As the winner of the ‘Regulatory (Financial Services) Team of the Year’ at the 2016 Global Counsel Awards, we asked Pedro Frade, general counsel at HSBC Argentina and Brazil, his opinion on what it takes to be a successful in-house counsel, the best way to advise senior leadership and what winning the award meant to him and his team.
Describe your current role (responsibilities, size of team, structure).
I am the general counsel for HSBC in Brazil and Argentina. Our operation is smaller in Brazil, with a team of two lawyers reporting to me with a focus on investment banking. In Argentina, our operation is larger – we have a team of 31, 27 lawyers and five administrative staff. Our operation here covers all aspects of banking and insurance.
What led you to a career in-house?
I started working in banks at a very early age. It was not a conscious decision, I was looking to move to Sao Paulo from my home town and the first opportunity that became available in 2005 was an offer I received was from a bank. Since then I have never thought of leaving the industry. I do not consider myself to be a traditional lawyer; I much prefer the informal environment of working in-house and find it much more exciting. I am challenged all the time in terms of the way I communicate – for example, getting my point across in business terms without the use of legal jargon – as well as in the way I think. As an in-house counsel you are also required to be a strong leader, and I enjoy managing people and contributing to their development.
In your current role, what is the most challenging situation that you have faced? What are the most significant challenges that in-house lawyers are likely to face over the next few years?
The amount of regulation we face is extremely overwhelming, particularly in Latin America. There is always the issue of efficiency in terms of costs and processes in the way we work as well. In-house counsel need to find more creative ways of managing our costs and working out how we can add value to the tasks that we do. For example, our lawyers should not be spending their time filing lots of agreements, we should be focusing more on the potential legal risks to the company. The way in which we make decisions is also changing; the question is no longer just what is legal, the focus is much more on our overall conduct, what is right from our clients and regulators’ perspective. We need to ask whether this is what the regulators and our clients expect from us.
Are there particular types of legal issues that you routinely refer to outside counsel? And what kind of matters do you tend to handle in-house?
The majority of our litigation portfolios are handled externally – we oversee the handling of the cases though and help to determine strategy. In terms of our industry, in-house are usually better prepared to understand the financial and banking issues what makes me foster that we produce as much as more knowledge internally. We might refer to outside counsel in three different situations:
- when we need an impartial opinion about a given risk;
- when we do not have the expertise to reach to a conclusion (which happens very rarely); or
- when we have capacity issues – for this reason, firms need to be more open to providing secondees.
In my opinion, there is a shortage of external resources who really understand the financial industry within Latin America, and this is something that needs to be developed.
What do you consider to be the essential qualities for a successful in-house lawyer?
In-house lawyers must be objective in the way they communicate. We advise people who want very clear advice – what is the risk and what is the alternative, or how can we avoid it? We have to speak the same language as the business. We also need to be prepared to work in a different physical environment. As in-house counsel we need to be available to the business at all times; we must be accessible and it can often be a very different routine from the one you would experience in private practice.
What’s important for in-house counsel to consider when advising senior leadership?
We must always be conscious that the business, especially within the banking industry, is constantly taking risks. We have to be very precise in communicating what those risks are. To a certain extent, when advising senior leadership you are acting as a counsellor of sorts too. We must provide our opinion on the best decisions, while remaining objective.
How does the legal department contribute to your company’s growth?
The legal team is often considered to be a source of expense, rather than income, performing a more supportive role, which to a degree we are. However, if lawyers can adopt a forward-thinking approach to their work – particularly with regard to legal risks and new regulatory trends – we can more easily support new opportunities which in turn contributes towards generating new businesses. We also aim to shape the business to avoid legal contingencies, make the business more efficient in terms of our costs and of course manage the litigation portfolio.
With regard to your industry, are there any significant developments worth highlighting?
We need to focus much more on our overall conduct. Regulation is continually increasing and we need to ensure that we are looking at what is right, rather than at just what is legal. The focus is shifting, therefore we need to ask ourselves whether we are delivering fair outcomes and being clear as to the risks involved; we will need to become much more conduct-orientated.
If not a lawyer, what would you be?
My interest has always been the law and becoming a lawyer, although I might have been a journalist as I like writing. I am also interested in people management and communication, so I might have considered working in human resources.
What did winning a Global Counsel Award mean to you?
It was a great surprise, we never thought we would get this level of visibility. In Brazil in particular we have faced a lot of challenges over the past year and much regulatory scrutiny. It was very pleasant to be able to recognise the team in such a positive way at such a critical time. We have been communicating about the award a lot internally too, which has been particularly rewarding.
The purpose of the Global Counsel Awards is to identify those in-house counsel, both teams and individuals that excel in their specific roles. The primary aim is to reward lawyers for demonstrable achievements across the full spectrum of in-house responsibility, not simply those who have acted on high-profile transactions. To make a nomination for the 2017 awards please click here.
For further information about the awards, please visit www.globalcounselawards.com.