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Law firms that don’t listen, or fail to deliver on time, cause frustration

Thales Portugal wants to use firms that are ethical, innovative and provide good value for money, says general counsel Paulo Lino Martins

Present in Portugal since 1990 France´s Thales Group provides technological navigational and training products for the space, aerospace, defence, security and ground transportation industries. The company – which has a presence in 56 countries and employs more than 60,000 people – generated total revenues of €14 billion in 2015. The company is heavily involved in Portugal’s passenger transport sector through Thales Portugal as well as having a 65 per cent stake in software development company Edisoft, which serves the aerospace and defence sectors.
Paulo Lino Martins, general counsel at Thales Portugal and Edisoft, says MLGTS, PLMJ, Esquivel Advogados and PBBR are the firms the organisation uses in Portugal. “When we require external know-how in important legal issues, first we get support from the corporate area to allow us to fine-tune the issues and the objectives at hand,” Lino Martins explains. “Then, we have a consultation call with the law offices that work with us – the Thales panel law firms in Portugal – to discuss the issues, their availability according to our timeframes, their competence for the specific request and the competitiveness of their fees.”
 Lino Martins says the most sought-after qualities in external counsel are “outstanding expertise, innovation and the capacity to work together with the company in the sense that the counsel be engaged with the Thales Group, rather than acting like an external consultant”. Ethics, innovation and a good “price-quality ratio” are the characteristics the company values most, he adds. Lino Martins adds that Thales would be deterred from using any law firm that exhibited unethical behaviour, or did not listen to the company’s requirements and needs, or was not in line with Thales’ core values.

How to add value
“Law firms add value in everything that we are not experts in, and that goes beyond our day-to-day operations when assisting us,” Lino Martins says. “When an external law firm reminds us of issues that might impact the future of the company’s operations in a country by a simple reminder mail, or a new legal framework under discussion that could have a legal and/or financial impact, then that quality is most appreciated.”
The biggest cause of frustration when using external law firms is an incapacity to listen, or when they fail to deliver their services in a high quality and timely manner when asked, according to Lino Martins. He adds that another frustration is when a firm simply offers “a pile of paper with several solutions rather than advice on how to manage a real problem”.
 Lino Martins says the biggest challenge he faces as an in-house lawyer is how to improve the company’s day-to-day legal support and, more generally, managing legal issues in an environment of increasing regulation and uncertainty. “Our aim is for the legal department to be involved in the company’s operations and to therefore perform as much legal work in-house as possible.” He adds: “I truly believe that, if we [in-house lawyers] are involved from the very beginning, we will add much more value across the organisation, not only regarding legal advice, but by highlighting past experiences and proposing different ways to tackle difficult issues. We should play a role in education and be considered a real trusted commercial adviser as well as a legal adviser.” Lino Martins continues: “Raising awareness of the new legal environment among business leaders, who are under increasing personal liability for things going wrong, is also important. The traditional approach of ‘that’s for the legal department to worry about’ has disappeared, and business leaders need to be more aware of matters that can affect not only the company but also them personally – we need to always consider the long view.”
Lino Martins says other challenges include being more cost-efficient, spending less on external counsel and improving efficiency by using new tools and technology. In addition, the company aims to ensure its personnel embody the company’s core values while facing the day-to-day challenges brought by regulatory issues, such as changes to data protection laws, and new legal frameworks for public procurement. Lino Martins says the company also wants to “consolidate Thales’ values in our day-to-day operations, values such as customer trust, our ‘One Thales, One Team’ ethic, being accountable and being committed to excellence, while training our personnel to be innovative”.

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