Making the effort to understand clients – GE

It´s important that law firms take the time to fully comprehend what type of advice clients want as well as how they want to be given that advice, says GE´s Mathieu Savaris

Though Mathieu Savaris, general counsel for Iberia and the energy management EMEA unit at GE, says he prefers to keep the bulk of GE’s legal work within his extended 30-strong in-house team, there are occasions when the help of external counsel is important. Savaris believes doing much of the company´s legal work internally enables GE´s lawyers to get to know the company and its various business units much better and helps to reduce costs. “It is important that the legal team works closely with the wider business and it also keeps legal costs under control,” he explains. “However, we tend to call on external counsel when we need specialist advice on something like litigation, labour or high-end M&A.”
What does GE require from its external law firms? Savaris says the qualities he likes to see are sector knowledge and the desire to build long-term links with a client, as well as understand the priorities of the client. “For me, the biggest attraction is expertise – if we don’t have the expertise in-house we need a leading lawyer to provide that insight,” he adds. “A law firm also needs to know what is expected, such as whether the client wants a long opinion or a short opinion, or whether they want assistance in negotiations, or the client’s preference in relation to more functional things, such as whether a client prefers advice to be given in person or via a presentation.”
Savaris adds: “They need to know how we operate and that helps relations. It works the other way too. For instance, last year I went to one law firm’s partner retreat and gave a presentation on the work we’ve done with them at GE.” Savaris says law firms are now more accommodating when it comes to legal fees and that the majority of GE’s external legal work is conducting using alternative fee arrangements. Savaris declines to name the external law firms GE uses for confidentiality reasons.
Savaris has a large remit at GE. “I wear two pretty big hats,” he remarks. “Firstly, I lead the legal function for GE in Spain and Portugal and I also handle the energy management unit for the company in Europe, the Middle-East and Africa.” GE is very active in Iberia and Savaris co-ordinates all the legal and compliance functions in the region. The in-house team has to handle matters relating to aviation, transportation, healthcare, banking, leasing, real estate, energy, oil and gas and transmission and distribution. “While I work across all these sectors, GE Capital operates in the financial industry in Spain and Portugal and this requires a great deal of attention especially with matters such as compliance, data protection and privacy,” Savaris says. “The regulations for the healthcare business also commands a lot of our time and effort.”
Savaris himself is no stranger to diversity though, being qualified in four different jurisdictions. His early career was in private practice, first in his native Canada before he moved to Greece, where he also qualified in local law. He then joined GE Energy and relocated to London – where he qualified as a barrister – before moving to Barcelona, where he qualified and has now lived for the last seven years.

Biggest acquisition ever
Savaris has recently been very busy handling matters relating to one of GE’s headline deals. Last year, the company announced a $17 billion tie-up with France-based company Alstom. The multi-faceted deal involves GE’s acquisition of Alstom’s energy business, and corporate and shared services and the establishment of three joint ventures in grid technology, renewables and global nuclear and French steam power. This transaction also involves Alstom’s acquisition of GE’s signalling business.
As such, the deal is highly complex and required a lot of internal legal involvement in the integration planning phase. “The Alstom deal is GE’s biggest acquisition ever and involves a lot of different factors so we are putting a lot of resources into trying to integrate the businesses,” Savaris summarises. “The transaction is in the process of gaining a number of authorities’ clearance, including the EU, and there is the challenge to integrate the cultures and processes of both companies – this comes on top of the other legal issues we are handling, with everything from litigation to public procurement.” What does Savaris think will be keeping the GE legal team busy in the next 12 months? “I am expecting the Alstom alliance work to continue to be central in the year ahead,” he says.

Mathieu Savaris is general counsel for Iberia and the energy management EMEA unit at GE.