Susan Ward, soon to be the new general counsel at the London Clearing House (LCH), has a misleading but endearing air of chaos about her.
Her office at the clearing house Apacs, which she is leaving after 12 years as general counsel, is stacked with piles of papers which she confesses her secretary is itching to sort out, but for which Ward is eternally promising to find five minutes to deal with.
But while on the surface Ward may seem a little scatty – she managed to lock herself out of the high security offices as I was leaving – once you see her workload, it becomes obvious that she is a master juggler.
Which is just as well for her new employer, Andrew Lamb, managing director and deputy chief executive at LCH.
Lamb says of his new counsel: “She appears to be extremely well-organised and is able to balance work pressures. “She gives every appearance of calm and can sift and organise.”
Many of the stacks of paper are Bar Council minutes and agendas from her high-profile work as the senior vice-chairman of the Bar Association for Commerce Finance and Industry.
Ward has argued hard for rights of audience for in-house barristers and is now part of a Bar Council committee set up to represent employed members.
Ward is also a member of a handful of other committees and a part-time judge of immigration cases, which she says satisfies her occasional craving to return to court.
“I miss the sharp end of advocacy,” admits Ward
But she adds: “While I do sometimes miss that part of the work I equally think of the advantages of being in business. It is a much fuller job and you have to think laterally and practically.
“As a barrister you tend to come in when the problem has already arisen, whereas here, and especially in my new job, I am involved in projects, finding the pitfalls and thinking much more pro-actively. I find that much more interesting.”
Her passion for court work does, she admits, partly explain why she has battled so hard for equal rights of audience for employed barristers.
“I thought it was unfair, unreasonable, not in the best interests of companies and anti-competitive,” she says.
“I don’t see why companies shouldn’t be able to organise their legal services as they want to. It is very expensive for companies to have an in-house adviser and then instruct an outside solicitor and barrister.”
But then Ward has experienced life on both sides of the barricades as her varied career testifies, a career she unravels as a story of happy coincidences.
Having done her pupillage in Middle Temple, she stayed as a squatter until a bad car accident forced her to take time out and she decided to go travelling.
Her travels eventually led her to Sydney, Australia, where she was invited to join a set of chambers.
After joining as a pupil, she became a full member and although she only intended to stay for a couple of years, she stayed for six.
Once back in London, Ward started work in the Department of the Environment’s legal department.
She says: “It was a time when there were a lot of judicial reviews going on along with the abolition of the Greater London Council, both of which I was taken on to deal with.
“I was there for just a year and then decided to leave because I wasn’t comfortable working in the Government.”
The next move brought her to Apacs, the UK payment clearing and money transmission organisation.
Ward says: “I have been here for 12 years and have achieved all that there is to achieve. I am now ready for a new challenge.”
It is clear that her position at LCH will certainly present her with that challenge, as the company has been without a general counsel for more than a year.
Lamb says that the long interlude is due to a number of factors. He says: “Firstly we had to examine from an internal point of view if there was a job here – we were fairly cautious about it as it is a big and challenging job.
“We also needed to check the supply of legal expertise and the co-ordination of that advice.”
While Lamb says the company has no plans to take on any more lawyers, he says that Ward will be given a high degree of autonomy in her new role.
Which is something that Ward clearly relishes: “At London Clearing House the role will get me more involved in the business than I am here and that is right.
“In business the lawyer should be in the senior team helping to make the decisions.”
London Clearing House (LCH)