Shika Soni, Principal Global Investors’ regional head of legal for Europe and the Middle East, talks to The Lawyer about keeping up to date with jurisdictional changes in law when working for a global business, and making a work-life balance more achievable for her team.
How does your legal team keep up to date with all of the jurisdictional changes in law?
In three main ways:
We hold a quarterly European Legal & Regulatory Round Table with members from all of our European businesses. Prior to that we circulate a tracker document to ensure we capture what we have each seen in the last quarter. The legal team has a session on scoping our horizon at our annual away-day so that we can keep on top of changes in law and allocate responsibility to members of the team to monitor these;
We have strong relationships with all of our external counsel. We have really invested in these relationships over the last few years and we ensure that they understand our business well. These firms keep us up to date on applicable changes in the thirteen jurisdictions in which we operate in the EMEA. These firms review our tracker document and usually have a slot to speak at the quarterly Round Table;
We have excellent relationships with our trade associations and actively participate in working groups, meetings, consultations and discussions. I cannot emphasise how important having a network has been for us to ensure we keep on top of jurisdictional changes in law.
How do you ensure employee satisfaction and wellbeing and maintain touchpoints with your team, given its size?
The European legal team is part of a global legal team of over 150+ people. Our group general counsel and the executive have propagated a culture of empowerment, respect, honest communication and recognising value. There are employee engagement surveys, regular pulse surveys and monthly Q&A sessions with the senior management teams where difficult questions are raised and the thoughts of the team are gathered.
Working groups are swiftly established to take opinions, take stock, provide support and have open and transparent lines of communication in respect of very difficult issues, such as the #metoo and #blacklivesmatter movements and the changes brought on by COVID. There are also a series of “Courageous Conversation” talks where people within the organisation are encouraged to share their experiences.
In respect of the wellbeing of the team, I have found that there is nothing more beneficial than regular one to one conversations where work is only a portion of the discussion. We take for granted that all the team members are highly intelligent and highly committed and will independently raise work related issues that require escalation – these one to ones are not about micro-management. Understanding the personal circumstances of team members appears to be the key to ensuring employee satisfaction and there is a culture within our team where team members are encouraged to talk about their personal circumstances and share their stories. There is a camaraderie amongst the team based on mutual respect and where there is discontentment, these can be shared so that solutions are collectively considered.
Importantly, the firm has established a helpline, where team members can directly or anonymously seek assistance in circumstances where they feel they are unable to raise their concerns with colleagues.
Work life balance is often brought up in the context of legal teams, what does this look like when working within an international team operating across different time zones?
When you join a global firm, taking a flexible approach to working hours comes with the territory. This becomes increasingly acute the more senior you get. When the organisation is head quartered overseas, working hours can lean towards the jurisdiction in which the majority of employees are located. Embracing this, being flexible in your timetabling and scheduling your daily life around this will make work-life balance more achievable.
Working for a US firm, I have found that having a family routine in the mornings, rather than perhaps a more traditional evening routine, helps me start the day with healthy family time and a healthy breakfast. I really enjoy the chit-chat with my children as we walk to school about what our day is going to look like and some of the challenges we must face. I get to my desk at around 9.30am guilt-free and ready to tackle the day.
Working with an international team across different time zones, I would recommend being vocal about your availability. Block out your diary when you are not able to fit calls and meetings in so you can manage expectations and not burn yourself out. Every individual has their own needs, not just those with families, such as the need to get yoga in twice a week or a thirty-minute time out to walk the dog in the middle of the day. Keeping that time clear in your diary enables plans to be made around that and there is a tacit agreement by the entire organisation to respect that time. Yoga or walking the dog might not be your thing, but if that is necessary for someone else and their mental or physical well-being, we need to respect that. I find that this also creates greater understanding and commitment from colleagues, when work demands increase and become urgent requiring more personal time to be taken when necessary.
Given that your legal function is split into specialities, how are you enabling your lawyers to gain experience in other areas? What opportunities are there for your legal team to challenge and build on their skill sets?
Every legal team is different, but I think for where we are currently, having a speciality is really important. It makes a person a caretaker of that specialism within the organisation, motivating them to maintain their knowledge within that area of the law, and also to contribute more effectively to the work of our government affairs team to influence changes in law. There is nothing more helpful than having a practitioner’s experience in understanding the application of and future changes to the law. It also helps getting the client the answer to their question swiftly and accurately. Having to learn a new area of law every time you pick up a new piece of work is an inefficient use of time for our function.
This, however, does not mean that once you have a specialty you cannot move or change. Last year, at our away day we had a session on the Growth Mindset – the work of Carol Dwek. It was helpful for us to commit to challenge our legal skills and where there was apprehension to do so, create a safe environment for people to be allowed to make mistakes. And, we realise that personal development is so important for employee engagement. Since then we have had a property lawyer who has become a funds lawyer. We have even had a lawyer take on a whole new jurisdiction and commit to learning a new language to enable her to do that.
What is the best thing about working in a global business?
The absolute best thing for me has been meeting and interacting with the people who make up our workforce. I could be speaking to someone from Japan early morning, Hong Kong mid-morning, India before lunch, Africa midday, Brazil in the afternoon, the US in the evening and Australia in the middle of the night. It has taught me to be so respectful of other people’s knowledge, experience, backgrounds, culture, ethics, mindsets and values. It has enrichened my life and my experience in the workplace and broadened my horizons to no end. For that I am truly grateful.
If you could time travel to any period of time, when would it be and why?
I am an avid reader – mainly non-fiction. That romantic image that Jane Austen invokes in her stories of grand houses, ballgowns, horse-drawn carriages and candlelight dinners is so very enticing.
However, when I heard Barak Obama say “despite the extraordinary challenges the world is facing – from growing economic inequality and climate change to mass migration and terrorism … there’s never been a better time to be alive” at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan on 20 September 2017, I couldn’t help but agree with him.
If I could take the romantic period of Jane Austen’s time without the slave trade, lack of healthcare, poverty, and inequality, I may still consider that. But having understood my own family history and despite the sadness that is often reported with regularity on our front pages, I agree with Barak Obama. There is no better time than the present time to be alive.
Tell us two truths and one lie about you (in any order)
- I learnt how to speak mandarin in six weeks at Fudan University in Shanghai.
- I climbed to Uhuru Peak (5,895 meters) at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.
- I met Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip at Buckingham Palace.