The Lawyer – HOT 100

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Dominic Bacon
Gulf International Bank UK’s (GIB UK) head of legal and compliance Dominic Bacon has faced a number of challenges since assuming his role at the Bahrain-based bank in 2002.

Since the 11 September attacks, Bacon has been reviewing the bank’s anti-money laundering policies. He has also undertaken a shake-up of GIB UK’s roster of advisers and was not afraid to drop a major City firm – in this case – Dechert – from the bank’s panel.

Bacon has been extremely successful in raising the profile of the bank and, despite its limited annual legal spend of £750,000, attracted a high-class field to the pitching process.

Around 16 firms, including Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Allen & Overy (an existing panel member), Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP), Linklaters and Simmons & Simmons put themselves forward, with BLP eventually emerging as the winning candidate.

The astute Bacon exemplifies the efficient and effective manner needed to run a small legal team in a highly competitive market sector.

Law Department Quarterly

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The journal for PLC Law Department subscribers

How many lawyers are in the company worldwide?
Two based in London and Bahrain.

How is the legal function structured?
I report to the CEO in London. The department is structured to provide advice primarily to the CEO and senior management.

What areas of legal risk do you predominantly encounter encounter in your sector?
Documentation, litigation, employment, regulatory and new products.

Which areas of law does the legal function provide advice on, which does it tend to outsource, and why?
We deal with the following areas in-house: banking; trading; litigation; employment; IT; and regulatory. I typically seek external advice in the following situations:

  • Where an exceptional level of technical expertise and in-depth knowledge is required.
  • Where the documentation involved would swamp the in-house function.

Do you have a panel of external law firms across your business?
Yes. The panel consists of Slaughter and May; Allen & Overy; Berwin Leighton Paisner; Barlow Lyde & Gilbert; Richards Butler; Burges Salmon; Lovells (in New York); Davis Polk & Wardwell; and DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary.

What essential criteria must a law firm fulfill to become a member of the panel?

  • Technical knowledge and experience that is at least on a par which acknowledges experts in the field.
  • A good relationship with the person doing the work. I want them to treat me as a partner rather than just a source of revenue; I prefer to instruct the individual rather than the firm.

What in your opinion is the most important way in which law firms can maximise value for in-house counsel?

  • Provide advice that is technically competent but also applicable in a business context. It is essential to have an established relationship with the partner involved as they will be more likely to understand what i want.
  • Ensure that advice is a two-way conversation. I am keen for lawyers to seek clarification, make suggestions, or mention other clients’ concerns on the issue.
  • I prefer external lawyers not to be too macho about the timing of their advice – I would prefer to wait for a better quality of response.

Which two law firms (anywhere in the world) that you have instructed over the last few years have most impressed you and why?
Slaughter and May, not just the best law firm technically but they also provide solutions to legal issues, not just problems. Also Berwin Leighton Paisner. They go out of their way to provide an answer, and make me feel like a valued client.

What type of actions would lead you to dismiss a law firm?

  • If I feel I have been taken advantage of. When new to my position, I was once billed for time spent looking at what type of work a firm had done for us!
  • When the firm doesn’t understand the business. Law firms don’t like to admit they don’t know the business; sometimes you can end up educating them instead of the other way round.

What have been the three most challenging issues that your law department faced over the last two years?

  • Regulatory creep. Compliance and regulatory work is constantly growing, generated both from the US and the EU.
  • Employment law. The sheer number of EU directives is a challenge; for example age discrimination.
  • The advent of new products in the banking sector, such as credit default swaps.

If not a lawyer, what would you be?
A North American sports agent.

What is the one piece of advice you would pass on to any prospective in-house cancel?
Make certain that your best relationship is with the CEO because you should be involved in all facets of the business, and continually asked for your judgement – not just on legal issues.

 

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