Just Group general counsel Joanna Nayler speaks to The Lawyer ahead of her session at the In-house Counsel as Business Partner Conference, in association with EY, about becoming an agent for change in the business.

What is your one prediction for the progression of in-house lawyers?

The role played by in-house lawyers is becoming ever more critical, at the heart of businesses and the decisions that they take. This provides lawyers with the opportunity to provide input from a number of perspectives, including the moral one. In my view, being an in-house lawyer already means partnering more closely with the business than ever before. This requires a deep understanding of all aspects of our organisations and the ability to call on many sets of skills, of which legal skills will form only part. Legal training will always stand us in good stead when it comes to analysing facts, assessing situations and forming plans, but we now need to pay greater attention to developing our understanding in other areas and in particular the financial aspects of the companies that we support.

Joanna Nayler
Joanna Nayler

Where do people fit into change?

People are crucial to any change – which is exactly why Peter Drucker said that culture eats strategy for breakfast.  Change is a challenge for most people, lawyers included, but lawyers are trained to influence others and once on board with it, can act as extremely effective catalysts for change. According to psychologists, fear of change is really a fear of the uncertainty and – critically – the unpredictability of what will follow. The emotional or limbic part of our brain craves certainty to such a degree that people will often prefer a negative but certain outcome over one that is unknown. This also links to the loss of control that we can feel when things are changing around us. So how can this instinctive fear of change be managed? It’s firstly vital to ensure that the need for change is understood by those who are going to be impacted by it and, on a practical level, to provide any training that’s needed to implement it. If people feel that they are able to provide input into how things are going to change, it also helps, by enabling them to feel that they are able to influence things to some degree rather than the situation being entirely out of their control. Sharing the anticipated outcome can also help to address the challenge of unpredictability.

In my team this year we have been looking at the changes that we need to make to optimise our resources both for our own benefit, including from a work-life balance perspective, and for the benefit of the organisation in terms of saving cost. We’ve focussed on a few key areas. These include the development and implementation of effective work prioritisation tools, which identify the functional priorities and support work allocation, prioritisation and reporting, and stepping back from tasks that we have previously done but which have no need to fall to our team such as getting signatures on contracts that we have helped to negotiate.

How do you approach change when the business is on board but the employees are reluctant to participate in the process?

The best way to persuade people that they should change their behaviour is to change yours. Role modelling is undoubtedly the most effective method of demonstrating the advantages of the way forward. It’s also a big advantage if you have an “early adopter” within a team who can advocate for the change with peers.

What jobs did you do before embarking on your legal career?

I had a few different Summer jobs, but my favourite was being a tour guide at a Cognac distillery! I particularly enjoyed the training, which involved being taught in some detail how to taste Cognac and eau de vie!

Joanna Nayler is part of the 60+ speakers making up this year’s speaker line-up at The Lawyer’s In-house Counsel as Business Partner in Association with EY on 28-29th October. For more information on the conference, a copy of the agenda, or to inquire about attending, please contact Kenan Balli on +44(0) 20 7970 4017