In our latest 60 second interview, Norton Rose Fulbright’s head of legal operations consulting Stéphanie Hamon talks to The Lawyer about the skills in-house lawyers need in 2022, the importance of skills mapping, and the value this brings to the wider business.

Are the skills that in-house lawyers require in 2022 different from those needed in the past?

The role of in-house teams is no longer limited to the provision of expert legal advice and the management of risk. We are seeing an increased expectation that in-house lawyers bring a broader skillset to their roles, enabling them to operate as strategic business partners to the businesses they serve.

The increasingly complex, uncertain and volatile environments that businesses operate in, changing ways of working, focus on topics such as D&I and ESG, and an acceleration of the use of technology, is without a doubt driving the need for in-house teams to diversify and upskill. Added to this is the expectation that GCs manage their functions like a business, bringing a growth and continuous improvement mindset that was previously reserved for other functions such as sales, finance or operations.

We are often asked if this means lawyers now need to learn technical skills such as coding. Whilst some knowledge of technology tools is certainly beneficial, the types of skills that we see being most relevant include project and change management, financial acumen, strategic thinking and storytelling, and being able to analyse and use data to inform decision making and evidence the value of legal to the business.

How can skills mapping exercises benefit legal teams and what value would this bring to the wider business?

In a nutshell, conducting a skills mapping exercise can provide legal teams with measurable data to understand their skill composition holistically, inform individual development plans and assess the maturity level of the key skills needed to effectively support the business. To do this, we categorise legal skills and knowledge as follows:

  • Core skills – foundational elements that enable individuals to perform their day-to-day work and that are not industry specific
  • Technical – industry, business or jurisdiction specific skills and knowledge
  • Cognitive – enabling or ‘soft’ skills and which are highly transferrable

This approach gives legal teams a digestible snapshot into their areas of risk and opportunity, meaning the true value of the skills mapping exercise lies with the data and how it is used. It can support a fairer allocation of work whilst giving individuals the opportunity to upskill in line with their personal development plans. It also opens a door to data-led recruitment strategies ensuring GCs are attracting the right talent. Critically, an effective skills mapping exercise will consider an organisation’s future state by identifying and assessing the skills the legal team needs to support delivery of strategic objectives both now and in the future.

Stéphanie Hamon

How can GCs create an environment that encourages skills and career development? 

Notwithstanding the increasing focus on technology and the automation of certain tasks, the success of an in-house function ultimately comes down to its people. To ensure GCs retain and attract the best talent, in-house functions must put people at the centre of everything they do.

The good news is there are some simple ways GCs can create an environment that supports continuous development. Start with culture by creating a safe space for your team to ask questions, give regular feedback, incorporate lessons learned and most importantly, to make mistakes (something seldom encouraged in the legal profession!).

Encourage a hybrid approach that incorporates on-the-job-learning, collaboration and ‘in-the-classroom’ learning. Opportunities must be accessible (disclaimer: this is where good hygiene around knowledge management is critical!) and flexible. Encouraging employees to set time aside, work when most appropriate for them and using on-demand training platforms is a good way to achieve this.

Lastly, try to build cohesion with the wider business – such as through secondments both into and out of Legal. Not only does this strengthen relationships with key stakeholders, but it also provides more dynamic opportunities for employees – whilst they might not part of the in-house function forever, movement around the wider business develops empathy, builds more diverse skillsets and may improve retention!

Who has been the biggest influence in your career?

There hasn’t been a single individual but rather I have learned and shaped what kind of person and leader I want to be (or by opposition do not want to be ) by observing the various people I worked for and with.

To name a few:

  • My mother, who helped me overcome the challenge of being a working mum by telling me it wasn’t so much the quantity of time but the quality of time spent with my children which mattered. Mindfulness as we’d call it today!
  • My first line manager in the legal sector who taught me the power of coaching rather than micro-managing. My second one who, by all standards, would be described as a bully today and definitely showed me how not to behave.
  • A function leader that challenged me intellectually and forced me to be the better version of myself.
  • One of my team that showed me the need to create a diverse and inclusive culture to produce the best results.
  • And of course my husband who has been the greatest supporter and empowered me to make career decisions.