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How do you define the role of the modern in-house lawyer? It's probably some amalgamation of legal counsel, reputation manager, data security watchdog, and consigliore to the board. This person should also, of course, be good at watching the bottom line and reigning in outside counsel costs.
At this year's "The Lawyer" Awards (sponsored by Thomson Reuters, our parent company), the UK publication sought to recognize someone who excelled at the jack-of-all-trades role. Who did they pick for In-House Attorney of the Year? Sarah Nelson-Smith of Yum! Restaurants, the parent company of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut.
Congratulations to Nelson-Smith
Last night, Sarah Nelson-Smith took home the top prize for in-house attorneys, beating out fellow in-housers from PayPal UK, Lloyds Banking Group, and elsewhere. The Lawyer recognized Smith for her efficient management of the growing restaurant company's legal department.
The award is especially impressive considering the size of Yum! Restaurants' legal team: Nelson-Smith manages a team of four attorneys locally, and has access to a team of more than a hundred lawyers worldwide.
Bottom Line is the Bottom Line
In a preview of the awards, the nominees agreed: their focus was on the budget. All agreed that, whenever possible, legal work should be kept in-house. (Outside counsel inflates costs? Who would've thunk it?)
Minimizing the use of outside counsel has an added bonus besides the bill: firms have to compete for the little work that is outsourced, which means additional savings down the road in the form of fixed or capped fees.
Panelists also noted that they sometimes face opposition from their own boardrooms, which push for more outsourcing, but at the same time, want to reduce legal expenses. In a way, they have to compete with outside counsel and sell themselves to their own company.
There's an added bonus to limiting the use of outside counsel as well: it saves some of the more interesting work for the in house legal department, rather than handing it off to outside counsel.