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Cultural Awareness for In-house Counsel

Cultural Awareness for In-house Counsel

It’s always interesting to spend time with in-house counsel teams from global companies.  It’s interesting for several reasons but it is particularly interesting as I spend much more time with lawyers from BigLaw firms around the world.  Obviously, working with in-house counsel teams gives me the view from the other side of the tracks.  Lawyers from law firms are always proud of how they are able to offer their clients a seamless service across multiple jurisdictions but unfortunately the feedback from the client doesn’t always marry with the self-image of BigLaw firms.

This mismatch was certainly borne out last week when I spent some time in London with the ‘rest of the world’ team from a major global FMCG company.  My role was obviously to address the issue of how global cultural differences can impact when lawyers work in complex multi-jurisdictional environments but inevitably the discussions veered towards relationships with outside counsel and especially around perceived differences in quality of service in different offices around the world.

Some of the issues raised around this topic were:

  • Different ways of working in different geographies
  • Style of advice varying enormously – both in terms of written documentation and willingness to get involved in commercial decisions
  • Attitudes to risk in terms of giving advice in different jurisdictions
  • The challenges of working in multi-cultural teams across geographies
  • Perceived tensions between different geographies with ‘history’ on not collaboration

This was not the only issue which we discussed as the team recognised the challenges of working cross-border amongst themselves and one of the areas which needs much more investigation is how organisations can work as partners to ameliorate some of these cross-border tensions.  I’ve long advocated that law firms should run joint, team-on-team cultural awareness training sessions which are designed to help identify and point out solutions to these problems.  That would, of course, mean that law firms would need to a) admit to clients that they are not perfect and b) allocate resources to action any work-arounds identified.