‘We have to be transparent and sustainable’: key takeaways from Luxury Law Summit London – part one

Maura O’Malley reports from London’s premier luxury law conference, which featured lawyers from brands including Loewe, Chanel, Tapestry and Stella McCartney

Lucy Tammam (third from left) with her team of models

Because the ingredients that make luxury goods and experiences special are so fragile, any missteps can have an outsized impact on a brand. Legal teams must ensure their colleagues in the business understand that. 

This was one of my key takeaways from Luxury Law Summit London, which took place at the British Museum on 11 June, with the theme Reimagining Luxury: Disruption, Design and Distinction. 

“We don’t get to play in this market and charge the prices we charge and misbehave behind the scenes,” said one speaker. “We have to be transparent and sustainable; it is the core of the luxury proposition.” Luxury businesses should have a “north star” to help guide them, particularly in a crisis. They require a vision and a mission.

This is part one of our report from Luxury Law Summit London. Part two will follow in the coming days

Delegates at the 12th annual summit, which is hosted by the Global Legal Post, were treated to a breadth of topics from AI to sport which were explored by in-house counsel from an array of leading luxury brands including Loewe, Burberry, Stella McCartney and Chanel.

Among the highlights was a lively conversation between Stephen Ball, chairman of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, and Frederick Fischer, UK managing director of renowned crystal-maker Lalique (see picture below), when Fischer outlined the thinking behind Lalique’s move into other areas of luxury including hotels, whisky distilling and wineries.

The day also explored areas sometimes overlooked in the luxury space. Sue Timney, creative director of Wallacea Living, explained how she helps design luxury residential homes in London in ways that inspires and enhances the quality of living in a later stage of life.

The summit also featured the Luxury Law Awards, which saw Diageo’s Tom Shropshire secure the General Counsel of the Year award, Kering Shared Services Italy scoop Legal Team of the Year, and Bird & Bird named as Luxury Law Firm of the Year - International Law Firm. Click here for a full list of the winners.

Sustainability once again featured heavily and the conference concluded fittingly with a fashion showcase featuring the sustainable bespoke haute couture of Lucy Tammam, creative director of Tammam. She explained how she uses every piece of material in her design studio to create her gowns, only deploying natural fibres and working closely with suppliers in India to ensure her pieces are as sustainable as possible.

Alongside the need for brands to have a clear purpose that they live by, several other key themes emerged from the day...

The summit's chair, Abbi Hunt, Belmond's general counsel

External counsel

Relationships with external counsel was a recurring subject. What appeared to be key for many speakers was the need for legal advisers to understand the luxury sector as well as the business, and to share the company’s values. In this vein, speakers extolled the virtue of secondments as a way for advisers to better understand the business.

What general counsel don’t want is someone using ChatGPT to carry out research and then charging for it.

Individual relationships were regarded as being key, with one speaker underlining the need to work with advisers who can be relied upon to deliver punchy and cost-effective advice. GCs need lawyers to act as a sounding board, someone to trust and sense check avenues being explored. 

What also arose was that outside counsel should provide crisp, digestible chunks of information rather than long, detailed memos.

Panellists (l-r) Cécile Cailac, global head of IP, Chanel, Rebecca Giannotta, VP of legal (interim) Lyst, and Jennifer Guilfoyle, chief legal officer and company secretary, Maybourne Hotels 

A career in luxury law

There were some startling stats mentioned about the growth in the number of in-house lawyers, who now make up 25% of the legal market.

It was noted that while young lawyers are attracted to the sector, loving the brand in question is also essential. Lawyers overseeing the recruitment process were encouraged to be more imaginative, not always going for the ‘perfect fit’ on paper and considering candidates from other industries as well as being prepared to take the time to develop talent.

Resilience and flexibility are key sought-after traits: luxury businesses want people who are willing to run towards a challenging moment as opposed to away from it, one speaker commented.

Hearts and minds

Advice on how in-house teams can work effectively within their organisations was also on hand. The importance of winning “hearts and minds” was underlined. 

Lawyers working in the luxury sector can often find themselves being the first in-house adviser for a growing brand. When this happens, executives can be wary, or, at the other extreme, overwhelm a newly appointed lawyer with tasks. It can be thrilling, but the message was: expect the unexpected as there has often been no ‘legal eyes’ on anything. 

Delegates in these situations were urged to be “brave” as colleagues are likely to be receptive to a fresh perspective. It is also a crucial time to ask questions. “The more you ask, the more you learn,” one speaker advised.

It is also important to build relationships with the gamut of the organisation: nobody is too junior for your time. The problem with many businesses is that they work in silos. It is up to lawyers to build bridges. “We are connectors,” said a speaker. “We see across supply chains, across finance, regulatory aspects.”

Hence the GC’s role in building resilience. GCs were advised to encourage spending on developing risk management plans, drawing up a “risk register” and preparing their brand to deal with a crisis. 

Panellists pointed out that unlike colleagues in sales, GCs do not have quarterly sales targets. While the sales team is inclined to say “It is a good deal, stop asking questions”, it is up to the GC to sometimes ask the difficult questions and put the brakes on, helping their business to follow its “north star”.

Stephen Ball, of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, (left) with Frederick Fischer of Lalique

The Luxury Law Summit and Awards were sponsored by White & Case, Trevisan & Cuonzo, Taylor Root, Taylor Wessing, Perkins Coie, Oracle Solicitors, Morrison Cohen, Mishcon de Reya, McCarthy Tétrault, Loeb & Loeb, K&L Gates, Hogan Lovells, Graff Search, Foley & Lardner, Dentons, Davis Wright Tremaine, Cervieri Monsuárez, Browne Jacobson, Bird & Bird, Baker McKenzie and Authentix.

Next year’s summit will take place at the British Museum on 10 June. To register your interest in attending, email [email protected]. For sponsorship enquiries, email [email protected].

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