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GCs discuss building international legal teams

In a growing global business world, more and more GCs are hiring counsel abroad

As the business community becomes increasingly internationally driven, more and more legal departments are looking to grow their teams in other countries. While it may be a great benefit to the legal team, the hiring process can be daunting.

Yesterday, four general counsel sat down to talk about best practices in procuring international in-house counsel in “When in Rome: Building an International Legal Department,” an event organized by legal search consultants Major, Lindsey & Africa.

Moderator Michael Sachs, managing director at Major, Lindsey & Africa, kicked off the event by asking the panelists how they know when it’s the right time to hire international counsel. Paul Liebenson, GC of ArcelorMittal, said there’s no magic formula. “It’s really a combination of risk and cost,” he said, pointing especially to the importance of staying in compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) when companies go into other countries. “When you have to worry about corruption, you need to have someone you can trust.”

Rena Hozore Reiss, GC of Hyatt Hotels Corp., said it’s also important to manage your client’s expectations when hiring international in-house counsel. “We do a calculation of what we need in each region and work backward,” she said. “It’s a mix of cultural fit, time zone issues, and what you need on the ground.”

While an international in-house counsel who is a cultural fit is a must-have for all the panelists, Kraig Washburn, GC of Flexera Software, said he also needs someone who knows his business. “Experience in our field is key to a successful candidate,” he said.

The panelists were split on whether their international counsel should be trained in the U.S. Leibenson pointed to an example of one of “the best hires” he ever made was a Brazilian lawyer who had studied in Maine for a year. She is now a senior lawyer at a major Fortune 500 company. But Maria Green, GC of Illinois Tool Works, said it’s critical for her to hire someone trained in the U.S.  “We want them to understand the culture and the business,” she said.

All the panelists agreed, however, that one of the most important attributes of a potential international in-house counsel is that he can work independently. “The lawyer needs to be able to stand up to the people working around him,” Reiss said, “particularly on the compliance issues.”

Not surprisingly, FCPA was a common theme throughout the presentation, and cited as a main reason for needing lawyers on the ground in certain countries. But the panelists also discussed the reporting structure of international in-house counsel, which they all agree should be a solid line to the GC, as well as best practices for managing these lawyers in other offices and time zones.

Check out Major, Lindsey & Africa for a full video of this event, which it will post next week. 

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