Properly managing legal spending remains the top concern for leaders of Canadian legal departments, said panellists at a roundtable last week organized by Canadian Lawyer InHouse in co-operation with the Association of Corporate Counsel.
The sixth annual InHouse/ACC roundtable had the participation of legal department leaders coming from a cross section of the business community. The group was selected to be diverse in terms of industries it represented and the size of legal departments.
This year’s participants were: Ken Fredeen, general counsel at Deloitte & Touche LLP; Barry Fisher, vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary at SAP Canada Inc.; Fernando Garcia, general counsel and corporate secretary at Navistar Canada Inc.; Sue Gaudi, vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary at The Globe and Mail Inc.; Georgia Sievwright, vice president of law and government affairs at Hewlett-Packard Co.; and Fred Krebs, president of the ACC.
Legal spend management led the discussions, with participants focusing on the relationship with the law firms they hire for external work and budgeting trends in legal departments. Alternative fees and discount arrangements with law firms were at the top of the list, in addition to strategies small legal departments have employed to take more work in-house as a cost-saving measure.
Participants also explored the growing role of in-house counsel in how Canadian companies are run, their reporting lines, and access to management. In-house counsel’s key role as ethical watchdogs for their companies was also explored.
Two other main topics were part of the discussion — privacy and privilege.
Legislative changes and the shifting nature of how business is done in the digital age have placed privacy protection at the top of mind for legal departments across Canada. Roundtable participants noted that in addition to increasing regulations, the biggest motivator to follow strict privacy codes is to protect the company brand.
Solicitor-client privilege as applied between an in-house counsel and his or her company is under pressure internationally. Different rules apply in other jurisdictions. But the roundtable participants said their biggest worry about protecting privilege came from its misuse or lack of understanding in their companies’ outside legal departments, not from erosion of the concept in general in North America.
Most of the participants worked for companies that do cross-border business, so international issues were part of most of the discussion topics — from cross-border movement of data and privacy to protecting privilege when doing business in other jurisdictions.
Look for full coverage, including videos, of the roundtable in the August issue of InHouse.