The first winner of the FT In-house Innovation award set the gold standard for in-house legal teams. Run by Rosemary Martin, who is now the chief legal officer at Vodafone, Reuters was a team that effortlessly stood out from the competition.
When we began investigating innovation in-house in 2007,
it initially seemed that the pinnacle of in-house achievement was to be well-aligned, trusted legal advisers. The Reuters team soon blew our initial benchmarks.
One of the impressive features of the team was how it amplified the link between the Fellowship Programme at Stanford and
the corporate social responsibility programme at Reuters.
For example, when a London employee came up with an idea to create a service that offered information on weather and market prices to Indian farmers via SMS, Martin took that idea and ran with it to create what was then a fledgling Reuters
business with 1600 subscribers. Today, that business, MarketLight, has over 1 million subscribers and operates in 13 states in India.
The legal team, known internally as the General Counsel’s Office (GCO), were not just facilitators of business ideas, they were also actively involved in generating them. Martin was particularly proud of one her lawyers on the Reuters’ Innovation Programme who was developing an idea to increase transparency in IP rights.
In 2007, the 35-strong Reuters legal team already had a track record of innovation. The big theme for Martin (and also one of the company’s strategic aims at the time) was simplification.
Reuters was looking to grow through its ‘Core Plus’ strategy and an important plank of this was simplifying processes. This was an area where the legal team could see a clear way to deliver value. The company had 1600 products, all with their own contracts, across 94 languages. It was ripe for contract modularisation.
Martin reduced the number of standard contracts from
113 to 30 and the length of them from 30 pages down to two. The team also explored new technologies to help them do this, getting to the point where inputting deal terms could
automatically generate a contract. It was an initiative that won them a Legal Technology Award in the same year as the inaugural FT one.
Contract negotiation and major corporate work made up a large part of the legal team’s workload. At the time of our research, they were working on the complex dual-listed merger with Thomsons, had just disposed of Radianz and negotiated revenue-generating contracts with Citigroup and HSBC.
Despite this heavy demand for technical legal advice, the GCO was also responsible for a number of other business functions
– a trend that has accelerated almost into a norm for top legal departments in major companies in 2013. Among the
responsibilities for Reuters GCO were government and regulatory affairs, compliance, internal audit and as mentioned above, corporate responsibility and diversity.
The latter reflected the intense ethical positioning of the Reuters team within the business. Post the credit crisis, increasingly legal teams have become the conscience of the company with direct responsibility for compliance. However, back in 2007, this was far more unusual. In the case of the Reuters legal team, the role
was explicit and high profile. The lawyers worked closely with the human resources team to embed compliance through training programmes (including e-learning modules) and workshops from the top to the bottom of the business. Many legal teams would consider their approaches cutting-edge today.
The legal team had a strong campaigning role. They were acutely aware of the need to “keep on beating the drum” to support their journalists in Iraq. In doing so, they explored multiple avenues
to lobby the US Defense department and use legislation such as Freedom of Information Acts or the Geneva Convention of Human Rights to drive home their points. This was made especially difficult in the light of recent belt-tightening which
meant travel budgets for lawyers were slashed, and the turmoil that Reuters has been through in the early noughties. Despite these challenges, Martin was resilient and stated that she was a “big believer in aerating the legal department”, which meant allowing individual lawyers to follow their passions and their own initiative.
It is an interesting aside to note how many innovative
in-house lawyers have emerged from the Reuters stable: Andrew Garard who went on to win an FT award for his work at ITV; Daragh Fagan who chairs the Innovative GC Club and is now general counsel at Rentokil not
to mention Rosemary Martin herself, who has gone on to transform the Vodafone in-house legal function and remains a persistent feature of all the FT In-house Innovation rankings.
In 2007, the majority of legal teams in the UK did not have senior places on company management teams. Alignment was the best many could hope for and embeddedness for others was the Holy Grail. The Reuters team were integrated into the business, area general counsel sat on regional management committees and Martin herself sat on the main management team, the group leadership team and attended board meetings.
She said, “these meetings are usually strategic and my contributions tend to be non-legal.”
Going further, the legal team actively got closer to the customers of Reuters. Regular meetings including hosting with the legal teams at the company’s business partners’ thought-leadership events on topics such as the legal implications of using open source software in the financial services industry.
Perhaps the empowerment of the Reuters team came from the fact that the company’s CEO and COO were lawyers, which may have allowed the lawyers to shine. But that is to downplay the outward vision of Rosemary Martin and her team. Among other achievements, the team pushed the UK government
to do more to publish diversity statistics in UK law firms, it developed the Litig training taxonomy with Barclays
and its in-house newsletter on MiFID became popular with both journalists and customers as opposed to just lawyers.
As Richard Kemp, the founder of Kemp Little, said at the time, “Rosemary Martin has built an excellent, professional streamlined team, an achievement that is all the more remarkable given the torrid times through which the company has been.”