Costain’s general counsel and company secretary Tracey Wood talks to The Lawyer ahead of her session at this year’s In-house Counsel as Business Partner conference, in association with EY, about the challenge of motivating in-house lawyers, the key quality she looks for during the hiring process and the importance of normalising mental health.

Most in-house legal teams have flat hierarchies, how do you motivate your lawyers in the absence of promotion?

By encouraging lawyers to take advantage of opportunities within the wider business so they are not just seen as narrow “functional” specialists but instead as business leaders. This also helps meet millennials’ expectations of job movement and learning new skills.

What are the key qualities you look for when hiring lawyers?

The ability to make decisions (often with limited information available). In my experience, the area that a lot of lawyers moving in-house struggle with is the transition from being “trusted advisor” providing a range of solutions to having to actually make that call as to which one to implement. Not every lawyer feels comfortable doing this.

Tracey Wood
Tracey Wood

What strategies do you employ to support your lawyers in their professional development?

By encouraging lawyers to engage in a wider range of professional development opportunities. For example, in 2016 I attended the four week advanced management course at INSEAD Business School and more recently, one of our team has decided to undertake a full-time MBA.

What can be done to destigmatise mental health within the legal profession?

I think it is really important to destigmatise mental health issues not just with the legal profession but within the workforce generally. I work in a male-dominated industry where historically mental health had never been discussed. However, recently we have launched a well-being strategy which focuses on (among other things) mental health. This has involved mental health training for all line managers and the establishment of a network of volunteers who have been trained as mental health first-aiders. This together with a real push on flexible working and fatigue management has helped create a culture that champions well-being throughout Costain.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned thus far?

Feedback is a gift! Whether you agree with it or not, its someone’s perception of you and their reality. Ignore it at your peril.

The In-house Counsel as Business Partner conference in association with EY is being held at the Hilton London Tower Bridge Hotel on the 5-6 November. If you’d like more information on the event, including the full agenda and speaker line-up as well as how you can register to attend, please contact Kenan Balli on +44(0) 20 7970 4017