ILANZ, In-House Lawyers Association of New Zealand

Swiss Army Knives - an international perspective

Swiss Army Knives - an international perspective

By Gabrielle O'Brien| 30 October 2017

“A corporate counsel must be able to analyse issues and identify problems, to anticipate future events and possiblities, and to exercise practical and holistic judgement to do the right thing as a trusted advisor.........”

These are words that we might hear from any in-house lawyer in New Zealand describing their role.  They are, in fact, those of the Head of Legal of JP Morgan India. 

Attending a series of In-house Counsel Worldwide (ICW) meetings and the Indian Corporate Counsel Association conference in Delhi in October, it was the similarities rather than the differences that struck me the most. 

ICW is made up of in-house membership associations around the world and our meetings brought together representatives from France, the United Kingdom, India, Canada, South Africa and Singapore (also providing input from the countries who make up the Asia Pacific Corporate Counsel Alliance).  So what do a bunch of in-house membership associations talk about? 

Originally conceived as an “association of associations”, ICW was established to promote the value of the in-house profession; share knowledge and best practices across borders and foster global connections.  In practical terms this has resulted in global guidance on ethics, declarations on legal professional privilege (in an international environment where privilege for in-house lawyers is the exception rather than the rule) as well as biennial confererences on issues of global interest.  In addition, ILANZ’s membership of ICW has provided knowledge sharing, insights and resources to enhance the services we provide to our own members.

Over the next twelve months, the focus will continue to be sharing information and learning from practices in each country and the development of further international guidance including a universal competency profile for in-house counsel.  Further material of international interest to in house lawyers will also begin to be disseminated by ICW through the website and in 2018, the ICW World Summit in Toronto will focus on “Business and Law in the Global Village”.    

ILANZ plays an active role in the work of ICW with committee member, Jeremy Valentine, on the executive committee. Following on from the meeting, I will be chairing the Association practice sharing working group and the exchange of information from this forum will be fed into our overall development and delivery of member services.     

ICW meetings are always held in conjunction with an event in the host country and this year, ICW representatives had the opportunity to attend the Indian Corporate Counsel Association with over 200 delegates from India, Dubai and Africa.   Some of the superficial things might have been different – I hadn’t appreciated how “Kiwi” our conference was until I experienced this one in a completely different culture – but when it came down to content and what is important to in house counsel, there were more similarities than differences.  The role of general counsel, good corporate governance, managing risks in mergers and acquisitions, trends in arbitration and ADR and the challenges of multi-jurisdictional operations are as relevant and topical in India as they are for New Zealand in house lawyers. 

Another observation is that sometimes we should be thankful for what we have.  A session on anti-corruption and how to implement a successful compliance programme highlighted the huge challenges for a country rated 79th out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index.   Included on their watch list, Transparency International noted:

India’s ongoing poor performance with a score of 40 reiterates the state’s inability to effectively deal with petty corruption as well as large-scale corruption scandals. The impact of corruption on poverty, illiteracy and police brutality shows that not only the economy is growing – but also inequality.  

The discussions in this session reflected a strong desire and understanding of the role that in-house counsel can play to improve this situation but also an acknowledgement of the enormity of the task.  Although I am not suggesting that we can rest on our laurels  – operating in a country that prides itself on featuring at the top of the rankings means that we are at risk of forgetting how fortunate we are with the environment we work in.

Meanwhile outside the doors of the serene conference venue, Delhi carried on in amazing technicolour and organised chaos.  I continue to be in awe of a city where everyday almost 19 million people manage to co-exist - you haven’t seen true merging like a zip until you have experienced the Delhi rush hour! 

As for the swiss army knife of the title – that was one General Counsel’s description of the diverse toolkit required in the in-house role.  It seems particularly apt in an international context given the swiss army knife originated in Germany, was then produced by the Swiss, named by American soldiers and is recognised and copied almost everywhere.  

ICW crew3

Back row – left to right
Deepak Acharya, Committee member – Singapore Corporate Counsel Association
Neoh Sue Lynn, Vice President – Singapore Corporate Counsel Association
Gabrielle O'Brien, Executive Manager – ILANZ
Bhargav Bhushan Bhuyan, Secretary General – Indian Corporate Counsel Association
Maribert Q. Pagente, President Emeritus – Legal Management Council of the Philippines
Angeline Lee, President Emeritus – Singapore Corporate Counsel Association

Front row – left to right
Ashok Sharma, President – Indian Corporate Counsel Association
Nina Barakzai, President – In House Counsel Worldwide (ICW)
Alison Lee, Secretary – Corporate Counsel Association of South Africa