Annual conference 2018 review

In-house Division committee member Helen Shay reviews this year’s conference, the first to be held over two days, and explains what she learned from each session she attended.

This year’s conference was the first to be held over two days, and it took this popular annual event to a new level. It was a great reflection on the diversity of the in-house legal community in general and the extent to which in-house lawyers now impact upon businesses, the public sector, charities and other not-for-profit organisations. It also revealed the less traditional, but rich and fascinating, legal careers that are opening up to our profession.

Day one

The first day opened with a welcome from Christina Blacklaws, then vice-president of the Law Society, followed by keynote addresses from Richard Given of 10x Future Technologies Ltd and Lesley Wan of FBN Bank (UK). It was very enlightening to hear of Lesley being asked by her employer to set up a business project on mentoring especially for junior women, and another on promoting diversity. From these keynote speakers, we were given insight into what great leadership looks like, with the emphasis on being open and personable whilst retaining gravitas and building trust through active listening.

A panel session followed on ‘aligning your legal department strategy with size and capabilities’, chaired by Richard Brown of Travis Smith, with speakers Chris Fowler of BT Group plc, Max Hubner of DPA Professionals, Anthony Kenney of GlaxoSmithKline and Katrina Robinson MBE, formerly of Optivo and now independent adjudicator for Grenfell. There were many words of wisdom shared, but what struck me the most is to step back and look at what you are doing in order to assess where you want to be.

Next came a session on ‘the role of in-house legal in crisis management’ – a topic probably the nearest to all our hearts! Chaired by Keith Ruddock of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, with speakers Abhijit Mukhopadhyay of the Hinduja Group (who had a knack for dry humour, in describing the most unpredictable of serious challenges), Major General Susan Ridge from Army Legal Services (wearing army attire to reflect how, in her role, she needed to be an officer first and a lawyer second) and Matthew Wilson of Uber, who drew on his experience of having cabs caught up in the 2017 London Bridge terrorist attack. Speakers discussed the management of the press and social media, and the importance of protecting the reputation of their organisations.

We also heard advice on ‘how to get the most from your legal suppliers’, chaired by Helen Bradley of Baker & McKenzie, with speakers Stephanie Hamon of Barclays, Simon Harker of the Government Legal Department, Lee Gage of Addison Lee and Neil Laventure of GlaxoSmithKline. All agreed that relationships are about more than the transactions and bills involved, and there is – as ever – a need for added value.

In the afternoon breakout sessions, I headed to ‘building the culture of your legal department’, chaired by Pearl Moses, head of risk and compliance at the Law Society, with speakers Dean Nash of Monzo and Jennifer Swallow of TransferWise. The message was: attracting lots of work proves you are successful (albeit it can feel quite tiring at times). Once again, the importance of building trust came up, together with how HR tools, including psychosomatic testing, can help, and the need to develop team members.

The final panel session of the day addressed ‘how to achieve social justice’, chaired by Nikki Elliott from DHL, with speakers Mark Morris-Jones of Nestlé, Claire Mortimer from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Joss Sanders, GC of Oxfam. It was inspiring to hear how the nature of the in-house lawyer’s role can mean that they become a much-needed moral compass for their organisation.

Day two

Day two was introduced by Simon Davis, then deputy vice-president of the Law Society, followed by Maaike de Bie, GC of Royal Mail, in conversation with Stephen Denyer, strategic relationships director at the Law Society. A bold message was sent about educating organisations on unrealistic demands placed on their in-house teams, ‘backing up’ team members and creating an environment for ideas to be trialled.

Delegates then adjourned to a delightful Parisian setting in the form of the LexisNexis Mentoring World Café, where we were encouraged to write and doodle on the red and white chequered tablecloths, whilst networking and moving from table to table (each with their own coloured balloons and facilitator) to work in groups on set questions. For example, Paul Cummins, head of Legal at Milton Keynes Council, led a table on how to approach a crisis and the best language to use with colleagues. This unconventional and imaginative session proved a highlight of the conference!

Breakout sessions followed, my own choices being those on ‘communicating law to non-lawyers’, chaired by Liz Walker of BT Global Services and delivered by vice-chair of the In-house Division committee, Bhavisha Mistry of Mawdsleys, and ‘passing on wisdom’, chaired by Neil Hewlett from the Nuclear Decommission Authority and delivered by Brian Hanion of Sky. The importance of positivity, adaptability and mentoring were all common themes.

The final panel session was on the ever-topical ‘demonstrating the value of your in-house legal team’, chaired by Barry Matthews from ITV, with speakers Simon Dodds of Deutsche Bank, Deborah Robinson of British Council and Elizabeth Warhurst of North West Leicestershire District Council. Subjects discussed included case management systems to evidence time and value, and taking on the role of ‘the calm head in the room’ during a crisis.

The conference concluded with a plenary session on ‘challenges in the boardroom and what the CEO wants’, chaired by consultant Ciarán Fenton, with speakers Sabine Chalmers of BT, Hugh Ford of Intu Properties, Neal Hodges of Zürich UK and Paul Newton of Bupa. The specific questions chosen to address were purposely controversial (not least whether you should ask for extra salary) and differing views were expressed. However, it became clear that, whilst ethical pressures are undoubtedly increasing for GCs, so much will always depend upon understanding the culture of the organisation, appreciating what is expected and developing a role as trusted adviser.

Final closing remarks were given by Bhavisha Mistry, and it was clear that the conference had been extremely successful. Whilst speakers and delegates came from a wide spectrum of in-house legal services across all sectors, we had shared knowledge of common challenges and gained invaluable insight from each other’s experience and expertise. I hope this first conference in the new two-day format will provide a template to build upon further in years to come.

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