brainer I suppose.