For four years in-house counsel in the European Union eagerly awaited what they hoped would be a groundbreaking ruling in Akzo Nobel. On Sept. 17 their hopes were dashed.
The case began in 2003 when officials investigating antitrust allegations conducted a dawn raid to retrieve key documents from two chemical companies. One of the documents they found was a memo from a general manager at one of the companies. The memo contained information the manager had collected from employees in order to obtain outside legal advice on its compliance programs. Officials also retrieved correspondence between the manager and the company's in-house counsel regarding the memo.
It was this perception of in-house counsel, one that legal organizations throughout Europe felt was antiquated, that led to the fervent rally to use Akzo as the catalyst to change the status quo.
Fight for Change
When it came time to make their argument before the Court of First Instance, Europe's leading legal associations argued that in-house counsel have gained more responsibility, not just as internal legal advisers, but also as internal auditors charged with ensuring compliance.