In-house lawyers news archive

ILG at the Law in Scotland Conference 2014

30 October 2014

Report from the Law in Scotland Conference 2014 for in-house lawyers.

This year the ILG Committee joined with the Law Society of Scotland in the production of the Law in Scotland conference “The people’s verdict, so what now?” to mark what has been a momentous year in Scotland, and not just in the legal sector.   

The Conference took place on 3 and 4 October 2014 with the outcome of the independence referendum as its theme. The format was a variety of plenary sessions as well as streamed political, in-house and business sessions, where delegates choose which one to attend. The intention was to offer an inclusive, “one profession” event, allowing in-house lawyers to get the benefits of the wider legal profession Conference as well as content specific to their in-house needs.  

ILG organised the three in-house sessions:

  1.  “Global General Council Insights: navigating the global legal landscape”, provided by sponsor firm DLA Piper;
  2. “The role of In-House Lawyers in Reducing and Managing Disputes – More Bangs for Less Bucks” by John Sturrock QC, Chief Executive of Core Solutions, and
  3. “Giving Scotland a Digital Edge: Opportunities and Challenges of the Digital; and Connectivity Revolution” provided by sponsor firm, Pinsent Masons.

The ILG AGM was also held during the Conference and the ILG Rising Star Award was presented at the conference dinner.  

Alistair Morris, the Law Society President kicked off the Conference by highlighting the contributions of solicitors to the Independence Referendum debate, including politicians such as Annabelle Goldie, Nicola Sturgeon and Alistair Darling, and others involved like Carol Fox and Brandon Malone.  He also paid tribute to the work of the ILG and our committee, noting that he was looking forward to working with the committee in the next year.

The keynote speaker was Kenny MacAskill who spoke about the future for Scotland. He acknowledged that the outcome of the referendum was not the one he had hoped for, and considered that the devolution proposals needed to make Scotland more prosperous, to make the country fairer and to give Scotland a clearer voice on the world stage.  

He received a number of questions including one on what the Scottish Government can do to support Scottish solicitors who work outside of Scotland, and the Conservative party announcement on their plans to repeal the Human Rights Act and the implications for Scotland. 

Global General Council Insights: navigating the global legal landscape

The delegates then moved into the first of the streamed sessions.  The first ILG streamed session was “Global General Council Insights: navigating the global legal landscape” by DLA Piper.  This was a lively and popular session which did indeed provide some real in-house insights. Callum Sinclair of DLA Piper acted as chair with speakers from RBS Legal: Kenny Robertson Head of Services, Sky Scanner: Carolyn Jameson, Exova: Neil Maclennan, Group General Counsel and Company Secretary, and Alistair Drummond, a partner at DLA Piper. 

The Panel gave views on their experiences of engaging solicitors overseas.  Kenny Robertson referred to difficulties in trying to get solicitors in the US to sign up to a local company agreement.  He found that what worked best was to have a firm such as DLA Piper acting as a local gatekeeper for other firms instructed. 

Carolyn Jameson also had a similar experience, she found managing external legal services provided by local firms overseas to be mixed and challenging, and often came down to the relationships she was able to build up with the local agents,  face to face meetings were helpful. 

The panel were asked for their three top challenges for in-house.  They all considered that keeping up with regulation  and ethics across the global areas, challenges on their time, as it seemed that everyone in an organisation needed them,  and there was an ongoing challenge in keeping outside legal costs as low as possible.  They all thought managing expectations of their internal clients was a difficult balancing act.   When asked about advice for in-house colleagues they all suggested being realistic with expectations, the value of getting a good team in place, and to remember that it is a busy but interesting job.  

The Panel were also asked for their views on whether there should be more regulations or guidance for in-house on ethics.  No-one felt that anything additional was required, and saw considering ethical obligations as a positive, by making it clear you were there to protect the business, rather than to be an enforcer.

In looking at the value placed on in-house counsel in their organisations, most had board access in their organisations, and thought that the UK was moving to a US type model where there are more in-house counsel working at a strategic level. Legal might be seen as a cost centre rather than a profit centre, but it brings value to a business by avoid costly risks and mistakes by setting up the guidelines for client departments to follow. In-house also should be front and centre of a business when there is a crisis to deal with. 

Alistair Carmichael, MP Secretary of State for Scotland  

At the next plenary session the speaker was Alistair Carmichael, MP Secretary of State for Scotland.  He emphasised a desire to work together to deliver the additional devolved powers to Scotland and in particular, encouraged a cross-party agreement for delivery.  He attracted many stimulating questions, including questions on why the BBC received criticism for their independence referendum coverage.  The In-House solicitor for STV, Helen Arnott confirmed that the STV had received a good number of complaints about their coverage too. Mr Carmichael emphasised that a plurality of communications was important in any debate. 

The Role of In-House Lawyers in Reducing and Managing Disputes

After a lunch where everyone got together and discussed the challenging and interesting comments made in the morning sessions, we were then back into the streamed sessions.  The next ILG session was by John Sturrock QC, founder and CEO of the Core Solutions Group. “The Role of In-House Lawyers in Reducing and Managing Disputes – more Bang for Less Bucks”. John is a pioneering and highly engaging speaker who championed the benefits of mediation. 

He questioned whether people really understand what mediation is.  He pointed out that in any dispute or debate it is possible for both sides to be right and wrong at the same time, referring to the independent referendum, both sides had validity depending on your own perspective.  John pointed out that in the legal disputes, court resolution of those is the yes/no answer - but real life is more complex. 

He recommended mediation as it is potentially less costly than going to court and as a resolution is reached by agreement it is less likely to be defaulted upon.  John suggested that in-house have a good reason to select mediation, as their goal is to resolve disputes in the most cost effective way, rather than trying to earn fees. He understood that some clients see going to court as the strong option, but suggested that mediation is the stronger one. 

It is always necessary to challenge assumptions about the bargaining strength of both parties - the large organisations case may be weak, or it may fear publicity and reputational damage.  For many lawyers, the court process is familiar and that a change of habit and culture may be required.  John also suggested that there are benefits in using mediation internally, and at an early stage, even at the stage of entering in to a contract.

He suggested building a collaborative culture, designing systems to encourage early problem solving in-house, stepped approaches to conflict management, enhancing competency of staff and their confidence in using mediation, improving and embedding skills are making sure that this was cascaded outwards. In any organisation buy-in from the management or the staff representatives/Union will always be of assistance.  He finished by advising that the process is the key and understanding of that process is important. 

One referendum down, one to go?

The next keynote session, “One referendum Down One to Go?” brought together speakers from the Scottish National Party, Tasmina Ahmad Sheikh, the Scottish Conservative Party, Ian Duncan MEP, and UKIP, David Coburn MEP.  We also heard from John Edward, currently Director of the Scottish Independent Schools, but prior to that head of the Scotland Office of the European Parliament in Edinburgh. 

This session focussed on proposals to have an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union.  The Panel represented a variety of views, from those who were passionate about the need for the UK and Scotland to remain in the EU, and those who are campaigning against it. 

Giving Scotland the Digital Edge

The final ILG streamed session, “Giving Scotland the Digital Edge: Opportunities in and the Challenges of the Digital and Connectivity Revolution”, was provided by Pinsent Masons, speakers Chris Martin and Matthew Godfery-Faussett.  This was a fascinating peek into the future of where our organisations may need to go.

There has been a digital revolution, and the use of digital technology has changed substantially in the last 10 years.  Smart phones and other devices are in daily use, but there is still a substantial number of people who are not engaged in these. The digital revolution presents opportunities, includeing cost savings for businesses who can provide and manage services remotely. 

The Scottish Government is engaging with this industry,  and developments include Smart Energy and Smart Cities.  This is a big issue in the United States at the moment, and Glasgow has now obtained funding to develop itself as a Smart City.  The aim is to provide better cities and better places for people to live. 

Other opportunities are present in life sciences and medical research, a big industry for Scotland, where research can be conducted and collected remotely from subjects. Other services are provided around a digital platform such as Skyscanner.  In the area of energy production, for renewable energy,  a smart grid could replace the current grid and balance demand and supply more efficiently.  For oil and gas, the concern is that there are now dwindling supplies which are much more difficult to find – using automated services on rigs can allow exploration in less accessible areas, but also save costs. 

The Scottish Government has a digital strategy which is at the heart of the Government and there is funding available.  Matthew and Chris thought good communication pathways, good internet speeds, and storage facilities are necessary to help develop this area.  The Scottish Government has a project to provide a Scotland Wide Area Network (SWAN), which is to deliver a single secure public services communications network available for the use of any and potentially all public service organisations within Scotland. 

Chris and Matthew saw Scotland receiving additional devolved powers as an opportunity it is possible to use these as policy levers to meet the digital needs of businesses.  However they did identify that there is a skills shortage in Scotland at the moment and this will be a real area of challenge. 

Another area of challenge will be in relation to cloud services and data protection.  One area Scotland could become a world leader in is in relation to our strong environmental policy and strong data protection legislation. These are selling points to entice organisations and people to take up services provided from Scotland. 

In-house lawyers should be thinking of and seeking to understand these services are, so that they can advise their businesses and employers appropriately.  Their top tip was for the solicitors to ask the stupid questions  to get the information that their employers require.

Final Keynote session

The final keynote session of the day allowed delegates to question politicians from across the political spectrum in Scotland on preparing business for further devolution.  The panel was Johann Lamont MSP, the then Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Willie Rennie MSP, Leader Scottish Liberal Democrats, Annabel Goldie, MSP, Scottish Conservative Party, and Jim Eadie MSP, Scottish National Party. 

Questions came forward in relation to the effect of the Independent Referendum on the business sector, there was a disagreement over whether this had caused uncertainty, or whether the uncertainty in business had come from other areas such as the previous failures in relation to the economy and banking. 

There was a general consensus that now there is a result to the vote, it must be accepted and there is a desire to co-operate to move forward.  Generally, the view was that while the no vote was in the majority, this had been influenced by the vow from the UK wide parties to devolve more power to Scotland.  The Smith Commission will be reporting on this. 

Annabel Goldie sits on the Commission and in her view she is clear that more powers will come.  Moving forward, the important question is what sort of Scotland do we want to live in. This is a big opportunity to agree a lasting settlement, but also to use the energy of the independence referendum campaign to take Scotland forward. 

Closing remarks came from the Law Society Chief Executive, Lorna Jack. 

The ILG AGM took place at the end of the day on 3 October, as part of the Conference. \

Read the full ILG AGM report

All in all it was a highly topical and insightful day with a very high quality of speakers. We think it worked well to have in-house sessions as part of a “one profession” conference so perhaps this is something to continue. If you have a view about this please get in touch via our Committee Secretary, Elaine MacGlone