In-house lawyers news archive

Report from the ILG annual conference and annual general meeting

23 October 2013

Report from the ILG conference and AGM 4 October 2013

A total of 158 delegates came to Murrayfield Stadium on 4 October for a day focused on "In-house in 2013: innovative, in the know and in demand".

Lynda Towers, ILG Committee Chair,  kicked off the annual ILG conference by welcoming everyone and reminding all present of the theme of the day: "Innovation is about rising creatively to the challenges of our ever expanding in-house roles in these challenging times. In the know is about arming us with the up-to-date knowledge we need to achieve career success. In demand is about building a really strong reputation for in-house lawyers and about us and our teams being the best we can be."

With that in mind, the conference then moved on to its first session: "Lawyers as Leaders". This session followed an interactive panel format, with Kate Hodgkiss, of DLA Piper, chairing a panel made up of Philippa Montgomerie, in-house legal counsel and member of the board of Aircraft Medical, Lynda Towers, who in her day job is the Solicitor to the Scottish Parliament and Sara Scott, ILG Vice Chair and a solicitor in the Royal Bank of Scotland secretariat.

This session explored the skills needed to secure a seat at the top table, whether by joining the board or taking up another senior appointment.

The panel also reflected upon whether there was a tension between the lawyer as a risk manager, and the board wishing to move business projects and strategy forward. They saw there were many benefits to the legal team getting involved with business projects at an early stage, to influence the strategy and work so that the risks could be avoided - that way the legal team were seen as facilitators for the business, and not the people who say "no".

Lynda summed up the session by advising people to take opportunities as they present themselves and to take advantage of all chances to gain the knowledge and experience needed.

ACH Shoosmiths presented the next session, "Delivering and Demonstrating Value as an In-House Lawyer".  Stuart Little and Graham Reid looked at why delivering value is important, and why in-house solicitors need to be fully integrated into their employers' business and objectives. The value that individual departments deliver is always on the agenda for business leaders, and if in-house lawyers wish to be more influential they will have to show they are providing value to their organisations. They saw understanding the business of the employer as critical to this - lawyers need to know what their employers want from them. Another part of this includes measuring performance - they suggest aligning performance indicators to the business strategy and also eliciting input from senior stakeholders in setting these.

Stuart also saw managing legal spend as a real opportunity to show value. He suggested setting the budget and telling external suppliers what you want. He also thinks the perception of outsourcing as being an all or nothing scenario should be challenged - think about collaborative working where external expertise is only taken in when needed at certain parts of a project or transaction. This greater partnership would also be of benefit to any external providers who can then really understand what you need as an in-house lawyer.

Shepherd and Wedderburn provided the next session - "The Evolving Dispute Resolution Landscape". John Mackenzie and Neil Maclean did an innovative double-act (with Neil saying he felt like they were Ant and Dec!) to cover several major changes to the dispute resolution landscape.

They looked ahead at the proposed changes as a result of the Gill Report, proposed changes to costs and the consequences of changes in funding for court action, and the new employment tribunal rules.

They considered that the changes in the court processes may make it easier for pursuers to come to court. If there is a move to summary assessment of costs, this will mean that pursuers will be more aware of potential cost upfront, and will have to think twice about proceeding. However, one way cost shifting could mean that in certain cases, pursuers would be aware at the start of a case that they won't be responsible for costs.

At the employment tribunal, applicants must now pay substantial tribunal fees. It is anticipated that this will reduce the number of cases lodged.   Upcoming changes are a codification of "without prejudice". This would put such discussions on a formal footing, but it would mean a breach of the code itself would be actionable, and such discussions could still be taken into account in a discrimination claim.

There will be a focus on mediation. The government is trialling a small pilot project at the moment - if successful this will be rolled out. Further changes place more importance on pre-court and tribunal action attempts to resolve disputes. April 2014 brings the introduction of compulsory conciliation through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service for one month before a claim can be submitted.

John showed us a video clip from IBM about a sophisticated question-answering computer system which could replace legal advice in the future, the message being that we must innovate to stay ahead of the game.

Alistair Morris, the Law Society of Scotland Vice President, then addressed the meeting on being "In-house in changing times". After paying tribute to the ILG Committee and the work of Lynda Towers and Sara Scott in their first year as Chair and Vice Chair, he focused on the themes of the conference. He saw many changes coming into effect - in private practice mergers are continuing, and there is much more cross-border working. For in-house practitioners, there are changes in processes, proposed changes to the court system, and court closures. There is a real need to "deliver more for less".

Alistair sees innovation by firms, organisations and legal teams as important. He also sees that the Society itself is innovating - it is open to change and embraces it. The Society helps its members keep up with innovations through its CPD events and conferences.

The independence referendum is an issue for all - the Society does not take a political position, but challenges all sides to encourage respectful debate. Alistair sees that there are close links between in-house and private practice which should not be lost. He sees the professionalism that being a Scottish solicitor brings and encourages us all to never stop being proud of this badge. For more on Alistair's speech, see the Journal news article " Innovation is the key to the future, Morris tells in-house lawyers".

The meeting then moved onto the ILG AGM, and you can find a copy of the AGM Agenda here. Three committee members were elected. John Forsyth, of Lloyds Banking Group, and Alistair Young, of West Dunbartonshire Council, were long-standing committee members who were elected for a further three years. Gregor Buick, recently co-opted to the committee, was also elected for a three-year term.

As part of the ILG AGM, the delegates heard a report from Lynda Towers on the progress of the group over the last year, which had seen many changes. She referred to the ILG Key Facts 2012/13 report which was included with the delegates papers.

She noted that the Committee is not a committee of the Council of the Society but works closely with the Society to deliver services for its members. She spoke about four priorities for the committee this year;

  1. Connecting with and representing members
  2. Enhancing the reputation of in-house solicitors
  3. Providing effective support
  4. Collaborating with other organisations
She also paid tribute to two ILG Committee members who have decided to stand down: Jon Alexander and Anne Steele. As Jon was the London-based representative, she encouraged another London-based ILG member to step forward.

Lynda noted that the ILG is in a good financial position, benefiting from sponsorship income, income from delegate fees and support from the Society. Staff support also came from the Society, with the ILG Committee secretary, and the events co-ordinator being Society staff, and other Society teams also providing support, for instance, with communications.

She finished by noting that the ILG continues to build and strengthen its networks, and stressing how important it is to persuade organisations how valuable their in-house teams were.

After lunch, the delegates had a choice of two streamed sessions, both from  Dundas & Wilson. The first was "Living with Frankenstein's Monster: The new EU public procurement rules". The panel consisted of Mark Richards, of the Scottish Government Legal Directorate, Kevin McGee, of the City of Edinburgh Council, and Kirsty Currie, from SSE. They summarised a number of key changes as a result of the EU rules. The panel helpfully advised the delegates that the new Procurement Bill had been introduced that morning.

The panel considered that the changes in the EU regulations would provide clarity, but with concerns about the cost of additional administrations costs. There were also mixed views on the possibility of a dedicated tribunal to hear procurement disputes.

The other streamed session was also provided by Dundas & Wilson, and looked at "Commercial Contracts: Innovative Ways to Maximise your Position". Colin Hutton, Alan Wardhaugh and David Lytton looked at the various ways to resolve a dispute over a contract and considered how to avoid the pitfalls. They also looked at managing information during a dispute and a case where this had not gone so well. They also covered preparing for disputes, the importance of early disclosure of disputes by staff so that information can be gathered in good time and ensuring nothing relevant is lost.

The next full session was by Kathryn Wynn, of Pinsent Masons, looking at "Big Data: Identifying the Opportunities and Overcoming the Legal Obstacles". She identified "big data" as data sets that are too large and complex to interrogate with standard methods or tools.  Kathryn explained that this type of data can be very valuable, but that its use is subject to restrictions on its ownership and where it includes personal data, whether appropriate consent has been given for its use. She recommended organisations review their data consent policies to ensure that the consent given does actually cover the use it was being put to. She also recommended considering whether consent given previously needs to be reviewed on a regular basis. Implied consent is permitted, but does require positive action indicating consent, understanding what is consented to and a genuine choice.

Moving on, the penultimate session was "Innovation and in demand teams: The next generation - secondments, placements, traineeships". This panel session was chaired by Rob Marrs of the Society's education and training team. The panel comprised Sara Scott, Paul Cackette, of the Scottish Government Legal Directorate (SGLD), Gill Rust, Legal Manager at Standard Life, and Katie Wood, Manager of the Society's Registrar's Department.

Sara explained that 25% of the profession works in-house but only 9% of traineeships are in-house and asked in-house legal teams: is it time to start growing your own?

Gill outlined the different opportunities available for in-house trainees and seconded private practice trainees with Standard Life. Their in-house traineeship programme is varied, and can include a placement to an external legal firm. They are also part of the Standard Life graduate recruitment programme, giving additional opportunities for career development. Standard Life sees the benefits by developing solicitors with the best skills and knowledge for Standard Life business. The senior staff who supervise and mentor the trainees also gain valuable development opportunities. Laura Ellis, an in-house trainee with the company, appeared in a film confirming the immense benefits she enjoyed during her in-house traineeship.

Paul Cackette outlined how the SGLD is committed to developing good, well-trained government lawyers, who provide the best quality legal advice. They operate a policy of retaining as many of their trainees as they can, and if this is not possible, assist them to find opportunities in other government departments. This has led to some previous trainees securing positions with the UK Government.

Katie explained how innovations like flexible traineeships can help make taking on a trainee easier. More information is available in the Society's Taking on a trainee booklet.

The final session was delivered by Charles Livingstone, of Brodies: "What could the Scottish independence referendum mean for your organisation and are you prepared for it?" This was an update to the very popular session Mr Livingstone presented at the ILG conference in 2012. Since then, the date of the referendum has been announced - 18 September 2014. The Scottish Government has indicated it intended to complete independence by March 2016, with the first election for the independent parliament taking place in May 2016. The Scottish Government proposes delivering EU membership, a currency union with the UK, a new Supreme Court for Scotland and a written constitution. In the UK, the UK Government has indicated it will not pre-negotiate the terms of any agreements with Scotland post-independence. However, both the Scottish Government and the UK Government will be producing papers with more detailed information. A Scottish white paper is expected in November 2013. Mr Livingston highlighted the possibilities for EU membership, and how an application by Scotland may be treated.

There are various options for a currency in an independent Scotland - it may be able to retain the pound, adopt the euro or have its own currency. Whatever option is adopted may have consequences and require redenomination of contracts. There has been precedent for this in the past, but if there is no legislation in place determining the issue, it may require litigation to determine how individual contracts are to be determined. If Scotland does not retain the pound, but the pound remains in the rest of the UK then there is no precedent for a country leaving a currency which continues to exist.

In his opinion, as the unionist parties are all committed to some further devolution of powers, in the event of a "no" vote, there will be changes no matter what the outcome of the vote.

The conference ended on a high note with the draw for the Wesleyan raffle prizes, won by Alison Burns and Karen Logan. Jane MacEachran was the winner of the ILG charity raffle for Alzheimer Scotland, winning a bottle of Laphroaig whisky.

Lynda concluded another highly successful ILG conference by thanking everyone for coming, thanking all of the sponsors and exhibitors and looking forward to the dinner at the Balmoral Hotel that evening.