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Building and Managing an International In-house Legal Team

E. Leigh Dance corpcounsel.com

Companies constantly add products and services, fueled by opportunity, technology and competition. They also continually grow into new geographic markets and contract in others. Often local legal talent is needed, because even though many businesses are now global, much of the law is still local. For years, legal functions have built local legal and compliance capability in their key markets. It’s a way to resolve the difficulty, cost and risk of delivering legal services to countries and cultures with diverse business practices and legal regimes.

It's challenging to find local legal professionals that meet your needs, standards and can adapt to your approach. Training and retaining good people takes time and effort. Here are practical recommendations from international legal and compliance pros. The insights come from May-June conversations, at the Transatlantic GC Summit organized by American Lawyer in London; in Chicago and Paris roundtables with multinational in-house leaders; at an event of Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA), a global legal recruiting and search firm.

Building an International Legal Team

1. First, determine what the business needs from Legal in that location. Then clarify the skill set you want. Faulty hiring decisions can be a real setback. Naveen Tuli, based in New Delhi, India, leads MLA's in-house practice in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific. Tuli emphasizes the importance of "understanding market conditions and typical salaries, before you jump in and start hiring." In North America, it's common practice to hire talent with strong corporate counsel experience. In EMEA and Asia Pacific, it’s more typical to hire directly from law firms, since it can be harder to find legal talent with corporate experience.

2. Beware of approaches to corporate counselling that may not fit your culture. In countries governed by civil law (Latin America and Europe), legal practitioners may have a stricter approach that is less subject to interpretation. This is because Civil Code systems tend to be more rigid. For companies headquartered in common law countries and seeking in-house support elsewhere, MLA's Barrett Avigdor suggests, "Look for lawyers who have earned an LL.M. in the US or the UK and who have spent some time working either in a US/UK law firm or a multinational." According to Barrett, these candidates are more likely to understand the problem-solving approach that executives expect of in-house lawyers.

3. Make sure that local lawyers report into corporate legal. Netherlands-based Tanja Albers, in-house practice leader for EMEA at MLA, advises against reporting only to local management. "It can impact not only the caliber of the lawyer you are able to attract but also their effectiveness. When reporting only locally and not into Legal, it’s harder to advise independently from local business management.” For a new in-house lawyer working alone in a country, mentoring with another in-house counsel in the organization's home country can help build connection and increase continuity of counselling across borders.

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