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Q&A with Stephanie Pagni, general counsel at Barclays

24 April 2019

Stephanie Pagni, general counsel at BarclaysStephanie Pagni is general counsel at Barclays.

1. You're talking to a friend of a friend at a party. How do you describe what you do?

I work as general counsel and strategic partner to Barclays UK businesses.

This involves helping Barclays achieve its ambition of supporting and making easier all aspects of people’s financial lives.

2. Career highlight?

There have been a few but helping the bank manage through a number of post-financial crisis challenges is probably a key one, along with standing up Barclays UK ring-fenced bank.

3. Barclays launched a law-tech incubator in partnership with the Law Society. Tell us about this, and the kind of impact Barclays is making on UK’s lawtech sector.

Our lawtech lab is a great example of collaboration between our business, our legal function and the industry more broadly through partnership with the Law Society.

We considered this partnership approach was the best way to create a centre of excellence for the industry to create an ecosystem of interested parties and participants to build a clearer and more comprehensive picture of the challenges facing the legal profession.

Technology - and an innovative approach more generally - might help to solve along with fostering the opportunities and new possibilities that technological developments will bring.

We hope it helps the English legal system remain at the forefront of 21st century technological developments with the aim of working out new ways to solve the everyday legal needs of individuals and businesses in an efficient user-friendly way.

4. Before joining Barclays, you worked at Allen & Overy. What advice would you give to anyone looking to make the transition to working in-house?

There are lots of attractions to working in both environments.

Working in-house tends to require you to have a broader appreciation of business strategy and goals, given you are not just there as a legal adviser but also a member of the executive team and a broader steward for the business a whole.

That requires a more in-depth commercial understanding of the client’s objectives than would usually be required in a law firm, particularly where there are multiple clients to serve in contrast to one in-house client.

That said, the best lawyers operating in private practice have a deep understanding of the commercial context in which their client operates and seek to provide forward-thinking, strategically relevant advice.

So, I would encourage anyone thinking about a move in-house to consider how they might enjoy operating in this type of more expansive role.

5. How do you relax?

A proper balance between work and other aspects of life is critical.

I try to achieve that through lots of different activities including dance classes, playing the piano and spending time in Italy with my family.

It is also important to find quiet time for reflection to consider whether you are getting the balance right or whether things require adjustment.

Sometimes taking that step back helps you create much needed perspective.

Finding space to do this is particularly challenging for the legal profession, which is why Barclays launched the Mindful Business Charter in partnership with our panel law firms and a small number of other UK banks last October.

What the Mindful Business Charter does is to set out some basic principles as to how we can work together more effectively, thereby reducing instances of avoidable stress as we carry out our roles.

I highly recommend firms consider its adoption; it is already making a positive difference to our daily working practices and those of our partner firms.

6. Sum up working as a solicitor in one word.

Stimulating.

7. Favourite city apart from London?

Florence, Italy.

8. What book is on your bedside table?

There are two, actually.

Top of the pile is My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. She is a modern-day blend of Dickens and Austen for her acutely authentic but poignant portrayal of the plight of two girls growing up in 1920s Naples. It has recently been televised and I highly recommend it.

I also have Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark from MIT, which discusses in a very balanced way the societal implications of advances in AI over the next generation, including what can be done to maximize the chances of a positive outcome and a potential future for a life which entails a combination of humanity and technology.

Everyone should read it, particularly lawyers.

9. What needs to happen to get more women into leadership roles?

The legal industry is making significant progress but more needs to be done.

There is no single solution but rather a combination of factors, some of which are well known, tangible and measurable, and more easily actioned.

Others are more nuanced and influenced by a wider range of societal factors, including industrial age corporate organisational models.

Barclays is working on a programme of gender intelligence aimed at tackling some of the more subtle but important challenges.

Fortunately, I consider that technological changes will lead to huge transformations in working practices over the next decade or so.

These will focus more upon outputs and productivity rather than inputs, which will help to accelerate the breakdown of some of the remaining societal and corporate barriers to different of ways of working over the next few years.

10. If you hadn't become a solicitor, what would you have done?

I would have become an immunologist or perhaps, more specifically, an epidemiologist.

There is so much we understand in modern medicine but also so much there is yet to discover, particularly about the complexities of the human immunological system and its complex inter-relationship with our environment.

I am sure, with the advent of nanotechnology in biotech, there will be transformational leaps in personalised medical care over the next 10-15 years the likes of which we have not experienced before, and our level of understanding will increase dramatically.

I think that must be a very exciting time to be in that discipline although it will raise ethical issues as with many other areas that we will need to grapple with the advent of ever-increasing technological advances aided by AI.

The next generation of lawyers practising in the field of ethics will be crucial in helping to define the ethical landscape for future generations.