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Cisco Legal Team Pioneers Business Communication Technology

March 7, 2008 | Chris Payatagool

cisco_logo_160x71px.jpgMichelle Madsen
Legal Week
March 5, 2008

For the bulk of international in-house legal departments, the prospect of negotiating deals or contracts with colleagues in different time zones is a communications headache the only cure for which is to be found at the end of a lengthy plane journey.

Not so for lawyers at Cisco, the U.S. technology firm once touted as the world's most valuable company during the dotcom boom. By grace of cutting-edge communications technology pioneered by the company, Cisco can exchange ideas across the desk with colleagues on the other side of the world.


Along with competitors such as Hewlett-Packard, Cisco is fine-tuning its business communications tools to mark the advent of a business communication device which helps not only its clients, but its widely dispersed emerging markets legal team to keep in contact.

The device is Telepresence, Cisco's expanded version of videoconferencing, which it launched with much fanfare in 2006 and has been both developed and heavily used by the company's emerging markets legal team. A two-way video, showing remote meeting participants in life size around a table and picking up the most subtle of facial expressions, creates an unnervingly realistic experience. It is made all the more convincing by well-hidden technology and sensitive audio that follows the speaker around the room -- allowing team members on opposite sides of the globe to get as close to meeting in person as they can without leaving the office.

This technology has helped support considerable growth of Cisco's dispersed emerging markets team over the last two years. When emerging markets legal head Richard Given came on board in 2005 from media and market research outfit Aegis, he brought with him experience of setting up legal teams in developing economies. Created to drive growth in Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Russia and other former Soviet states, Cisco's emerging markets legal function follows the tech giant's sales teams into new jurisdictions.

Given says that while the emerging markets legal function has to deal with challenging geographical issues, the bulk of the work they tackle is no different from that than other lawyers supporting Cisco's sales groups.

"We have our own set of issues as the emerging markets team, but we are part of the larger whole and work under Mark Chandler's ethics and principles," he said. "We are hugely fortunate to have a vast legal resource behind us with other lawyers providing additional support."

Given says the 10-lawyer team will continue to grow in developing countries in the next 18 months, and he plans to hire lawyers to look after its operations in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt.

The recent expansion of the emerging markets legal capacity is an indication of the emphasis placed by Cisco on new markets outside its traditional heartlands of the U.S. and Europe, which Cisco chief executive John Chambers warned earlier this month would see an increasing slowdown in technology spending.

Other members of the emerging markets legal team include Dubai-based Sean Caragata and Sana Belaid, Maureen Oh in London and new recruit Alexey Karpovich, who has taken on the role of supporting the Cisco team in Russia.

Glen Cox, Cisco vice president for emerging markets and one of Given's main in-house clients, says the group was instrumental in negotiating contracts not only with corporate clients but with governments and public bodies as well.

"It is like bespoke negotiation, you can engage across time zones to explore options and draft proposals," says Cox. "Previously, we were not in a position to do that well enough."

One unique focus of the team, explains Given, involves working with governments to set up infrastructure to support Cisco's technology as well as providing an ethical sounding board.

"Discussions of corporate ethics and integrity have become increasingly important in today's business environment, but these discussions are not new to Cisco. Ethics, especially integrity, have always been a significant part of both our culture and the way we conduct business."

The team's use of technology has also given ideas to some advisers, who say they are interested in installing similar communications technology themselves.

Martin Hopkins, Eversheds' client partner for Cisco, says he believes geographically dispersed legal teams such as Given's will become a common feature of in-house legal teams at international companies in the future.

"The team has a market-led leadership," he says. "You see this technology elsewhere but I am not aware of anyone else who uses the entire package so well and builds additional tools to support themselves. Technology has the ability to take a lot of the heavy lifting off lawyers' shoulders."

Eversheds corporate solicitor Ian Biddle returned to the firm last month after an 18-month secondment to Cisco. Initially working in a corporate role for the emerging markets setting up new offices in Russia, the Gulf and Eastern Europe, Biddle moved into Given's team and said that technology allowed the team fluidity of movement while keeping them connected.

He comments: "I had never used clients' in-house legal tools before, but external firms often ignore this stuff at their own peril. Cisco is like a vision of the future."

Hopkins credits Cisco's collaboration ethic to Cisco's high-profile general counsel Chandler, whose forward-thinking and at times evangelical take on the future of legal services has had an infectious effect on Given's team.

"Chandler was one of Cisco's first lawyers to be based outside the U.S. and he is acutely conscious of the challenges of working as a sole lawyer in an office or as part of a small group which is geographically distant from the U.S.," explains Given. "We have a growing team of lawyers at Cisco's Globalisation Centre in Bangalore and the legal function has a very international feel to it."

Earlier this month Cisco announced it was to train 360,000 Indian engineers after last year opening up a huge new campus in Bangalore as part of its $1 billion (508 million pound) investment strategy in the subcontinent. The tech giant's push into the subcontinent will also see it treble its workforce to more than 10,000 employees by 2010.

Productivity is one of Chandler's watchwords and one that has seen Cisco's legal arm remain at a relatively modest headcount of 125 lawyers worldwide, despite hikes in employee numbers in other areas of the company. In a speech given at the beginning of last year Chandler called for an end to the hourly billing system, saying law firms were the "last vestige of the medieval guild system" and asked for firms to make use of technology to take the burden of time-consuming process work from the shoulders of lawyers.

It is technology that is becoming more sophisticated. Last year Cisco teamed up with tech company Musion to integrate a three-dimensional holographic display with its telepresence system for the opening of Cisco's new campus in Bangalore. This sort of collaboration to create innovative business communication models could be seen to be a strange case of corporate-think meets Star Wars, but Cisco's lawyers remain positive that it will pave the way for more efficient communication in the future.

"We have a clear vision as a business unit," says Given. "We have the resources and technology behind us to deal with whatever challenges we face."

[via law.com]  







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