We asked Annick Reisenthel, chief counsel antitrust at Thomson Reuters and winner of the Competition Individual of the Year award at the 2017 Global Counsel Awards, her 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 her.
Describe your current role (responsibilities, size of team, structure).
As chief counsel antitrust, I am the sole antitrust specialist at Thomson Reuters globally. I report to the general counsel for the Thomson Reuters Financial and Risk business unit. Globally, there are some 70 lawyers and compliance professionals in the Financial and Risk in-house legal team, and about 250 overall in Thomson Reuters, all reporting to the Thomson Reuters general counsel.
What led you to a career in-house?
Serendipity at the beginning: I jumped on an unexpected opportunity when I was four-year qualified. While I was on maternity leave for my first child, a friend sent me a copy of an advertisement for an in-house competition law specialist position, which he thought had “my name written all over it”. I had not considered leaving my Magic Circle law firm, but I went to the agency interview as a challenge: managing the logistics of leaving my very young baby daughter with a friend and fitting in work clothes for the interview was already a ‘win’! I wanted to give myself a confidence boost – much needed during a maternity leave. I thought I had nothing to lose. I found out it was Reuters and I would be the first (and only) in-house competition law specialist and I was needed notably to introduce Reuters’ first competition law compliance programme globally. It was an exciting opportunity. I was back at work when the offer came through. I decided to make the leap. I was attracted to the chance to join a global enterprise of Reuters’ calibre and reputation and give competition law advice on all commercial matters, from launch to obsolescence of products, organic and inorganic strategies, marketing, partnerships, M&A, dealing with regulatory investigations and compliance training. I have never looked back! Thomson Reuters was formed over 13 years later in 2008, making my work even more interesting…
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 most challenging matter I was involved in was a European Commission investigation into one of our businesses, which the Commission eventually closed with no adverse finding against Thomson Reuters, after accepting a commitment that we offered. Within that matter, challenges arose due to the complexities of the case and of the underlying business, as well as in dealings with the Commission, but what I found most challenging was ensuring that Thomson Reuters got the internal operational and strategic management of the case right, especially in the initial phases.
In-house lawyers work as partners to business colleagues, helping their companies to navigate constant and increasing change at all levels, including increased regulation and disparity of legal solutions around the world. Legal services are also evolving, and in-house lawyers need to adapt very fast and constantly review the most cost-effective ways of delivering the best service for their enterprises. Artificial intelligence, as it applies to legal services, comes into that.
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?
We always instruct external antitrust counsel for merger reviews and filings and in any formal investigation by the regulator. If we had a contentious antitrust matter I would also involve external counsel. In the current state of EU competition law, the absence of legal privilege for in-house lawyers’ advice also influences when we involve external counsel. I would normally handle all other matters internally, with the occasional phone call to external antitrust counsels for a quick brainstorm on a pointed matter, or with instructions to get their second opinion on some higher-profile matters.
What do you consider to be the essential qualities for a successful in-house lawyer?
Professional skills being a given, I would say:
- very good and flexible communications skills and influencing skills;
- pragmatism and common sense;
- the ability to build and maintain a deep knowledge of the business and good working relationships; and
- a genuine interest in the future of the company you work for, and passion for what it stands for.
What’s important for in-house counsel to consider when advising senior leadership?
Generally, crisp and clear solutions-driven advice – executive summaries are a must. Also anticipating the questions that they may have.
How does the legal department contribute to your company’s growth?
Each lawyer’s annual objectives in the in-house legal team are aligned with the executive leadership team’s detailed priorities for the year, and the legal department’s own leadership team continuously reviews whether staffing levels are right or organisational changes are required to further align ourselves with the company’s objectives. We have also introduced a survey of our internal clients to review our performance, which we will repeat at regular intervals to ensure that we stay on top of our game.
With regard to your industry, are there any significant developments worth highlighting?
Financial and Risk, the Thomson Reuters business unit in which I work, serves financial professionals globally with a multitude of leading information and technology-based solutions. Our clients are going through transformative changes in their own businesses (due to macro-economic factors as well as increased regulation), and our own industry is seeing massive change as well, with a mixture of consolidation of more traditional players and new entrants from other sectors with disruptive business models. From a purely legal perspective, and as is the case in other industries, what is striking is both the exponential increase in regulation overall and the divergence in how specific areas are regulated around the world, which increases complexity for a global business like ours.
If not a lawyer, what would you be?
In the corporate world, and closely related to my antitrust advice, I have a special interest in commercial policy. And outside that, it would be a dream to focus on arts and crafts. Neither midwifery nor language teacher (jobs I thought of as a child) has held its appeal past secondary school...
What did winning a Global Counsel Award mean to you?
It was amazing! I was delighted with the European Counsel Award, and very happy to be nominated for the Global Counsel Award. I was stunned when my name was called at the New York event. It is a prize that ‘keeps on giving’! I am very grateful for the personal recognition, especially as I know many gifted in-house antitrust counsels that deserve it.
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 2018 awards please click here.