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