We take you behind the veil of legal with a series of interviews discussing all things in-house with several of our InView Champions.
Theo Kapodistrias, General Counsel at UpGuard, discusses legal being more than just the ‘contract people’, and how having a bird’s eye view over the business can stop the development of flaming hot legal messes.
How can in-house legal help the wider business on a day-to-day basis?
The best way for legal to assist the wider business on a day-to-day basis is through the early engagement of legal and bringing legal into discussions when a project is in the beginning stages. Legal can provide better and more practical solutions if we are there from the start to guide and help mitigate risks for our businesses.
Bringing legal into conversations with third parties, such as when negotiating a customer arrangement or a vendor service, is also day-to-day help which can provide a heap of value to internal clients.
Something I also like to do is provide a range of resources that assist my colleagues to do their work, and be mindful of legal risks. I've made checklists, fact sheets and documents which are used to provide practical guidance to get things done.
What are the key functions of legal as a resource to the organization that everyone should know?
The most obvious function people associate with legal is "as the contract people" - the part of the business who look at, draft, review and negotiate contracts. This is one of the most common aspects of the in-house legal job. Which is important particularly when it revolves around terminating a service or seeking resolution of an issue with a service arrangement.
I like to think the best use of legal is to help facilitate solutions and outcomes. Particularly where legal are involved in the entire project rather than just towards the end, where there is documentation required legal counsel can play a critical role in structuring, identifying issues and opportunities and suggesting the best way to do something. Which ultimately mitigates against legal and regulatory risk.
What areas of law do you most play in? Contract, employment, dispute resolution etc?
As the General Counsel, I play in almost everything - commercial contracts and other binding documents, intellectual property, privacy, employment, dispute resolution - you name it!
In-house legal are known to 'put out fires before they begin'. How does an in-house team mitigate and foresee risk before it arises?
I believe the common frustration is that legal counsel is only brought into an issue when it becomes a flaming hot mess. Rather than being engaged at the point where an issue is identified, it makes more sense to have legal involved from day one so we can address issues and potential risks from the get-go. One of the best things your in-house lawyer can do is provide alternatives to things which seem problematic or could cause reputational issues down the line. In-house lawyers have a holistic view of the entire organization and the legal and regulatory landscape; we're trained in identifying problems and providing solutions. Having the bird’s eye view of everything puts us in an excellent position to make connections, understand the impact a decision may make, and provide alternatives to ensure the company is protected.
Theo’s advocacy for the early engagement of legal is something we all know to be important. His use of legal as an initial resource with stakeholders and his mindset of providing alternatives to potential problems, is worth adopting.