To be a true specialist, being close to the business is essential for both internal legal departments and their external lawyers, says Carina Branco
Technology is so volatile and intense in terms of evolution, development, redesign and redefinition, that the law has a hard time keeping up, according to Carina Branco, Head of Legal at Novabase, the leading Portuguese IT multinational. “And this is a challenge both for internal legal departments and external law firms.”
Branco’s approach, therefore, has always been to get as much done internally as possible taking advantage of the proximity her department has with the business. “When you are talking about IT you can’t just think as a lawyer, you have to also thing as an engineer,” she explains. “Legal matters are the least important part of an IT contract and you have to be very aware of the risks of doing business – and you get to know that if you are operating internally.”
After studying at the Católica University in Lisbon, Branco trained at a small law practice before joining Albuquerque & Associados in 1997. During her five years there, Branco gained experience in the US working on huge public procurement proceedings, as well as working with technology companies such as Cisco Systems.
Then, in 2003, the opportunity arose to join Novabase, where she was invited to head up the legal team. The Company is listed on Euronext Lisbon, present in over 40 countries and offers consultancy and technology, business solutions and technical implementation services.
Branco says she has always had a love of technology, and at the time things were really in a boom phase, so it was an exciting time to make the move. “What really attracted me in particular was that it is a Portuguese company, so I was able to decide things and wasn’t on the tail of a multinational in an Iberian country.”
When Branco started, she only had one other lawyer – now they have four lawyers and a paralegal in Portugal, a trainee in Mozambique providing an on-the-ground presence, and a country manager in Angola who bridges the gap with the local law firms with which they operate.
Branco outsources any matters that require specialist attention that they do not have in-house – tax efficiency in cross-border transactions, for example, and corporate matters regarding holding companies, as well as large litigation matters, she says. They use Uría Menéndez – Proença de Carvalho for public procurement, in particular Bernardo Ayala, PLMJ for venture capital and EU law, in particular Manuel Lopes Rocha for IP, and also Garrigues for brand management and holding-related matters. For business in Portuguese-speaking countries they use the Miranda Alliance, which has accompanied the Company throughout the years.
Branco does highlight a lack of law firms with the specialist IT capacity that she needs. “Everything is in constant evolution in this business and to be a specialist is something that is very difficult to do unless you are a part of the business,” she explains. “Jurisprudence and doctrine are very oriented to e-commerce and evaluating and talking about what has already been legislated. But by the time things have been regulated the technology has evolved and the rules are outdated.”
Of course, Branco practises in-house what she preaches. “We’re not legal Google!” she jokes, “but we do have some very useful software tools that we use.”
They have a time management system, allocating hours to customers and legal matters to identify major clients and matter types, as well as a contract management database sharing all client-related documentation. “We also have ALF, which is like a virtual paralegal,” she explains. “All our colleagues can access him and use our department’s documents and forms. This makes the whole system more efficient and there is less need to involve the legal department at all times.”
One of Branco’s most successful tools, however, is actually not technology related. The team has an ‘achievement board’ where department members share their achievements and team build on a daily basis. “I had a brilliant lawyer who was very shy, and after a year or so of being there another colleague asked me what he did. And I realised that the only person that noticed his work was me!” she explains. “So I brought in the Board and it is interesting to see people realising the strengths of each team member and using each other’s experience, which not only benefits us but the entire Company in the long-term.”
Carina Branco is Head of Legal at Novabase