Ahead of her session at this year’s In-house Counsel as Business Partner in association with EY conference, head of legal operations and privacy at RBS Suzanne Rodway talks to The Lawyer about the growth of legal operations, her role within the function and how the Big Four will transform legal service delivery.
The legal operations role is growing within Europe, how will this transform in-house legal functions?
It will help the legal function start thinking more like a business and less like a separate function – and that will help us align with the broader business strategy and deliver greater value. I think it’s equivalent to law firms needing COOs with specialist skillsets to help them run a law firm, rather than partners who have no direct experience of running businesses trying to do it. Gone are the days of law firms being able to stick their heads in the sand and say they are different. The market is ripe for disruption and so you need people, both in law firms and in-house functions, who can help you navigate that and help execute management’s vision.
Where do you position yourself within the legal function and how do you manage your relationship with the general counsel?
I work directly for, and very closely with, the general counsel, which I think is where you need to be in order to be able to support the operation of the function and effect change. However, it’s the whole senior leadership of the in-house legal function that need to help the general counsel setting his/her vision and agreeing the priorities. It’s then the responsibility of the legal operations person/team to help execute that.
Should all in-house functions have a legal operations professional?
Depends what you mean by ‘professional’. Should all reasonably sized in-house legal functions have someone responsible for legal operations – then yes. What background that person comes from and the skills they have I think can vary considerably from organisation to organisation. I think the legal operations world is in its infancy, at least in the UK and there is no standard template for what a legal operations lead looks like. We’re seeing lawyers, COOs, project managers all stepping up to take on these roles.
How do you think the Big Four will transform the legal market within the next five to 10 years?
I’m not sure they will transform it in the next five to 10 years. Some are still figuring out their strategy and others are operating in a quasi-consultancy space. What they continue to be able to really take a lead on are large transformation projects resulting from regulatory change, where you need legal skills as well as project and change management skills. I think transformation of the legal market could come from elsewhere.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned thus far?
Take charge of your own career because no-one else will. It would be nice if we lived in a world where you climb the ladder and move roles purely on merit from doing a good job in your existing role, but that’s rarely enough; especially when you move in-house. So I think people need to take more of a lead in managing their careers and be open to moves that maybe at first glance seem a bit out of left field – like a move into legal operations. Agility and flexibility are going to be key skills in the next few years for lawyers. So I would encourage lawyers to take advantage of any opportunity they can get from secondments, trying something new, participating in pro bono activities etc. I think having a mentor can really help you with that, at all stages of your career. I know it has certainly helped me.
The In-house Counsel as Business Partner in association with EY conference is being held at the Hilton London Tower Bridge Hotel on the 5-6 November. If you’d like more information on the event, including the full agenda and speaker line-up as well as how you can register to attend, please contact Kenan Balli on +44(0) 20 7970 4017.