Airbus Defence and Space
What is your specific role, and what does this entail?
I recently completed my training contract at Airbus Defence and Space Limited and qualified as a solicitor of England and Wales, having spent the past three years working in the Communications, Intelligence and Security (CIS) legal team in the UK. My primary focus is on supporting the company’s satellite services business, applying legal knowledge to the cutting-edge field of space engineering technologies and associated ground equipment. The role is very diverse and involves various types of commercial contracting, the expansion of our intellectual property (IP) portfolio, providing support to prototype development, public tenders to national and supranational governments, supporting M&A transactions and forging international distribution networks.
How is the legal team structured locally and globally?
Globally, there are more than 200 lawyers in Airbus Group. The CIS business line is supported by nine lawyers based in Newport, Stevenage, Paris and Munich, each lawyer primarily targeting his or her own government as primary customer.
Internationally, there are various transversal practice groups who support all business lines in key areas such as environmental law, IP law and antitrust law. In addition to this, all Airbus lawyers are expected to join a ‘centre of competence’ so as to attain and provide specialist advice across the entire group, irrespective of division. Many Group lawyers are also part of the ‘compliance network’ and support the various Group compliance officers in providing training and policy implementation.
What are the key challenges and opportunities facing your legal team at the moment?
Britain’s potential exit from the European Union has inevitably become an issue on which I have been consulted. While all UK companies will have to consider the impact of Brexit, this is of particular importance to my internal clients given that my work is focused on the UK arm of an international enterprise that is largely dependent on intra-community trade both internally and externally. An example of this is that historically effective Change of Law clauses, which attempt to pass the price burden of non-anticipated changes in laws and regulations affecting the contract to customers, may no longer protect a seller given that some sort of legislative change is now deeply anticipated. Taking on long-term contractual commitments without being able to anticipate the burden of export tariffs will present a significant financial risk to UK exporters. In other circumstances, contracting parties may even need to consider whether termination rights are triggered due to material adverse change clauses and clauses taking into account credit ratings and exchange rate provisions affected by Brexit.
Are there unique challenges for your legal team in dealing with multiple jurisdictions or cross-border business?
One of the core jurisdiction-based challenges is expanding our service provision markets to outside our traditional home countries. Even when prioritisation of the use of many space-assets ultimately rests with the state that owns the asset, state sovereignty is of particular concern to government and military sectors internationally. The perception that a government’s key security provision is sovereign (even when it cannot afford its own space segment) is of fundamental importance, meaning that we are often forced to transact in local law, with locally incorporated affiliates or via trusted third parties that are known to the customer.
Do you have an international panel?
The company has recently rationalised its law panel, reducing it to a panel of preferred full-service firms. In addition to this core panel, we have one or two preferred firms in most jurisdictions (often more in core markets), as well as a list of preferred firms in each practice area for those teams that are proven to be particularly effective.
How significant are legal issues in your company’s international strategy?
John Harrison, the recently appointment Group General Counsel, has expressed that compliance is a top priority for Airbus Group and has advocated a zero-tolerance approach to unlawful and corrupt practices that would affect the trust, good will and investment made by the Group. This approach has heightened the importance of lawyers and legal issues within the company’s international commercial strategy, and is illustrated by the various legal counsels’ seats on management committees throughout the organisation. This allows for an appropriate level of legal supervision and visibility of the business activity, which in turn allows the business to make fully informed and mitigated risks in a high-stakes ball game.
When would you typically enlist external counsel rather than doing the work in-house?
Due to the number of lawyers employed by the Group exceeding that of many mid-size firms, you will often be able to locate a legal expert in-house to address many niche issues. However, high-value or high-risk transactional work and litigation will often require the additional support of external counsel to provide expert guidance.
Due to our global footprint, we are more likely to consult external counsels in unfamiliar jurisdictions where we have a few or no legal counsels to support the work. I find that a disproportionate number of EU projects are governed under the jurisdictional laws of Belgium (due to it hosting various European institutions), which requires that I engage specialist support when working outside of my jurisdiction of qualification.
How do you instruct external counsel domestically and internationally?
In-house counsels are the point of contact for all external legal work. They are encouraged to get a quote on work before commencing the file so that it can be budgeted into the project costs, since the general legal budget is reserved for unanticipated litigation and disputes.
What makes a great in-house counsel?
A great legal counsel must be approachable and gratifying to work with. This allows for the counsel to be more visible during business operations, and enables the lawyer to risk mitigate and steer the business away from disputes and litigation.
They must also have the ability to step back and take a high-level approach on the overriding objectives of the business, while at the same time maintaining a keen eye for detail.
Airbus Defence and Space
- HQ Location: Toulouse, France
- Industry/sector: aerospace and defence
- Year of foundation: 2014
- Company reach: 35 countries worldwide
- Visit website
All statements and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual and not the organisation.
Published November 2016