Founded in 1968 by Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore, Intel Corporation is the world’s largest semiconductor company, with a net income of $7 billion in 2007.
One of the driving forces behind such innovations as microprocessors, Intel employs "some of the greatest minds in the world," according to its general counsel Bruce Sewell. "It is a great thrill to be able to interact with them to fashion a future for the company," he says.
The case of RKO v Turner first piqued Sewell’s interest in computer law. Originally an entertainment litigator, he found himself working on a case that combined computer and copyright law when the studio sued Ted Turner’s cable company for adding colour to black and white films. He went on to focus exclusively on computer law until one of his clients, Intel, offered him a job in-house as a transactional lawyer.
Having worked his way up to the position of general counsel, he relishes the opportunity to be a partner in the business, taking on the same goal as other directors - "to move the company forward, strategically and financially". With a managerial role comes additional responsibility: Sewell also manages teams in the public policy, government affairs, PR and corporate social responsibility departments, as well as the legal arm. With one foot in each camp, he says the key to doing a successful job as a general counsel is "the ability to be a businessperson."
Intel operates in 300 offices worldwide, with the legal department spread over around 20 countries. "I have to look at the world from an international perspective. Intel is global at a greater level than a law firm is," he says. With a large platform from which to work, Sewell lists one of the job’s greatest perks as "a great scope and great visibility as to what is happening in the world. Having Intel on my business card allows me to meet with people I would not otherwise be able to."
In terms of legal work, Sewell relishes the varied diet of matters that fall on his desk. "It’s broader and shallower than private practice, with a greater number of issues to deal with without being required to go as deep... It’s [also] faster paced," he says. Another key difference is the working practice, with no billable hours: "it’s delightful not to have to maintain timesheets and records," he says.
Sewell says that Intel tends to enlist the services of outside counsel in two instances: to deal with spikes in demand for legal services, such as in the instances of mergers, acquisitions or joint ventures and in cases when the company needs to employ lawyers with a specific speciality. In the first instance, this means Intel can staff the department to cope with a steady amount of demand: "we can cover spikes with outside counsel," he says. In the second, "When there is need for deep expertise in complex legal transactions we would go to outside counsel."
When choosing that counsel, Intel’s legal department has developed a programme, which "recognises firms as preferred providers," Sewell says. These number between eight and 10 firms for litigation work, and the same number for matters such as M&A transactions. "The bulk of our legal outside spending is on these preferred firms," he explains. Smaller, more frequent transactions such as trademark protection go to small boutiques; Intel calls on around 100 small firms worldwide for this kind of work.
To maintain good relations with these firms, "we try to be an A-class customer," he says. This involves being "clear about our expectations, paying on time and rewarding good work." This means that Intel is "able to create relationships with the best firms in the world," Sewell says. Beyond this, the legal department tries to develop personal relationships with the partners that do the work. "We meet with client managers at our preferred firms regularly. This gives us the opportunity to give and receive feedback."
Sewell says that the most important aspects of these relationships are: "mutual respect, trust and professionalism... we try to make these long-term relationships. Our preferred providers will get a considerable work."
Role: Senior vice president, general counsel
Company: Intel Corporation
Number of employees: Around 86,000
Preferred law firms: Around 35
Where were you previously employed?
Prior to joining Intel, I was a partner in the litigation firm of Brown & Bain PC, where I handled such notable cases as the landmark fight between Apple Computer and Microsoft Corporation over "copyrightability" of the Macintosh Graphical User Interface.
How big is Intel’s legal department?
The Legal and Corporate Affairs (LCA) group includes lawyers, paralegals, corporate influencers on compliance, reputation and the worldwide government and public policy teams, philanthropic and education teams for a combined total of approximately 650 people. Of this number, around 230 are attorneys.
What percentage of your work is performed by in-house lawyers?
Our in-house staff handles about 46 per cent of our work. Intel’s matters routinely involve cutting-edge technologies and, understandably, Intel’s in-house attorneys and professionals who work closely with the engineers and businesspeople on a day-to-day basis tend to understand these matters better in the early phase of a case or a negotiation, where appropriate. As a particular matter extends
out in time, complexity or scope, outside counsel are added to the team dealing with the issue.
What are the advantages of doing work in-house?
Intel encourages input from every employee to solve problems and advance the corporation’s interests. So Intel attorneys are encouraged to be business counsellors, as well as legal advisers. Having attorneys "embedded" in our various business groups throughout the world provides several advantages. In-house attorneys better understand specific business challenges and thus are able to anticipate problem areas or suggest alternative approaches early in the planning process. Solutions developed through a legal or business partnership, or both, comprehend and balance business success with legal exposure. In-house lawyers can draw on a global network of specialists in the areas of finance, technology, marketing and government relations, for example, to create a complete solution to whatever issue is on the table.
How is life as an in-house counsel different from that of a private practitioner?
In-house practice tends to be more varied. An individual attorney may have to deal with IP issues, an employment problem, a technology-licensing question and a threat of litigation, all within the same day. In-house lawyers tend to develop general legal problem-solving skills more than deep expertise in a given practice area.
What qualities make a good in-house lawyer?
Flexibility, creativity and, perhaps above all else, good business acumen. In-house lawyers must be comfortable working quickly and in a highly ambiguous environment. In-house lawyers must also be able to say "no" on certain occasions and, if necessary, defend that position to the highest levels of the company.
Is the role of the in-house lawyer changing (eg, becoming more specialised)?
An argument could be made that the role is becoming more specialised, but this has more to do with the size of in-house departments than some fundamental shift in the role of in-house lawyers. As legal departments increase in size, and begin to look more like internal law firms, the ability for some in-house lawyers to specialise increases. Small companies rarely have enough repeat transactions to permit individual attorneys
to limit their time to just those sorts of matters, and thus gain real expertise and specialisation. Large corporations are more likely to have common issue that do repeat frequently and thus can support an internal specialist.
What qualities make a good private practice lawyer?
Deep expertise, creativity, responsiveness and curiosity. The best outside lawyers not only provide expert legal advice but also take the time to understand the client’s needs and desires. Acquiring these sensitivities in the case of large corporations can require a number of years and a large investment by the outside firm. However, if successful, in the end the outside firm becomes a trusted adviser to the corporation and can develop solutions that will be acceptable to the corporation more quickly and with a greater success rate than other firms.
When will you enlist the advice of external counsel?
Intel’s size and revenue profile mean that even "small" matters can have $50 million or $100 million or more at issue. In every major litigation, Intel assigns a team of in-house lawyers and other professionals to litigate the matter, and one Intel attorney is assigned as the team leader. While these teams typically include outside counsel, Intel’s legal department is actively involved in setting and executing the strategy in the matters, and make all key decisions. In addition, many of Intel’s litigation matters involve patents and other forms of intellectual property, and the associated opportunity for Intel’s litigation opponents to seek injunctions on Intel’s business. Moreover, Intel’s intellectual property assets are some of the most valuable such assets in the world.
As such, litigation at Intel, while common, is never routine. Bet-the-company cases and disputes are a daily event for Intel’s legal department. This fact informs Intel’s litigation strategy, in which meaningful disputes are tied to key business strategies, and in which matters are difficult and sometimes nearly impossible to settle, and in which Intel must win.
Do you see yourself hiring the firm primarily, or the individual?
It largely depends on the matter in question. Most of the firms Intel works with have the size and resources to be able to handle even the largest multi-jurisdictional disputes. Thus, for a difficult litigation matter we would tend to look at who we want representing the company in front of the jury. In that sense the decision might turn more on the individual than on the firm. By contrast, in matters outside the United States, or matters that have a substantial political component, we might look for a firm that is particularly well known and has an excellent reputation in that particular jurisdiction.
Do you have a regular external corporate firm?
In 2007, Intel’s litigation and competition group launched a Preferred Counsel Program. Under that programme, Intel invited 15 firms to respond to Intel’s Request for Proposal, and selected six of those firms to be Intel’s "preferred" litigation suppliers. Those firms will receive at least 80 per cent of Intel’s future big-case litigation work. Intel received and evaluated more than 20,000 pages of information from these firms as part of this process. Among other items, preferred firms must agree to Intel’s staffing rules, early case assessment rules, and to charge Intel a set per hour fee for document review.
When dealing outside your home jurisdictions, how do you find counsel?
Generally based on recommendations from practitioners with experience in the new jurisdiction.
What common behaviour from an external adviser or their firm do you find least acceptable?
The failure to commit to a conclusion or recommended course of action. Some legal advisers simply want to provide alternatives but are unwilling to put their credibility on the line by making a recommendation. I may or may not take the recommendation from a trusted adviser but I expect that individual to feel enough of a shared interest in the relationship that he or she will stand up and advocate for a particular outcome.
What makes California "a good place to do business"?
California has great colleges and universities to draw talent, Silicon Valley has been an area rich in venture capital, and the California legal climate is efficient with a bench capable of addressing technical issues that dominate our industry. The judges are patent and tech savvy, and willing to move cases along expeditiously.
What is the most pressing issue facing the legal profession today?
Controlling costs and developing a meaningful "value billing" strategy. In the end law firms must justify their fees on the basis of results. This requires a willingness to share some of the risk with a client. There are several models available today to do this; however, the more firms that participate the more quickly these models will evolve.