Alexis Alexander has been general counsel at global financial services group Liberis since 2020, prior to which she was the company’s head of legal for nearly four years.
Here, she shares who her favourite partners are, how firms can win big mandates from her and the most outrageous bill she’s received (and did not pay.)
How do you choose which law firms to work with?
What really sets firms apart as a longtime partner is: are they interested in our business model? Are they interested in how we go about what we want to do strategically?
Are they willing to provide us with collateral for free? By that, I don’t mean ‘free’ in the sense of ‘give us loads of free hours’. I think what a lot of firms miss and the best ones don’t miss is being able to call them for short queries for 15-20 minutes. If it turns into something more, then they’ll charge for it. But if not, that’s it, you just get a query. That is such a sensible thing to do, because off the back of that attitude and off the back of that 15 minute free query, then they’ll get the £500,000 transaction.
What do you think of billable hours?
Large firms especially hold onto them, but I think it’s madness. You cannot ignore the disruption of the market, with alternative service providers offering subscription models and rate cards for different types of work. These places are filled with those who have left the Magic Circle and Silver Circle firms. So the billable hours model is a dead model — I don’t think it’s going to last much longer.
What’s the most outrageous bill you’ve received?
GCs hate surprises — especially when it comes to bills. I don’t even like surprises on my birthday!
I’ve had a few shockers, but to this day, it’s still a bill I received when we went to launch in the U.S. in 2019. To do so, there were 50 regulatory regimes in each State. I couldn’t afford to do a 50-State survey, so I agreed with a firm that they’d review four key states for me.
We agreed to a fee cap of $50,000, and I said to them: if you’re nearing the cap, can we please have a conversation about it?
We didn’t have the conversation, and then I got the bill: the capped invoice, and then the uncapped invoice next to it, which was 2 and a half times the cap! It was just the bill, no note.
… did you pay it?
I point blank did not pay it. They were good about it to be honest. The reality is, it wasn’t the amount, it’s more that they didn’t call when the cap was exceeded. I thought that was so poor.
How do you allocate work to firms?
We do request for proposals (RFPs). Regulatory work is one of our biggest outsourced pieces of work, so we did an RFP based on a set of metrics on a scorecard.
Even though we’re a global business, we didn’t end up selecting the firm that had the most international offices. I don’t think it matters that Baker McKenzie — they’re also excellent by the way — have an office everywhere. It doesn’t mean that their Italian office is as good as the best friend Italian office that another firm is going to use.
So I allocate work on expertise, but for the more commercial stuff, I look at flexibility around working style, alternative fee arrangements and an openness to be a bit alternative.
How do you feel about panels?
I don’t like the idea of a formal panel. The problem of a panel is that it encourages complacency in law firms. I like to think of it more as longtime partners: We don’t just want you to find one-off advice. We want you to know everything about our business and advise all areas of business.
My relationships are with Osborne Clarke, CMS and then for U.S. work I use Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and Hudson Cook.
I always think it’s good to have a boutique firm. I’ve used Waterfront [a London-based IP boutique firm] my entire career. Every time I’ve moved jobs, I’ve taken Waterfront with me.
Why do certain partners stand out to you and why?
Nikki Worden at Osborne Clarke and Dipesh Santilale at CMS are two partners I regularly put in front of our C-Suite. They’re people that can talk a good business game as well as a legal game. I have full faith in both of them — I think Dipesh doesn’t get enough credit from me! They’re unique and not all partners are like that.
Any favourite pieces of tech?
I’m not a big fan of most. I tend to try where possible to build it in-house. But I do think it’s worth having a good contract management system. We currently use Nomio [a software provider for document management].
I think a lot of legal tech is a lot of bells and whistles for a lot of money. And I don’t think it’s worth the money.
What makes you not want to work with a firm?
I don’t want to work with people I fundamentally don’t like.
I don’t like to work with people who are trying to pull the wool over my eyes or make negotiations difficult. So law firm partners who work somewhere with a poor culture are often like that — either too aggressive or not transparent on fees. Ultimately, I couldn’t work with a firm I didn’t trust.
What’s a misconception about in-house teams that you’d like to clear up?
That we work less hard than those in private practice. I can promise you we don’t!