Going beyond codes of conduct

Moving from blocker to facilitator

‘You can’t do that’ is usually easy to say. It can often feel like the safest option. It avoids complicated risks and provides a bit of certainty instead of layers of complexity.

And that is often what our clients fear. The in-house function may, (usually) unjustly, be seen as the thing that stops brilliant ideas or innovations in their tracks.

I encountered this when advising clients on pre-publication libel risks. Libel laws in the UK are amongst the most onerous. But that in itself wasn’t the problem: the issue was that clients feared getting legal advice (and so often left it until the last minute) because they thought it would lead to censorship. And that led to a vicious circle. Sometimes I would need to block it because evidence, that could have been obtained earlier, simply wasn’t there.

I had to show clients that I wanted them to publish hard-hitting reports where justified – that’s what we existed for. But I also had to show them the value of legal advice; it was in nobody’s interest to publish weak allegations. Engaging lawyers from the start could lead to stronger allegations, and avoid self-censorship through lack of knowledge of the law. And I got better at explaining not just what the law is, but why it’s there and how it can help the client do their job better.

Contributed by an in-house lawyer

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