A GC on the hiring proces of External Legal Support
Imagine Nation is a global production company focusing on LIve Entertainment, Film and Television.
Do you work with external legal support?
Yes I do. Since “Imagine Nation” develops activities in The Netherlands, UK, US and Asia we work with quite a few of them. Most of this legal support is needed in the field of Business, Tax and Finance law.
Who is responsible for legal staffing, whether they are temps, project based or full-time lawyers?
As General Counsel I am responsible for the Legal dept. and it’s budget. If we need temps, or project based legal assistance, due to scaling issues, I’m responsible for recruiting these professionals. Because of the type of work, a thorough cost evaluation is crucial in recruiting this type of external legal assistance. That’s why the balance between expertise and costs is very important for our shareholders and us.
Do you have in-house legal specialists?
I work closely with our Legal Counsel, mr. Wouter Trines. Wouter warns me from time to time if I take the curve too tight, he takes on a lot of work and is very e-savvy. You still do not find a lot of legal specialists who are e-savvy, which in my opinion is a pity.
Why do you choose for external legal support instead of expanding your legal department?
First of all; expanding the legal department with full-time legal professionals gives a significant increase in salary costs. If we look at the amount of cases against this cost increase, you’ll find an imbalance between those two. Furthermore, when we are in need of legal assistance it concerns work for different legal specialists. And last, but not least, it can be a high profile case or a time sensitive case where support is needed instantly.
If you have staffing issues, and therefore you're in need of extra legal support, what kind of professional do you need?
Depending on the case and country I use different firms/agencies. Also, because our key legal areas are Employment/Labor law, Tax law and Business Law. And for instance, Employment/Labor Law differs in all European countries, so you need different legal professionals.
How often do you hire an external legal professional?
Twice or three times per month I hire an external legal specialist. To be fair, you should diversify between legal support on a more regular basis and ad hoc support.
Imagine Nation is growing very fast, so for me as Legal Counsel a large part of my job is “project driven” – things like contract drafting, acquiring additional funding, new productions for networks like SKY. These projects are complex by nature and the production is always time-critic. So within a short period of time and therefore on a temporary base we need extra legal expertise within our company. This ‘’project driven’’ aspect of the job implies that the cost of temporary staffing varies much over time.
What criteria do you use, or better how do you know you have a perfect fit?
My choice is mainly based on earlier experiences and so called “Fingerspitzengefühl” - if I don’t have an earlier experience I will look at other criteria. Criteria like specific interest in the business activities of Imagine Nation, market knowledge and don’t forget the “personal match” – does he or she fit within our organization.
What is your opinion on ‘the billable hour’’ and are you interested in other, alternative pricing arrangements, like fixed, capped or success fees?
I find the Fees per hour are by nature much too high – en yes, I am certainly interested in other, alternative price arrangements. In the US I ran into fees that exceed $1.000 per hour. To be honest, I never thought I would be willing to pay that much money for legal support. However, in one case I've made an exception for a New York based lawyer. And he didn’t disappoint me: He was 24/7 available, he didn’t miss a deadline and the total legal 'produce' he delivered was 100% accurate. An expensive, and for now ‘once in a lifetime experience’ but I was very pleased with the result!
If you accept alternative pricing models, which one do you prefer?
In my opinion a nice model would be a “low cap” combined with a “success fee” element. So, first negotiate a very competitive maximum fee and then ad a bonus to it based on the actual result. Unfortunately some Bar Associations do not accept innovative pricing models. E.g. the Dutch Bar Association is rather conservative regarding this matter while I think it’s a ‘sign of the time’ to offer more flexibility in pricing to the client.
When using external support, do you still have enough grip on the case and it’s progress?
We always agree in advance on a progress reporting, so in most cases I am well informed. In some cases there is room for improvement. This improvement always concerns cases outside The Netherlands. For some reason they are much more difficult to follow and lack the possibility of early intervention. To be honest, I don’t know why this happens. Is it lack of reporting? The absence of a compliant Document Management System? I have to look in to this with great urge!
Are there decisive factors or criteria for you during a pitch?
For me it is important that in case of a pitch the external legal professional communicates in a clear, transparent way and is not afraid to deliver bad news. In the tender process, legal quality is well taken care off - otherwise they would have been kicked out of the process earlier. So communication is probably the most important factor.
Can you summarize the overall success criteria for an external legal professional?
Looking at the so-called ‘’hard’’ criteria I find it important that the external legal professional is loud and clear about quality, price, timing and communication. But keep in mind, a more ‘’soft’’ aspect, as humor can be vital as well!