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A massive, global, and thoroughly decentralized legal team (HSBC)

HSBC, the globe-straddling financial powerhouse, has some 650 lawyers worldwide. According to a profile of Richard Bennett, HSBC’s general counsel, in Legal Week, Vol. 9, Mar 1, 2007 at 11, in half the 82 countries where HSBC has branches there is a domestic legal department. The senior lawyer of each of those country legal departments reports to a top business executive of the country and “everyone has relative autonomy.” The senior national lawyer also reports to the “legal boss” for one of five regions in the world.

In the United Kingdom the team of 30 lawyers looks after the corporate, investment banking, and markets sides of the business. Those lawyers were recently realigned into three teams, one to support each area. Bennett adds, curiously, “previously, as one legal department we were seen by the business as a cost center over which they had no control. Now they can decide how much they want to spend on in-house legal resources.” The last sentence quoted is confusing. It does not necessarily follow that when lawyers in a law department are assigned to support a specific unit, the unit’s head can then decide how much legal service are needed and worth spending for.

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