By Patrick Dransfield and Nick Ferguson
The latest innovations and cultural transformations from our award-winning in-house teams in Asia, the Middle East and South Africa.
For the past five years we have provided a written review of the latest innovations achieved by the In-House Community through the Awards submissions so as to share ‘best practice’ information and also provide the opportunity to benchmark your team’s performance with the cream of South Africa, Asia and the Middle East. This year, the first thing we wish to share is the fact that we ourselves as event organisers have had to rise to the technical challenge of delivering The In-House Community Counsels of the Year Awards online as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. So, we quickly had to learn was how to provide a virtual platform where more than 180 people from around the world could gather together for one hour in a ‘live’, safe and conducive environment.
The correct platform was found and the In-House Community team rose to the challenge of making it work. We’d like to thank all those that participated in the awards process, and especially those that trusted our ability to provide a stimulating online awards experience and joined us on May 28, and to Hughes-Castell and Macey & Sons for their support. For those of you who missed it, well, you had to be there! We are proud that our awards programme was shared with people in the following jurisdictions: Abu Dhabi, Australia, China, Dubai, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, the UK, US and Vietnam.
We are all human. The judging process for the 2020 awards straddled the coronavirus crisis as its shadow swept from Asia to Europe and the Americas. So, while the submissions were all completed in the latter part of 2019 (the deadline for submissions was January 2020), our panel of judges for the in-house teams were clearly attracted to those in-house counsel team submissions that encouraged empathetic working cultures and working practices that would prove resilient through the crisis — and especially to those innovations that are proving positively significant to society at large. This trend will be even more pronounced when in 2021 we come to look at the activities of individual lawyers and also departments during and post-crisis.
Who knows what the future holds? Those in-house departments that put in place procedures and innovations that will help themselves and their stakeholders to be able to endure are celebrated in these awards. One of the most telling innovations that many of our in-house teams have been working on during the past 12 months have been attempts to use technology to become more efficient, especially through contactless innovations and other initiatives revolving around integration with other departments and stakeholders. To quote James Ding, chair of the economic committee of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation: “If the shift to digital was a looming need a few months ago, it is now a stark reality. For some sectors, such as small businesses, it is a matter of survival.”
Outstanding innovators include: AEON, with its paperless personal employment information hub. Agilent Technologies’ legal team worked with the IT department to create internal eTools for the legal function. And Gartner supported the sales team with a ‘shared contracts box’. Jardine Cycle & Carriage has certainly aided its board by embracing a board document digital platform — an initiative we will surely see more of as senior board members attempt to minimise their air travel in the near to medium term at least. KPMG Greater China was busy with the creation of a new office of the general counsel in China, Macau and Hong Kong, with all the supporting technological platform that entails. Landmark Group created a ‘single window’ legal help desk; and Shell Companies in the Philippines created an FAQ portal covering job contracts, handling competitive information; employment discipline, finance management and finally performance management. Finally, Telstra International, which has been ahead of the game in many of these areas for a number of years, continued its agile working commitment with the development of LawVu engagement legal portal. Indeed, Telstra has extended its technical prowess with a commitment to help young people in Hong Kong with the Telstra Foundation.
Time was when in-house legal departments relied on outside counsel for knowledge management. This is evidently no longer the case. Indeed, as global in-house departments join up digitally, international private practice law firms will have to quickly keep up as the negotiated deals in Asia will become negotiated deals for in-house departments’ US and London offices. On this evidence we predict that global deals closely monitored by engaged international in-house teams will very quickly become the new normal in the procurement of legal services.
An ability to collaborate has become an essential skill for companies to survive during the crisis and Sanofi China’s collaboration with a pioneering tech company in the development and commercialisation of a digital AI platform in the field of medical information will definitely save lives in both the short and medium term. Further, in-house teams have been challenged with the increasing importance of intellectual property in general and patent protection in particular. Alibaba / Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group issued more than 1,700 patent applications last year, including blockchain patents. Insurance sector competitor Taikang Insurance Group was one of the first submissions that we can recall coming from a compliance department and the firm is committed to the protection of the personal data of their clients. Taikang also applied for 688 patents in the past year. FedEx Express took the lead in the area of compliance by viewing compliance as an actual competitive advantage and was also making strides in its risk mapping by looking for vulnerabilities within the organisation long before the pandemic struck. It always surprises the judges that a small group of dedicated professionals can provide the coverage required for major companies in Asia and Yum! combined the all-important access to food through the franchises of KFC and Pizza Hut across Asia with just five professionals. The logistics of lockdown and access to cooked meals has been a priority for many of us during the crisis period and where would we be without Grab! Like many other in-house teams, Grab’s legal department has also been tasked with the ‘business as usual’ aspects of legal work and along with other outstanding legal teams handled with great aplomb complex and company-defining deals and financings on behalf of its stakeholders. Similarly, for Alexander Forbes Group Holdings in South Africa with matters relating to sensitive human resources issues. And MTR Corporation’s legal team proved instrumental in winning major rail mandates from as far as Australia with the Sydney Metro and the UK with parts of the new Elizabeth Line in London. And AFGRI’s legal team executed a complex cross-border deal with the South Africa Bank of Athens.
Environment, society and governance
We also looked at the many companies that could prove that their legal teams are making an invaluable contribution to society at large. Aboitiz as ever led the pack by continually briefing the Philippines government and economic zone authorities regarding the ever-changing energy market. Flash Entertainment FZ made an effort to share with the business community at large the IP infringement risk in sports photography. Given the importance of liquidity right now, Abu Dhabi Global Markets’ legal department’s hard work facilitating the passporting of security products throughout the UAE looks especially prescient. Meanwhile, Manulife (International) worked hard in 2019 to widen the retirement net for Hong Kong citizens. It is also important not to lose sight of the environment, and Netcare’s team in South Africa helped its company with the legal and compliance work for a truly original charity initiative — ‘My Walk Shoes’ project which uses recycled PVC to make school shoes for under-privileged students in South Africa. Hindustan Coca-Cola showed an innovative way of environmental compliance through road-mapping and solving waste management issues.
Penultimately, initiatives in mindful and empathetic management proved especially important. Our In-House Counsel of the Year, Anthony Luna, a North American working in Japan as general counsel of IBM Japan, clearly defined the job in his department mission statement of: “Continual learning, subject matter expertise, providing value-added services and focusing on outcomes — not problems — and always with integrity.” Similarly, Nestle’s legal department’s maxim of “putting others ahead of yourself and putting your legal team members ahead of everything else” with an emphasis on approachability and friendliness initiates a corps d’esprit that will help the company endure. WSP takes the notion of the T-shaped lawyer very seriously by extending the potential areas of expertise beyond the law to embrace areas such as fraud detection, data privacy, enterprise risk management and business continuity management — how prescient was that?
Finally, I would like to mention the Mindful Business Charter (mindfulbusinesscharter.com), which was truly the initiative of an in-house counsel, Phil Aiken, head of legal for European consumer lending at Barclays Bank in London. The charter represents a specific code of conduct that, while recognising that the legal job in all its manifestations is clearly not without stress, strives to mediate the undue stress that mindless, inconsiderate and senseless business practices and cultures can and often do impose on the individual. It is for this reason that Barclays, which is pioneering the charter’s roll-out from the UK to Asia and the rest of the world, and also extending it beyond the legal department, won the corporate social responsibility award. Key support institutions to the legal profession are now evangelised to aid the individuals within the profession to be able to identify and talk through their emotional issues without stigma and thus begin to improve the culture of the legal profession generally.
The Law Society of England & Wales is in many ways a vanguard of protecting mental health for lawyers and we finish this section with a word from its current president: “In my experience, solicitors are empathetic worriers, often tough on themselves, perfectionists and good at taking problems from other people’s shoulders….A positive work culture is one which helps solicitors maintain a sense of perspective, tolerates mistakes and treats each and every person as an individual with unique personalities and needs. One which encourages everyone to treat others with decency, kindness and humour, whatever their position in the firm or client.” Simon Davis, president of the Law Society of England & Wales.
To determine our Visionary Client Service Providers, we once again challenged New Silk Road-based legal service providers to demonstrate that they can truly stand inside the shoes of their clients and provide inspiring service. Our 2020 winners identify the very best examples of client excellence. In the law firm category, the judges’ evaluation was based on assessing each firm’s strategic, systematic and institutional level planning and execution, with impact beyond a single matter or client, while keeping a contextual eye to the operating environment.
In the non-law firm category we have created new sub-groups to reflect the diverse range of services they offer. The judges analysed submissions by looking at the context of the solutions being delivered, the client impact and the broader market effect.
We congratulate all of you for keeping the home lights burning during what is proving to be one of the greatest crises of the 21st century. Thank you all for supporting the awards, which are in turn intended to give back to the community at large by honouring best practice in the in-house legal field for the benefit of all.
A message from Charles Keller, scientific director of the Children’s Cancer Therapy Development Institute (CC-TDI)
“Childhood cancer is a global health issue touching the lives of at least 300,000 children each year, according to WHO estimates, but likely as many as 400,000 children with a quarter of these children going undiagnosed in developing countries. Even for children in nations with state-of-the-art care, one in five children will not survive. Pharmaceutical companies and their internal champions now more than ever are reaching past the new regulatory requirements to test adult cancer drugs for effectiveness in children; however, while US FDA approvals for adult cancer drugs number on average 12 or more each year — for children, effective drugs for pediatric cancer have only been approved eight times in the last 42 years.
The 2019 fundraising support of In-House Community super-charged childhood cancer research at the Children’s Cancer Therapy Development Institute (cc-tdi.org), and this year promises to make an even bigger impact. Highlights of supported work at cc-TDI this past year include a machine-learning project to help improve the diagnosis of children with cancer in developing countries, and developed ones. This project was piloted with the Intel spinout OmicsAutomation.com, and complemented by design of a pocket microscope slide scanner by a capstone engineering team at the University of Idaho. The project is hoped to move to the IBM World Community Grid Smash Childhood Cancer Project, led by Godfrey Chan (Hong Kong University), and for which cc-TDI is a major participant. This project is a key example of how it takes a community to address a question that may not have a profit margin, but has priceless impact for children and affected families. In-House Community leads the way.”
For more on CC-TDI, visit www.cc-tdi.org
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And thank you to our esteemed judges: