MATTERS OF chief concern to in-house lawyers, from offshoring and billing, to getting the most out of external practitioners, will be canvassed at the upcoming Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA) symposium this month.
According to the president of the New South Wales division of ACLA, Claire Miller, there are numerous methods in-house lawyers can employ to get value for their legal services dollar, including those with a limited volume of work or budget.
“A key part of being an in-house lawyer is choosing the right law firm for their organisation, and managing them well so as to get the most effective legal advice,” Miller said.
Part of that management involves educating external lawyers about the client’s business, as well as negotiating advantageous fee structures.
“With rising hourly rates, it is critical for in-house lawyers to be sure that they are making the right decisions in selecting their lawyers,” Miller said.
When it comes to selecting an appropriate fee structure, Miller advocates a balanced approach.
“I think it’s usually better to have a mixture — different matters require different fees. You might have a transaction where all the factors are known, so you can say ‘this is what we have to do, what’s the fee for that?’,” she said.
“With other things there are variables, so a blended rate might work. Then you compare complex work with routine work, and that might mean to the client something different.”
When it comes to appreciating the subtleties of the client’s business, Miller said the responsibility should be shared between the in-house and external lawyer.
“I do think it’s a two-way thing,” she said. “It is for the in-house lawyer to let the private practice practitioner know what is important to them. But it is also for the private practitioner to try to understand the business … what their drivers are, and what their objectives are.”
As Australasian general counsel at Jones Lang LaSalle, Miller has had plenty of experience sending legal work offshore. And with legal services becoming increasingly cheaper and more efficient overseas, she believes the popularity of countries such as India will only grow in the coming years.
“They’re only as good as their last job. [But] it has been a positive experience, in terms of the turnaround, in terms of the cost and in terms of the quality of the work.”
Although the time difference can make immediate contact difficult, it also allows work to be processed through the night, Miller said. Other limitations exist too.
“[Jones Lang LaSalle] does offshore to India, but for only certain matters and types of work. It’s more contract review and contract management,” she said.
“There are always going to be issues of remoteness, so I don’t think it will ever become 100 per cent of your work that goes there,” Miller said. “It won’t because it probably would not work for litigation, or where there is strategy involved. It is only for discrete issues.”
Understandable fears about security issues — such as document retention and privacy — are becoming a major concern for Indian firms.
“I think the Indian firms are alive to that now, and have set up the necessary IT requirements to ensure that,” Miller said.
Security fears often come back to a matter of choice. The firm that Miller’s company uses was started by a former magic circle partner, and so an appreciation of the mechanics of Australian legal practice is ever-present.
The ACLA in-house counsel symposium will be held on 29 and 30 March in Sydney.