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Differences between European company law departments and US company law departments

A recent profile of George Stansfield, the recently-appointed General Counsel of French insurance giant Axa (Financial Times, May 19, 2005 at 9) brought to the fore a number of transatlantic differences in legal departments.

1. Dramatically less concern about litigation risks. Although the blood red tide may be changing toward US-levels, at this time, Europe has mostly not been smirched.
2. The general counsel position carries less weight at European companies, where it is rarely a board or executive management position. Stansfield, who “coordinates” more than 60 lawyers, reports to Axa’s head of finance, control and strategy. More than 80 percent of US GCs report to the CEO.
3. Decentralized reporting of lawyers. Stansfield “relies heavily on the co-operation of similar sized (he leads a team of 20 lawyers in Paris) legal teams in Axa’s regional offices, including the US, UK, Germany and Australia.” Unlike for most US GCs, to whom such lawyers would report, the general counsel of ach Axa country reports directly to the head of that country’s operations.
4. The attorney client privilege does not extend to in-house counsel in Europe. It would be harder for them to learn strategic business plans if the information were subject to discovery later.