How to (better) understand a general counsel




1. Context

General counsels and in-house legal teams’ reality have been evolving in past years at a pace that is not always accompanied by law firms. Getting to know what triggered and is triggering this change is fundamental for law firms to be better equipped and be more competent in their approaches.

A chat was held with Afonso Cardoso de Menezes, Bison Bank general counsel, to understand what is driving the in-house landscape.

Afonso makes clearly part of the new wave of Portuguese general counsels. He heads the legal practice in one of the most recent Portuguese investment banks.

Afonso started his career in 2006 in one of the top law firms in Continental Europe, whereby he learned the main skills that make him today a highly recognized professional – work capacity, discipline, and very resourceful. After that, Afonso decided to embrace the in-house experience and that was when, for the first time, a direct contact with an investment bank commenced. Some joyful years were passed when Afonso decided the international experience was lacking and decided to accept a challenge in an Asian law firm. After 4 years, it was time to return to Portugal. Before joining Bison Bank, Afonso worked as corporate counsel by assisting one of the largest American private equity firms with respect to some financial assets purchased in Portugal.

In mid-2018, and after assisting Bison Bank shareholder in the purchase of the bank, Afonso is invited to become Bison Bank general counsel and company secretary.

2. Bison Bank

Bison Bank is a Portuguese based bank fully held by private Chinese capital from Hong Kong, focused on providing a wide and specialized range of wealth management, depositary & custody and investment banking services to individuals and institutional clients, through a seamless platform connecting European and Asian markets.

Bison Bank is headquartered in Lisbon and leverages the development of its business activities on the shareholder wide geographic reach – Europe, Hong Kong and mainland China, as well as Africa.

Bison Bank resulted from the acquisition of former Banif Investment Bank, a Portuguese based financial institution established in 2000.

3. The New General Counsel View
These days, general counsels and in-house legal teams are not perceived as a mere back-office and supporting area, as they were in the past.

Now, companies expect general counsels to have a 360 view of the underlying business and therefore the advices being sought, although underpinned in a legal expertise, exceed far beyond that.

This new positioning impacts on what general counsels expect from external law firms.

Below, Afonso highlights what are for him the most valuable aspects of external law firms:

  • Cost is an obvious factor, but it is not always as essential as one may suppose.
  • A simple example: Bison Bank implemented recently a new legal panel and in the scoring matrix, among other aspects not related with costs, the capacity of law firms generating business leads, through referrals and recommendations, was one of the criterions that was valued – this rational led to the appointment of some law firms with higher hourly fees.
  • General counsels and in-house legal teams look for pragmatic and business-oriented law firms – no more extensive and incomprehensible memos, but rather plain vanilla guidebooks.
  • The legal firms work is supposed to be used internally, thus it is worthless if is not possible to extrapolate it to business (even if it is technically outstanding).
  • Agility, responsiveness and sharpness are key factors that law firms must have.
  • Law firms that are too slow and often miss the mark have their days.
  • Although it may seem obvious, having law firms that clearly understand the business is something of the utmost importance – typically, external lawyers that have secondments experience are better equipped for this purpose. (The fact that around half of Afonso´s working experience occurred under an external counsel hat was also quite valuable to set the differences)
  • Proactive advisory – law firms are typically excessively reactive as they only do what they´re asked and they don’t look actively for what may work best.
  • Availability and accessibility for close advisory – for instance, grabbing the phone to discuss ideas and doubts.


Bison Bank´s slogan – Your Euro-Asian Partner, fully applies to what Afonso expects from external law firms – they should be partners and not mere providers.


Afonso Cardoso de Menezes
Head of Legal | Company Secretary
Legal Department

T +351 21 384 76 09
E amenezes@bisonbank.com
W: www.bisonbank.com

Rua Barata Salgueiro, 33, Piso 0
1250-042 Lisboa | Portugal