In-house lawyers buy into need for change
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Over the past year, the in-house legal team at Accenture has rolled out a programme to improve how the consulting firm contracts with many of its clients that number in excess of 9,000 and include government departments and hundreds of the largest companies in the world.
In doing so, team members have changed how they think about risk and their purpose within the business. “Time kills deals,” explains Christina Demetriades, Accenture’s European general counsel.
“Of course, we have to be stewards of the business,” she adds. “But our role is to help our clients be successful and, in that way, help Accenture be successful.”
In any business transformation, changing how people think and behave is difficult. And changing the mindset of lawyers has its own particular challenges. “Ultimately, clients only ever buy services from [Accenture] because they want a project to succeed,” says Demetriades. But “as lawyers and legal professionals generally, we like to see the downsides”.
The FT Innovative Lawyers 2023 in-house legal teams listed in the table have advised their businesses on complex billion-dollar deals — such as the spinout of Haleon from GSK in the largest London listing in more than a decade — helped launch new products, and enabled acquisitions and rapid growth. Others have made operational changes, introduced new technologies, and trained their people in generative AI and sustainability. All are bringing in new ways to engage their teams.
Top 10 in-house legal teams
* Winner of the FT Innovative Lawyers 2023 award for ‘Innovative in-house legal team in Europe’. Other organisations are listed alphabetically
Accenture is the winner of the award for most innovative legal team in Europe for 2023. Its programme to adopt a more client-centred approach to contracting includes bold ideas and has delivered results after its first year.
Boldness came when the contracting team moved from creating a perfect or “watertight” contract before handing it over to the business for approval to, instead, making pragmatic decisions themselves about the impact and likelihood of risks. The starting point was ensuring that those dealing with contracts felt empowered to take decisions to improve revenue growth, and were not driven by fear of being blamed if something went wrong.
Approval steps were cut out where not essential and a “buddy” system was introduced that provides team members someone to check their thinking with, other than the line manager.
“We then went to the data to see what we could learn about what really goes wrong,” says Demetriades. “And then we [could] look at where we’re spending our time in the contracting process and ask: ‘Are we spending time on the things that actually matter?’”
The GSK legal team features in the top 10 list for leading the spin-off of the company’s consumer healthcare business as Haleon in 2022, and for new approaches to managing contracting. Lawyers worked for three years on hundreds of complex agreements in more than 70 countries to complete the largest demerger in Europe for 20 years.
However, GSK’s general counsel James Ford points out that the remaining part of the company also needed a reinvention. “The people that stayed with GSK after the separation from Haleon were effectively employees of a new company, with a new purpose, strategy and culture,” he notes.
For the GSK legal team, this meant recasting itself to support a smaller, more focused pharmaceutical business.
The team established a new global contracting centre in Bangalore, India, and used AI to review and redesign its contract templates. The business now handles more than half its legal contracts without needing support from the legal team.
Iberdrola, the Spanish energy company, has reinvented itself in the 20 years since its general counsel, Santiago Martínez Garrido, has been there.
But the past two years have seen a further acceleration in its ambition to become a world-leading investor in renewable energy, with plans to plough €47bn into areas such as renewables and energy networks between 2023 and the end of 2025.
The legal team has invested in its own operations and expertise to support the business. The company has launched a legal innovation centre and academy that trains lawyers and business colleagues on a range of topics, including legal technology, legal operations, sustainability and innovation.
“We don’t consider the transformation process within the legal services as a one-off,” says Martínez Garrido. “It should be a continued process in order to be aware of and ready for the transformation of the company . . . and the transformation of technology.”
While Accenture, GSK and Iberdrola are trying to shift culture and develop new skills within teams that number in the hundreds, at the other end of the size spectrum, Octopus Energy also makes the top ten list.
With a central legal team of just four lawyers, general counsel Amanda Gerrity supports the fast-growing business — now the UK’s third-largest energy retailer — with “a mentality where everyone is pragmatic, efficient and does a bit of everything”. And yet the team is unlikely to grow significantly, she says, as AI tools take care of more and more of the work.