23 ASIAN LEGAL BUSINESS – AUGUST 2023 WWW.LEGALBUSINESSONLINE.COM CLIENT EXPERIENCE ippines, underscores the significance of legal advice, be it coming from law firms or the in-house team. The quality of the advice can make or break the business, and hence there is great demand for unique insights but little room for error. For that reason, what she is not looking for from law firms are basic textbook answers. “If I were to engage an external counsel, it’ll really be to ask them to add value. I already know what the law says. I’ve already done my research. What other solutions can you give me? Or sometimes I ask them to confirm my position, especially if I’m dealing with a complex transaction or a regulation that has a lot of grey areas.” But on some occasions, in-house teams found the firms their institution engaged with lacking expertise in the field, which has caused frustration. A general counsel in the financial service sector, who asked not to be named, notes that navigating banking regulations in the Philippines can be quite complex. “There are many issuances by our central bank, which must be cross-checked with previous issuances from other government agencies. In one instance I sought advice from one of our retainer law firms on a particular issue. While they provided an answer, for me, it was not enough. It appeared to me that I actually knew more than the external counsel because I have direct access to the regulators,” they tell ALB. On top of that, the Manila-based GC says that domestic law firms in the Philippines may not have kept pace with the advancements in financial technology and data protection. “It appears to me that those in the corporate sector, especially multinationals like us, have more information about the latest technologies and trends. This enables us to anticipate potential issues. However, when we inquire about the impact of potential new technology, the law firms seem to be still trying to catch up.” A Singapore-based general counsel in the healthcare industry, who asked not to be named, agrees that it’d be a plus if their law firm partner has a good grasp of the nature and operations of their company. But they think it’s unreasonable to expect outside counsel to know the business inside out. “That’s the true value of the in-house counsel because you are inside the organisation. You cannot expect other people to do your job,” the unnamed GC tells ALB. But they did encounter firms who talked a huge game but fell short on delivery. “A lot of people said, ‘We know the industry well’. But once you have them onboard for a certain thing and you’d find, ‘No, actually you don’t know it that well’. The stress comes when things are urgent.” Dinasti Brian Harahap, group general counsel and chief legal officer at NWP Property based in Indonesia, had similar experiences working with local firms. “For example, I typically get various counsel sending me their marketing materials and saying that ‘We are experts in real estate’. But upon reviewing their deal experiences, I find that their list of deals relates representing corporations in doing their lease agreements (as tenants) or something like that. And obviously I’d think ‘this is not really the sort of expertise that I’m looking for.” But sometimes law firms scored extra points simply by going the extra mile to keep the in-house teams updated on the shifting regulatory landscape. The Manila-based GC heaps praise on firms which have been sending out newsletters to keep them informed. “There are a lot of regulations coming out on banking and data protection. As in-house counsel, we don’t have the luxury of time to go over all the websites of the government agencies to check. If law firms can do that, that’s going to be very helpful. It can lead to potential work for them,” they say. And combined with top-notch technical skills and in-depth industry knowledge, a pragmatic mindset is the secret sauce to making a law firm truly stand out against a crowded field of competitors in front of in-house teams. “Understanding the commercial goals of the transactions is very important. The law firm should be able to come up with a practical and workable solution to a particular issue and have strategic insight to meet our commercial goal ,” says Simundac-Delos Santos of ING Bank Philippines. WAIT, HOW MUCH? Almost all GCs are overcome with frustration when the topic of fees comes up. The hourly billing model seemed to be a major source of exasperation fuelled by the prevalence of duplicating billing. Harahap says that he has come across cases of what he calls “triple billing” among the largest Indonesian firms. ‘We encountered situations “Relationship is undeniably one of the pivotal factors. Reputable firms invest time in nurturing these relationships and check up on you from time to time to try to understand your business more. However, some firms neglect this altogether. Personally, I strive for objectivity and would like a chance to work with everyone. Even in cases where relationship-building is lacking, if a firm possesses exceptional expertise in a required area, I maintain a constructive approach. Yet, due to the increased competition between (local) firms, without this relational element, some firms would not be on my radar.” — Dinasti Brian Harahap, NWP Property