‘When law firms invoice, honesty is highly valued’

Renault’s head of legal in Portugal João Monge de Gouveia says his company is reluctant to instruct lawyers who are often unavailable due to being busy with other cases

The biggest challenge facing an in-house lawyer is allowing their company to run its business without being impeded by the legal department, according to Renault’s head of legal in Portugal João Monge de Gouveia. He adds that it is important for lawyers not to be seen as an obstacle to the activities of the business, but rather, they should be viewed as a person who helps the company to continue its operations free from any problems.
Consequently, Monge de Gouveia says that the head of legal at Renault Group is a person who works alongside the business team as part of its management. “It is much more challenging to be in a company as the in-house lawyer because our level of involvement is much higher and we work on company’s day-to-day operations, watching and helping its growth,” he adds. “It is very rewarding.”

Shortlist of firms
French carmaker Renault is the top-selling automotive brand in Portugal, and last November the company announced it would be investing €150 million to expand its manufacturing plant in Cacia.
The work the company’s in-house team refers to external firms includes litigation cases, some labour law issues, administrative issues, as well as a few commercial law cases. Renault has a shortlist of law firms from which they select external advisers depending on the area of need. The company also uses law firms to conduct external audits such as the one being currently planned for the new general data protection regulation (GDPR). As a result of the GDPR, Monge de Gouveia says Renault will be taking the step of consulting a number of law firms in order to ascertain its implications.

Selection criteria
Monge de Gouveia says that Renault selects external law firms according to their expertise in the specific area in which advice is required. He adds that the key considerations when choosing a legal adviser is their competence in the relevant area, the specific lawyers involved, as well as how they measure against a “quality-price” criteria. “External law firms add value with their expertise,” he says. “They have departments that work specifically in particular areas of law and, in particular, they have in-depth knowledge regarding all the specific changes to the laws in that area.”

Causing frustration
What deters Renault from using a particular law firm? Common reasons include a lack of availability due to lawyers being be busy with other cases, as well as a lack of expertise, Monge de Gouveia says. He adds that insufficient expertise is a key concern, while also pointing out that honesty when invoicing by the hour is also highly valued. Similarly, Monge de Gouveia says that one of the biggest causes of frustration is when a law firm cannot solve a problem, but “keeps us chatting to try and turn the issue around”.

GDPR challenge
With regard to workload, the Renault in-house team finds itself particularly busy during the spring working with financial auditors to gather information – this coincides with the annual general meeting of all the companies of Groupe Renault in Portugal: Renault Portugal, Renault Cacia, Renault Retail Group, IFA, Sodicam and ILR. Meanwhile, another key task for the legal department is supporting the management and providing legal support to the entire group, which includes day-to-day advice. Renault has been a market leader in Portugal’s automotive sector for the last 19 years, and the company’s main goal is to remain so and grow further, while also contributing to the growth of the company’s sales worldwide.
A recent study by KMPG aimed at gauging the readiness and awareness of companies that face the challenges imposed by the aforementioned GDPR shows that, although companies are beginning to fully understand the importance of the new regulation, they still have, in general, a long way to go, not only in order to be compliant but also to converge their data protection processes with international best practices. And Monge de Gouveia acknowledges that GDPR is a key challenge facing Renault’s in-house legal department in Portugal as it has to be adopted by May 2018.

João Monge de Gouveia is Renault’s head of legal in Portugal