Chris Kangis, consultant and former VP & general counsel at AEG Europe explains that the best way for lawyers to see the bigger picture, improve emotional intelligence and understand the business is to gain experience from outside the legal microclimate in which a lot of the industry spends their entire working lives.
How did you get involved in mentoring prospective legal entrants?
I started by making time to help my network (and their connections) who were interested in the legal profession which led to working with students and junior lawyers looking for guidance or a sounding board. I recently joined the GROW mentoring programme – I really like their approach and the way they focus on social mobility and widening access to the legal profession.
How can others in the legal industry get involved in mentoring?
There are loads of ways, from offering yourself up to your network ad hoc through to established programmes. Having tried both ways, I would recommend joining a programme as a first step into mentoring (e.g. GROW).
If you could offer 3 pieces of advice to a junior lawyer right now, what would they be?
See the person rather than the lawyer, whether across the table or in your organisation. The legal industry really needs future leaders who recognise the importance of diversity, emotional intelligence and collaboration.
Be the most positive person in the room.
Don’t be afraid to have a voice: ask questions and give your opinion. Likewise, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer (but be willing to go and find out what it is).
What initiatives are you involved in outside of the legal industry, and why is that important for lawyers?
15 years ago, I took time out of my legal career to set up Cricket Without Boundaries, a charity which uses cricket as a vehicle for social development, primarily in Africa but also in the Middle East and the UK. CWB is still going strong and has given me a sense of perspective which helps me every day, particularly once I became a more senior lawyer. It is harder to complain about a problem in the office when you remember an HIV+ child, orphaned by AIDS and living in a slum, and the way her face lit up as she had the opportunity to play like any other child.
Having left my GC job in March, I have spent some time as a consultant and working on a start up business in the hospitality industry. I have had the opportunity to scratch an entrepreneurial itch and have gained a very different perspective on doing business.
One of my old American colleagues described certain lawyers as “linear thinkers”. My view is that lawyers need to be able to see the bigger picture, improve emotional intelligence and truly understand business in order to add value, whether in private practice or in-house. The best way to achieve this is to gain experience from outside the legal microclimate in which a lot of the industry spends their entire working lives.
What are your top tips for pivoting amidst uncertainty?
- Be open to opportunities.
- Back yourself.
- Be good to yourself (give yourself time and permission to have the occasional wobble).
- Despite the literal meaning of the word, pivoting does not necessarily mean turning your back on what has come before. Embrace what you have learnt and use it as you try new things.
- Allow yourself to fail but, if you can, fail fast and then get back up and move on.
The legal industry is renowned for working overtime, how do you carve out time for things outside of the day job?
There is no easy answer to this. I have always been firmly anti the culture of working excessive hours and believe it is counter-productive for all parts of the legal industry. Clearly there are times when long hours are required but it should not be the norm. On the flip side, I am of course not advocating laziness. Outside of those intense working periods (where all bets are generally off), I find that carving out time is best achieved through two steps: 1. Be upfront with work – if you have a hobby, passion project or family, that is not something to hide. Be honest about your desire to spend some time on these things as they make you the person you are and will enhance performance. 2. It is also a matter of self-discipline during the times you can control – i.e. swap 30 minutes on social media for 30 minutes on that project you’ve always wanted to undertake, doing some exercise or spending time with family. Not that a bit of mindless scrolling isn’t a good thing from time to time of course.
What inspired the creation of Cricket Without Boundaries?
CWB started out in 1998 as a conversation about travelling in Africa. By about 2003, we realised that we could do something more meaningful by using our cricket coaching skills. That evolved into a plan to train up coaches in Sub-Saharan Africa until we were hit by the staggering statistics around HIV/AIDS and we realised that we had to do more. For the next couple of years, we worked on how best to set up a sustainable charity which would use cricket for social development (starting with HIV/AIDS awareness). In 2005, we created CWB.
What is your favourite pass time?
A great meal with good friends. Closely rivalled by watching live sport or music.
What is one job that you think the lawyer of the future will not have to do?
Draft/review NDAs. They will not be missed.