Like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, European in-house counsel don’t get much respect. Companies in the EU frequently neglect to give general counsel C-suite status, many member states ban in-house counsel from bar associations and, because of a 1980s court decision, in-house counsel don’t have attorney-client privilege.
Nevertheless, in-house counsel entered this year optimistically, thanks to a pending case many hoped would put them on equal footing with their outside counterparts.
In Akzo Nobel, an antitrust case, every major legal organization in Europe, including the International Bar Association and the ACC’s European chapter, intervened to argue for privilege rights on behalf of in-house counsel. Many saw the case as the climax to the epic battle between the EU courts and the European legal community.
But instead of the triumph they had hoped for, in-house counsel were dealt a big blow when the European Court of First Instance ruled in September that because in-house counsel are company employees, they aren’t objective third parties and thus shouldn’t be afforded privilege rights.
At least one legal organization has already said it would appeal the decision to the European Court of Justice.