© Cat O’Neil

In early 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in the UK, the government approached the private sector to help with its national response. Amazon UK agreed to use its logistics expertise and network to boost testing capacity by delivering test kits to workers in the NHS and other key workers.

“Amazon is a retailer, but its UK team had never been involved in a project quite like this,” says Alex Simpson, UK legal director at Amazon. “Although we hadn’t done that before, we very much wanted to help.

Amazon UK’s existing agreements were unfit for this type of service. Lawyers had to re-engineer contracts and existing frameworks, and engage with the data privacy regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office, and standards bodies to create a new model.

Their quick work meant the service was running by March 26 2020, just days after it was proposed.

Amazon decided not to charge for the service through which it delivered more than 7m test kits to the homes of essential workers and the public.

Simpson says: “It would have been very easy for any one of the team at any moment to say ‘Amazon hasn’t done this before, I think it’s too risky’, yet no one did. The drive, determination, innovation and creativity was immense.”

Amazon UK’s lawyers are therefore named the most innovative in-house legal team in the Europe FT Innovative Lawyers awards for 2021. They tackled unfamiliar legal and data privacy issues to deliver the Covid testing distribution project and to set up in-house labs for testing Amazon employees. The team also supported the business through a period of extraordinary growth and new ventures, including the launch of physical stores.

Most innovative in-house legal teams: Europe 2021

WINNER: Amazon UK*

Archer-Daniels-Midland (EMEAI)

*Winner of the FT Innovative Lawyers award for ‘Most innovative in-house legal team in Europe’; other organisations are listed alphabetically

After the disruption of the pandemic, all companies face further upheaval. And the submissions to the various award categories, showcased on the following pages, look at longer-term changes under way among in-house legal teams: advances in legal operations; renewed focus on people and skills; and the expanding influence of lawyers on the sustainability and environment, social and governance agenda.

In the realm of legal operations, automation technologies and data analytics are transforming areas of legal work, such as how contracts are drafted and managed. Bayer,  the German life sciences company, has shifted its entire contracting team to shared services centres, where they manage a tech-led process from initial request through the lifecycle to filing, managing and reporting. The legal team handled more than 15,000 new contract requests in the first nine months of 2021.

For the teams at BNP Paribas bank and fintech Revolut, new risk management technologies are collecting and analysing rich data to help lawyers better advise their businesses. In the financial services industry, being able to communicate in the same language as the business and back advice up with statistics, is also valuable.

In-house legal teams are recruiting more data, technology and process experts as they become more digital, but lawyers also need to expand their skills. “During the pandemic there has been [an evolution in] what being a business partner means for in-house lawyers,” says Oliver Searle, senior counsel at Chevron, the oil company. “Knowing the business is a given. You also need to understand the basics of process improvement, project management, and data collection.” 

Looking further ahead, how in-house lawyers will manage risks associated with climate change and “greenwashing” misstatements about eco-friendly policies is rising up the agenda. Nestlé has a team of five sustainability lawyers with expertise in climate change, sustainable sourcing, and human rights. Counter to the instincts of many in-house lawyers, they are seeking more regulation. They are working on promoting recycling regulations and standards for assessing carbon offsets and claims about carbon neutrality.  

Many individual lawyers — such as Nestlé’s general counsel for sustainability, Esteban Mezzano — have been drawn to sustainability roles through personal conviction. But, as with data and tech skills, expertise in these roles is expected to become a core competency for in-house lawyers in the coming years.

Case studies in best practice

Sustainability and ESG; People and skills; Strategic and risk advice; Legal operations.
Researched, compiled and ranked by RSGi. ‘Winner’ indicates the organisation won an FT Innovative Lawyers 2021 award

Sustainability and ESG

The Axa legal team worked with a consortium of eight insurers that launched the Net-Zero Insurance Alliance, chaired by AXA Group chief risk officer Renaud Guidée. Many insurance companies have chosen to divest from fossil fuels and are now pushing for change in the businesses they underwrite. The alliance — an initiative by the UN Environment Programme — has committed to agreeing a common methodology and performance indicators for underwriting portfolios, which will help insurers speed up moves towards net-zero carbon targets. The Axa legal team played a critical role in setting up the alliance by working through complex antitrust issues that cleared the way for the competing companies to collaborate.

© Bloomberg

EIT Climate-KIC
The need to drive innovation to fight climate change led to the foundation of the Climate Knowledge and Innovation Community. The aim of the project, supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, an EU agency, is to bring together business and academia. The KIC was formed as a private company but has become a non-profit foundation. This type of deal had no precedent. The change has been handled by Anna White, general counsel of Climate-KIC. The organisation’s public mission is now clearer and it is able to access new funding.

Investec Bank
Funds lawyers at Investec helped create a new type of ESG-linked credit facility for Investindustrial, the European private equity house. They defined sustainability measurements that, if met by Investindustrial, will reduce the interest rate paid on the loan.

These sustainability goals, targets and reporting measurements create a standard that can be used as an incentive for other sustainable investments in the private equity industry.

A sustainability academy set up by Sonnedix, a solar power company, provides resources and site visits to schools and universities. It is on track to reach 100,000 people in education with its message about renewable energy and climate change. The Sonnedix legal team is responsible for ESG issues at the group and it led in the creation of the academy, which aims to give new generations the skills they will require to enable growth and innovation.

A team of five sustainability lawyers and 150 sustainability ambassadors from the global legal team at Nestlé have helped to produce new waste regulations and better standards for packaging. They defined a concept of “plastic neutrality” and recently used it to promote the development of recycling infrastructure in Colombia. They are also involved in a cross-industry group that is setting standards for how carbon offsets are calculated.

CNIL with Amurabi
CNIL, the French data protection commission, worked with Amurabi, a legal design agency, to improve how young people engage with privacy policies and ensure that they know their data rights on the internet. They set up focus groups and “co-creation” sessions, which led to the development of better interface designs. These discourage the “blind clicking” of on-screen agreements by motivating users to read and then to make an informed decision about their rights.

Researched, compiled and ranked by RSGi. ‘Winner’ indicates the organisation won an FT Innovative Lawyers 2021 award

People and skills

Electric delivery vans enter the Amazon warehouse in the Titanic Quarter, Belfast
© Alamy

Lawyers at the insurer have helped to launch several initiatives in the past 18 months. They advised on the development of a mental health toolkit that has been shared with corporate customers of Aviva’s health business. In addition to defining legal issues around consent and data, lawyers ensured the toolkit can be used by a range of corporate customers and by Aviva internally.

Project Edge, a training and development programme, has also equipped legal staff to play a more strategic role in the business. Under a new social mobility strategy, the team is providing internships and mentoring to help make legal careers more accessible.

Shell has developed the “We Care” principles initiative to positively influence mental health and wellbeing in the wider legal industry. It outlines specific expectations and practices the team should follow in areas that include working hours, timelines, respecting commitments outside work, and communications etiquette. The team now applies the principles to how it instructs and communicates with outside lawyers.

Amazon UK
The legal team worked fast to advise on data privacy and other legal and regulatory requirements to enable the company to open its own Covid testing facility in the UK, in the early stages of the pandemic. The facility provided tests to thousands of employees. The model was followed by Amazon operations in Europe and the US.

Researched, compiled and ranked by RSGi. ‘Winner’ indicates the organisation won an FT Innovative Lawyers 2021 award

Strategic and risk advice

WINNER: Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance
The legal team of the public-private global health partnership played a leading role in the launch of Covax, the vaccine-sharing initiative back by the World Health Organization. Its 200 member countries have agreed to share resources for research, development and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to ensure more equitable access globally. Lawyers negotiated different agreements with high- and low-income countries, humanitarian partners, development banks and pharma companies. They created new legal, financial and insurance mechanisms to manage risks, which were critical to securing the participation of countries receiving the vaccines — and from the vaccine makers.

The airline’s legal team helped guide the company through a tumultuous 18 months, which included Covid-19 travel restrictions, a cyber attack, and a dispute with the company’s founder as he attempted to remove its chief executive and chair. Critically, lawyers helped restructure the company and raise £5.5bn through a series of transactions.

Amazon UK
Lawyers led on setting the strategy and moving quickly to create supply agreements to source and distribute more than 7m Covid test kits to the homes of essential workers and the public in the UK. Under the agreement with the UK government, Amazon offered its logistic networks and expertise free of charge.

Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team
Lawyers devised an intellectual property model to enable the F1 team to launch its Applied Science business. The division provides engineering and design consulting to clients, which include other professional sports teams such as the Ineos Team UK America’s Cup sailing team.

European Investment Fund
After Brexit, the fund’s lawyers designed and drafted new legislation to establish professional payment guarantees as a financial instrument in Luxembourg. Lawyers selected the jurisdiction and lobbied to introduce the new law. This allowed the fund to move all its debt documentation from English to Luxembourg law, and sign €10bn in new guarantees.

Galp Energia
Over two years, the legal team of the Portuguese oil and gas group led almost 180 transactions, involving thousands of plots of land, to establish new solar power generation facilities. The team created standardised agreements and a risk assessment method to manage the volume of deals. The projects are helping the company shift towards clean energy production.

Société Générale Forge
A multidisciplinary team that combines expertise in legal, regulatory, capital markets and blockchain issues is pioneering new digital financial products. It worked with the European Investment Bank, the EU’s lending arm, to issue its first digital bond on a public blockchain, and on a subsequent transaction to borrow back the bond via the blockchain.

BT Group
When the US placed restrictions on 5G communications technology made by China’s Huawei, lawyers in BT Technology helped plan for a range of outcomes as the UK decided the terms of its own ban. It is now managing agreements with landlords to swap equipment at 19,000 network sites over the next seven years, and negotiating new supply and engineering contracts.

In-house lawyers worked on the corporate and financing structure for a deal in which Vodafone UK and Telefónica UK turned their telecoms tower joint venture, Cornerstone Telecommunications Infrastructure, into a new independent company. The structures and agreements ensure Vodafone’s long-term access to essential infrastructure.

Lawyers created a tool, the Contract Risk Quantifier, to evaluate the fintech’s commercial contracts. It has helped to ensure more consistency in new contracts, and to monitor and improve current agreements.

Researched, compiled and ranked by RSGi. ‘Winner’ indicates the organisation won an FT Innovative Lawyers 2021 award 

Legal operations

Legal operations at the German life sciences company have been transformed over the past two years by centralising, streamlining and digitising its contracting, data privacy and compliance activities. These are now managed by specialised teams that sit in the company’s shared services centres and draw on a more diverse range of people and skills.

The contracting team has automated the end-to-end process for more than 50 contract types in many languages, which has allowed business colleagues to create thousands of contracts quickly and easily. The team can automatically track obligations and mine data for new insights, thanks to a fully digital contracting process.

BNP Paribas
In the latest version of Sara, an online risk-reporting tool created for the bank’s global legal team, lawyers have new dashboards and a risk taxonomy and scoring grid. The app is also used to shape the bank’s onboarding process for new law firms. The tool tracks and automatically alerts team members if panel law firms’ arrangements are being breached.

The UK legal team at the British telecommunications company has continued to develop its contracting technology, and one of the benefits is that the sales team can generate their own contracts. An artificial intelligence function enables the sales team to access contract data to help them manage customer relationships better and to note trends in its customer base.

People walk past a branch of the telecommunications company Vodafone in London
© Getty Images

The ADM legal team for Europe, Middle East, Africa and India led and project-managed the legal aspects of setting up a blockchain joint venture involving the world’s six largest agricultural companies. The Covantis blockchain platform digitises and tracks global agricultural shipping, and replaces a century-old paper-based process.

Lawyers used agile project management to co-ordinate multiple partners, legal and technology team members. Their navigation of the complex European competition and regulatory challenges was essential to making the platform work.

A digital advisory board is driving digital transformation in the legal department of the oil company by introducing new tech tools and shifting mindsets. The inclusion of technology targets in performance reviews and new training modules are helping to drive cultural change. The team used design thinking techniques, which focus on the user experience, to create a visual and clearly worded resource for business colleagues to manage brand licensing projects.

The French IT services group set up a global legal centre to connect lawyers working in multiple offices and countries. The result is a global hub for lawyers in local teams to share knowledge and expertise, train new legal team members, develop technology and legal processes, and buy outside legal services.

The French retail group’s Iberian legal team automated all its supplier contracts — enabling their business colleagues to produce tens of thousands of new contracts each year, without involving lawyers. The digital process ensures that contracts are compliant, which reduces risk and saves time, allowing the team to collect and analyse new data on supplies of different products for its stores.

Customers maneuver shopping carts beside depleted food shelves inside a Carrefour SA supermarket in Brussels
© Bloomberg

Crédit Agricole CIB
New technologies are streamlining legal contracts and documents at the investment arm of the French bank, in order to improve how it interacts with clients. Internally, the legal team has connected systems to analyse invoicing and legal task information, allowing them to make data-driven decisions about allocating resources and where they send legal work. The lawyers are using robotic process automation on about 20 routine tasks such as checking law firm invoices for compliance.

Researched, compiled and ranked by RSGi. ‘Winner’ indicates the organisation won an FT Innovative Lawyers 2021 award 

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