Tim Russell, Senior Legal Adviser at financial services company F&C Asset Management, explains how the business is reaping the benefits of a 5-year relationship with TLA.

The cost of new IT systems can be extremely high, and the risks associated with IT failures or breaches of contract can lead to a lot of expense. From a prudence and liability perspective, it makes sense to outsource this legal work to a specialist law firm – all the more so if they are giving you a good deal on the legal fees.

Tim Russell - F&C Legal Adviser

Following a chance meeting on the flight to an industry conference in 2005, F&C Asset Management signed an innovative contract with Technology Law Alliance (TLA) for legal advice on all the investment company’s IT agreements.

F&C pays a fixed monthly retainer for TLA to advise on dozens of smaller IT and data contracts that F&C trials or buys in the course of a year. The retainer is designed to be far more cost-effective for F&C than the hourly billing model adopted by more conventional law firms.

“It works well for them and well for us,” says client relationship partner Jeremy Newton. “F&C’s head of legal told me that they wanted to ‘throw all the IT stuff over the fence’ so that the in-house team could focus on the firm’s real business. I was challenged to make a proposal they couldn’t refuse.”

TLA offered to do everything for a fixed monthly charge.

“Four years later, we have a very strong relationship with F&C. We like working with them and we still do all that we can to give them great value for money. We’re more than happy to sweep up a wide range of smaller contracts under the retainer, as well as dealing with their larger projects from time to time,” says Newton.

A long string of market data agreements, software licences, telecoms procurements and support contracts have fallen within the bounds of the retainer so far. TLA handles about 30 matters every year on this basis.

The relationship has developed into a real bond of trust, to such an extent that F&C Legal often takes a very hands-off approach.

This has not happened by accident. Newton and F&C head of legal Ben Apfel worked together to develop a streamlined working arrangement that relieves the in-house legal team of many of the headaches that can come with engaging and managing outside counsel.

This modus operandi allows the company’s IT and project managers to instruct TLA directly, with the in-house team being kept in the loop but only having to step in actively where issues fall outside the scope of TLA’s standing instructions. For the most part, all that F&C Legal has to do is to monitor a matter’s progress, and TLA keeps them routinely updated.

Meanwhile, the projects that fall outside of the retainer arrangements are mainly those of a particularly business-critical or high-value nature.

These have included a major agreement for managed printer services, the consolidation of front and middle office IT systems supporting dealing and compliance, the outsourcing of F&C’s IT support and maintenance, and the contracts for the provision of a new Voice over Internet Telephony (VOIP) telephony system across the business. There was also a crucial project to ensure that F&C’s major IT contracts complied with the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID).

“TLA is the only firm we use for bespoke IT agreements,” comments Russell. “We’ve reaped the benefits of an ongoing relationship. The retainer arrangement takes away a lot of the hassle of instructing outside counsel, and it helps us to manage legal costs. And as they are a specialist outfit, they have equivalent expertise with the very top rank of City firms.”

“And,” he adds, “They’re a pleasure to deal with. When you’re dealing with top lawyers, the legal expertise is really taken as a given – but it’s refreshing to work with a team who are so friendly and easy to get on with.”

...the first time we have been able to truly outsource an area of work where the provider makes our internal client their own responsibility.

F&C Management Limited