Providing legal counsel to enterprises is a normal part of the law business, but corporate users’ assessment of the services that different legal teams make available varies widely. The question then is how can lawyers provide professional and value-for-money legal counsel to enterprises? The writers of this column propose to analyse briefly here the key points of corporate legal counselling in light of the service experience of their law firm’s legal service centre team.
The demand for corporate legal counsel can be divided into types, based on different matters, such as long-term services, non-litigation specialised services, particular industry services, among others.
Long-term services are commonly understood to be the handling of routine legal matters of enterprises, including responding to legal queries; assisting in drafting and revising contracts and other such legal documents, as well as rules and regulations; participating in negotiations and discussions; in-house legal training; issuing lawyer’s letters; conducting legal analysis and fact finding, and issuing legal opinions, etc.
Non-litigation specialised services are more in-depth and comprehensive counsel provided to an enterprise for a specific matter. They mainly involve enterprises’ long-term investment, financing, corporate reorganization, restructuring, M&A, bankruptcy, liquidation, stock offering, listing and other matters.
Industry-specific legal-counsel services take the client’s type of business as the point of focus to provide new more focused solutions. The demand for such services is a something that has cropped up with the rapid development and integration of internet, blockchain and big data technologies in recent years.
On the other hand, based on enterprises’ demand for different issues, legal counsel services may additionally be divided into two categories:
- Review of legal compliance issues, involving the issuance of legal review opinions for the enterprise’s routine operating matters in light of laws and regulations.
- Seeking opinions on specific issues, involving the offering of targeted solutions and advice related to legal means with regards to an enterprise’s internal situation.
SOLID GRASP OF SERVICE SECTORS
Having a holistic grasp of the legal sectors, involving corporate counsel services, is helpful to understand better the demand for such counsel. Although corporate legal counsel services include company establishment and governance, contract matters, employment relationships, shareholder relationships, intellectual property, M&A and investment, enterprise dissolution, tax management, avoidance of criminal risks and response to contingencies, an analysis of the demand for services of the several hundred enterprises that the writers’ firm serves and the outcome of an analysis of a big data search report on the judgments and rulings rendered in civil cases in the 2017-18 period, show that, in practice, the legal sectors corporate legal counsel are involved in mainly concentrate on the four sectors of employment relationships, shareholder relationships, contractual relationships and intellectual property.
Additionally, the point of concentration of the legal-service sectors also vary with the industry in which the enterprise finds itself. For example, for production and manufacturing enterprises, the concentration will be in the handling and balancing of employment and contractual relationships; for commercial service enterprises, the concentration will mainly be on guarding against and dealing with contractual relationships and intellectual property; and, for new industries and venture capital firms, the focus of legal counsel services is the handling of company shareholder relationships and contractual relationships.
Furthermore, to assist enterprises better in realising their commercial objectives, an in-depth understanding of their operating and management models is a must.
CLEAR SERVICE STANDARDS
The standardization of counsel services is the route that corporate legal counsel services must take to get from the excellent to the superior. Broadly speaking, this standardized service system includes at least team services, rapid response, and annual summation and filing. Team services are quality assurance; active timely response is the basic requirement; and annual summation and filing is the service commitment.
Firstly, the creation of a team-oriented counsel service operation is the quality guarantee that the counsel services will be duly provided. For legal issues in different fields, the services should come from lawyers with backgrounds in the relevant fields, including assembling counsel service teams by selecting lawyers with extensive industry law experience depending on the type of enterprise, having administrative positions to handle non-law related matters, etc.
Secondly, proactive service and timely response and feedback. When the enterprise encounters a material emergency or unforeseen matter, there is an even greater need for the legal service team to implement strictly provisions of the contingency plan and make its way in person to the site as soon as possible to assist the advising entities in dealing with the material, emergency or unforeseen matter.
Thirdly, promptly preparing a summation report of the services provided during the whole year to assist the enterprise in summarizing and reviewing the period’s legal matters; additionally, the enterprise, in light of the services provided during the year, prepares a comprehensive assessment of the quality of the legal services and the work methods of the counsel service team during the year in question.
In summary, where the service standards are clear and based on different service demands and service sectors, the provision of differentiated and more targeted legal services to enhance the enterprise’s sense of security in its operations is an obligation inherent in legal-counsel services and is a capacity that an excellent legal-counsel team must possess. Such capabilities, including the legal services it provides satisfying the requirements of professionalism and timeliness, can assist the enterprise in operating compliantly, preventing legal risks, even participating in the company’s decision making, creating value for it. This determines that team-counsel-service lawyers not only need to understand the law, but also to understand the business and the industry. Additionally, they need to do in-depth study and research on top of their professional breadth and resource synergy to add value to corporate legal counsel services.
Li Weiming is a partner and Wu Kun is an associate at Tiantai Law Firm
Unit 2901&2915, T1 Building, Raffles City
No.1133 Changning Road, Changning District
Shanghai 200051, China
Tel: +86 21 5237 7005
Fax: +86 21 5237 7006