In this GC2B roundtable event, general counsel explore the best ways to create a standout in-house legal team, and the factors that contribute to success.
In association with Berwin Leighton Paisner
Lisa Mayhew, BLP: A lot of you are working in global organisations – so when you talk about high performance, how do you define it in your team? Do you have consistency in terms of identifying what high performance means and how do you recognise high performance in your organisation?
Samina Salim, Randstad: We have a high-performance culture and we always strive for continuous improvement. It’s about never being comfortable with what you have, striving to do more. It comes up regularly in management team meetings.
Richard Stewart, BMO Financial Group: We’ve got the same thing – there’s always a sense that if you’re not moving forward you’re going backward compared with your peers. We have two guiding principles – one is to serve the client and the other is to protect the bank. If we’re doing something that doesn’t inform either of those things, we’re empowered to stop doing it. Empowerment is central to that. It emanates from our GC in Toronto, that autonomy.
I give people autonomy and trust people who work for me – they’re empowered to do their job without me looking over their shoulder. I’m there to help them out, but they can go about their business and help our clients without me necessarily having to micromanage them.
Anna Marx, Allianz Global Investors: It’s about how you foster ownership. It’s not a law firm context, but you do almost want that, without the money of course but like you have a stake in it – you own it and drive it forward. That’s how you support the business.
Natalie Prosser, Ofqual: What I talk to my lawyers about is that there’s a strong ethical preogative in what we do. I tell them – you may be the only voice in the room but you can speak up, so they have the freedom to act when they need to act. That’s an expectation I set in my team and you need to provide a safe space for people to do that.
It can be difficult if you’re the only lawyer in the room and there is an objective to be achieved and you say – hey, wait a minute.
It’s fine if you’re the legal director, but I expect even the most junior member of the team to fulfil the professional standard and do their job as the lawyer in the room.
Richard Stewart, BMO Financial Group: As long as you’re intellectually honest or legally honest you can inculcate that.
We benchmark across all the people in capital markets – there are 100-plus lawyers within capital markets and last week I sat on a three-hour call where we benchmarked each other.
We’re moving to our year-end so there are compensation discussion, the performance appraisals and bonus discussions around Christmas. Level-setting was to ensure there was the right calibration for that.
Matthew Gasser, BNP Paribas Real Estate: The point about micro-managing is critical – it’s loosening the reins to allow people to develop the confidence to handle issues themselves while knowing full well they have your support. It comes back to the intellectual integrity point. Just because they’re the dissenting voice in the meeting room does not mean they’re wrong – it’s actually giving them the confidence to express themselves and to make the intelligent enquiry in that meeting that ensures the issues are being considered. If you’re giving people the confidence to do that, they do find that rewarding.
Natalie Prosser, Ofqual: What I find is if the juniors are not finding it quite demanding you’re probably not pushing them far enough. Just have a go – most of the time it’ll be fine. If they don’t get it wrong at least once they won’t learn. That means you’re standing back and letting them do it.
Lisa Mayhew, BLP: There are two important tools when it comes to incentivising – appraising and paying people. Are they available to you all?
Richard Stewart, BMO Financial Group: Yes of course, bonus and pay-out are important for incentivising people. But we also do things like a thing called ‘Be Mo Be’ – slightly Americanised, but it’s sending people recognition, saying thank you very much, like a pat on the back. It gets sent to t hat person, gets sent to the manager.
We also have quarterly shout-out awards where people, if they’ve done a good job, get £75 of Amazon vouchers. So it’s not a big thing but compensation only gets you so far. Obviously people will stay or leave based on their salary but the little incentives are important for recognition – being human is a really important thing.
Samina Salim, Randstad: Exactly – just saying thank you.
Lisa Mayhew, BLP: If I put my private practice lawyer hat on, you realise that you have to learn the client’s ways of doing things and their expectations. So do you spend time telling your teams and thinking of ways your teams really understand the business? I remember at Lisbon [The Lawyer ’s General Counsel Strategy Summit], there were 90-odd general counsel at the summit and Jeremy Bennett, who was a very senior banker from Nomura, just asked: What is it about you lawyers – why do you talk about ‘the business’? You are the business! So: do you spend time so that your team performs well, do you weave yourselves into the fabric of it and understand how they work?
Pavel Klimov, Unisys: It’s essential. The way we see the high-performance team creating value is – it’s not how quickly you turn contracts around, it’s whether through your actions (and you have to be professional and respectable) you help the business become more competitive. That’s the ultimate measure of the success of the legal function – can you demonstrate through your intellectual abilities that you’ve helped the business? That’s a tough challenge.
Nick Havers, Marsh & McLennan: It’s also quite hard to measure, quantitatively or qualitatively. On a quantitative basis it could be the number of contracts you review or the number of litigation matters, but it’s pointless if you don’t have a reference point to measure against internally – and if it’s another organisation they might be a different size or shape.
The qualitative is difficult, and the extent to which our functions and teams contribute to success is not something we can readily measure and market. On the other hand, the way we’re organised is key. I’m interested in how teams are set up and whether it works to have lawyers somehow allied to business practices or whether you sit in a centralised team. In our case it’s more the latter but we have tentacles in different parts of the business. We’re not embedded.
Zemar Dajani, Midgulf International Ltd: I sit on the board and my board’s only four people, along with the CEO and CFO. Sometimes you find it difficult to come to a view. Because we’re a very small board, and most of us are a similar age, that’s helpful, but I always find problems trying to step away from my legal background [when looking at risks]; say, trading with risky countries or up-and-coming economies the risks are much bigger. But of course as our CFO says, you can’t do anything without risk.
Richard Stewart, BMO Financial Group: That’s our function – it’s not to neuter risk, because without risk you don’t get any reward, but to identify the legal risk so you say – you guys, you own that legal risk, and go and price the risk accordingly.
Pavel Klimov, Unisys: Giving our team members interesting work, spreading the expertise and throwing them in the deep end to get them to develop their expertise in new areas of law geography – that in itself is a huge incentive for people to stay and develop.
Matthew Gasser, BNP Paribas Real Estate: We’ve got a small team and look after legal and company secretarial duties in the UK. One of my team has started the company secretary qualification through the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators which is a broad-based qualification, and the financial modules on it are excellent, not just from the company secretarial perspective but more generally in terms of evaluating return on investment. It goes into an enormous amount of detail and it puts a different perspective on people and enhances their CV – and, on a day-to-day basis, it just encourages them to look at a different perspective and gives them the opportunity to ask different questions that aren’t necessarily being asked elsewhere in the business. That adds to the overall contribution they are making to the business.
Lisa Mayhew, BLP: Public acknowledgement comes up time and time again, whether it’s a pat on the back from clients in my world, or from colleagues in your world, that’s really motivating.
Nick Havers, Marsh & McLennan: Career development is a big theme that we’ve given thought to as an organisation. Not everyone wants to be a GC and if they did there would be huge disruption to the team. So you have to work with a broad team of people with different interests, but you’re not all striving for one top job. That is not the spirit in which we collaborate as a team. But we have tried to introduce some career development opportunities which colleagues can take on, whether there’s a development fund they can dip into to do training events or whether they might want to be rotated to another office in the network.
You have to think more laterally in-house about how to develop your career. It’s not as linear as in a private practice environment.
Richard Stewart, BMO Financial Group: My juniors know more about the specific areas of what the bank does and they are the subject experts in those areas – much more than I am.
I’d take it as a compliment that they would want to move on and feel they can take the next stage in their career. Sometimes it’s been a dirty word to say someone’s left but they want to spread their wings.
Natalie Prosser, Ofqual: Has anyone had people progress out of the legal team into other parts of the business that aren’t lawyer roles?
Pavel Klimov, Unisys: Yes – quite successfully, and integrating into the business. As lawyers you have a unique view of commercial side as you see the contracts from the start and if something goes wrong you deal with the aftermath, so our insight into the business is enormous.
Natalie Prosser, Ofqual: Has anyone seconded someone out to a non-legal role?
Richard Stewart, BMO Financial Group: Young lawyers know today that compliance is a big feature of any financial institution, that they need to get compliance experience – it’s such a big role.
Natalie Prosser, Ofqual: I’m giving it some serious thought as it will enhance their skillset, though not necessarily their technical knowledge.
Matthew Gasser, BNP Paribas Real Estate: We did a reverse secondment with a law firm when we had a trainee – we needed a contentious seat and sent our trainee into a private practice firm in the employment team for four or five months. When she came back the difference was remarkable in terms of the technical knowledge gained. It was of enormous value to the business. They’d worked for us for a long time and had been a paralegal. We had offered them a training contract.
It was important not only from the technical perspective but the relationship with the firm developed – we had a far greater understanding of how the firm operated and they had a far greater understanding of how we operated.
Lisa Mayhew, BLP: What about non-lawyers in your team? The unsung heroes that get everything done in terms of business services. The job I now do, having previously been a practitioner, I really see the value that non-lawyers bring to the party. Is that something you think about? Do you manage them, do you set expectations around performance levels?
Lola Grange, London Stock Exchange Group: This is quite a new thing for the London Stock Exchange. I work in a division that is highly sales-driven – we recently bought another index business that has sales support teams for legal process and paralegals, and they’re not directly in the legal team. We’re looking to roll that out. It’s a valuable part of supporting the business and getting turnaround on agreements as well as integrating our processes into Salesforce and CRM – we see that as key. But they’re not directly within the legal team and they’re in the sales team so it’s more of a dotted line.
Pavel Klimov, Unisys: When you’re stretched on resources it’s incredible what you can find through the company in terms of expertise and knowledge – maybe someone with legal background but not doing law, or who is simply interested. If you can find a way of borrowing this resource they can help out.
So with resources that are already in the company you can enhance your team with talent. It’s something we’ve done recently and it was quite successful.
Lisa Mayhew, BLP: Are you using technological tools in ways you didn’t in previous times that have improved performance levels?
Lola Grange, London Stock Exchange Group: We’re increasingly looking at it. Because of the high-volume turnaround contracts we’re looking at Contract Express for quicker document production. Part of our legal team has a document management piece of software and we’re looking at improving that. The way we store our documents, people spend a lot of time looking for things and that doesn’t help when you’re so busy. But, of course, that’s often the last thing we all think about, especially when the team is growing quite quickly. It’s difficult to get IT to spend time installing specific software tools for the legal department but when you have cloud solutions they’re a lot easier to embed – we’re looking to leverage off Salesforce.
Pavel Klimov, Unisys: There’s sometimes a feeling that if you’re not on an all-singing or all-dancing matter management system or e-billing you’re falling behind.
Many systems are great, but are they fit for purpose for your team? They’re not designed for small teams. What you want to avoid is technology becoming a burden instead of an enabler.
Natalie Prosser, Ofqual: A small percentage of my work is transactional, it’s more fluid, and I work in a public sector organisation so the budget is tight. So we work with the business IT system and try to find solutions that work with us.
I run the Freedom of Information (FOI) function in our organisation – we have hundreds of FOI requests annually and I have to run through a lot of disorganised files, so I have an interest in doing that better and more efficiently or I will make people very miserable in having to do long information trawls.
We don’t have the money for huge systems so we have to do the best we can.
Catrin Griffiths, The Lawyer: I remember one thing clearly that Jeremy Bennett from Nomura said at Lisbon [at The Lawyer’s General Counsel Strategy Summit]. He said that if he could give one piece of advice to in-house and private practice lawyers it would be – stop pretending its okay to be a bit crap with tech, not understanding how various plugs work – spreadsheets most people can do, but not understanding how to work stuff, or systems? He said a lot of lawyers felt it was endearing and it underlined their intellectual credentials when, in fact, everyone else in the business was sighing at them.
I was just wondering how that phobia of technology is playing out? Do you notice when external lawyers aren’t tech-savvy?
Ed Kingsbury, WHEB: I notice the absence of it. For instance, if a PE tax lawyer knows their Excel inside out and I send over something they can read and understand, I’m quite impressed.
There is a view that the world generally works in Excel while lawyers work in Word. I think that is changing, though. There are other execution elements – can you do an efficient transfer of documents and systems, I’d expect [private practice lawyers] to ftheir information in pretty quickly but that seems quite rare.
Lisa Mayhew, BLP: With team-building there’s also the inclusivity and diversity agenda – as in having mixed teams, gender, ethnicity, age, social background, is this something you give thought to when you build teams?
Richard Stewart, BMO Financial Group: We’re really aware of it. The bank is alive to it and keen to promote it. We’re focused and we have training on checking unconscious bias.
Lola Grange, London Stock Exchange Group: It comes from the corporate culture. We have naturally quite a diverse culture and the legal team just follows that.
Matthew Gasser, BNP Paribas Real Estate: Likewise at BNP Paribas. It happens by default. There’s a huge drive at bank level across the board.
We recently held our diversity and inclusion week, and there’s some really hard-core training that goes on.
Catrin Griffiths, The Lawyer: I get the feeling – and from some of the research we’ve been doing on demographics in in-house markets – that there are markedly fewer hang-ups in-house about Russell Group universities, whereas in private practice there’s still big emphasis on Russell Group or Oxbridge. In-house, you’re not going out to recruit your legal team straight from campuses or Oxbridge and you’re reliant on the CVs that come in. Do you care which university your recruits come from?
Matthew Gasser, BNP Paribas Real Estate: What’s more relevant to us is the degree award, and what they’ve done. In a smaller team it’s such a big issue. Recruiting someone it has to work both ways. In our business the technical ability is not de minimus, but how they get on with the team, will the business like them or want to work with them – that’s the pressing issue for us.
Natalie Prosser, Ofqual: I’m not that interested in what university people went to. I’m interested in knowing whether I can send this person to a group of non-lawyers and have them not be a big weirdo – and I’ve met a lot of lawyers who are big weirdos.
I ask – are you going to hold your own, can you pick something up quite quickly, are you sensible, robust, can I send you to the pub with my colleague who is not a lawyer?
For junior people I’m looking at potential – are they keen, are they going to have a passion for what they do? I can teach them the law but are they a sensible person who isn’t going to be avoided by the senior team.
Catrin Griffiths, The Lawyer: I remember talking to Ed Smith at Telefonica at one of these dinners. He said he had a bet with his CEO to see if his lawyers couldn’t be identified as lawyers within six months – and he said to us – I got them all through. They didn’t once mention they were a lawyer. I thought that, as an objective, was brilliant.
Ed Kingsbury, WHEB: I worry about the idea of cultural fit, because you risk slipping into the proxy of preferring your own socio-economic group. We psychometric test quite aggressively. There’s the elevator test but you need to be aware of your own existing biases. We have stringent ESG [environmental, social and governance] reporting and UNPRI [principles for responsible investment] so we’re required to gather data on us and our portfolio companies. We basically invest in northern European tech sustainable businesses and the demographics are male. We’ve tried to equalise it a bit but these things take a while.
On the lawyer side it seems to be pretty derivative of the people who are in what you might call decent, large law firms. So there are more females at the mid-level now and you’ll see that flush through in-house.
Lisa Mayhew, Managing Partner, Berwin Leighton Paisner
Zemar Dajani, Legal Adviser, Midgulf International Ltd
Matthew Gasser, Legal Director and Company Secretary, BNP Paribas Real Estate
Lola Grange, Information Services Legal Team Head, London Stock Exchange
Nick Havers, Senior Counsel, Marsh & McLennan
Ed Kingsbury, General Counsel, WHEB
Pavel Klimov, General Counsel, UK and EMEA, Unisys
Anna Marx, Head of Alternatives and Regulatory Legal, Allianz Global Investors Europe
Natalie Prosser, Director of Legal, Ofqual
Samina Salim, Legal Manager, Randstad UK Holding
Richard Stewart, Head of Legal, BMO Financial Group
Catrin Griffiths, Editor, The Lawyer