Annual conference: The vice-chair’s review
Bhavisha Mistry, vice-chair of the In-house Division committee, chaired the second day of our annual conference. Here she gives her own take on the day, and her key learning points.
On 19 June, I chaired the second day of our In-house Division annual conference. It was attended by over 100 delegates and had some fabulous speakers.
In between breakout sessions, networking opportunities and refreshments, a range of keynote and panel speakers gave lots of valuable tips and advice. I went away feeling like we had brought together a community that is growing and getting stronger by the day.
Sharon Blackman, director and deputy GC at Citi, was our keynote speaker. She was incredibly inspiring as she spoke of her journey in the legal profession and the challenges and heartbreaks she has faced. Her story proved that it is those challenges that sometimes bring success, and that with hard work, determination and tenacity, you can realise your dreams. For me, her top tip was building relationships, both inside and outside your organisation, and not just with lawyers. It can bring amazing opportunities and knowledge to help you become a more effective lawyer.
This nicely led into the first panel discussion, which was about taking a wider perspective on your in-house career and making a broader contribution. It really hit home to me that as lawyers, we have developed some really useful skills that we take for granted. We forget that tasks that we may find simple because of these very skills may be really difficult or scary for non-lawyers. So when it comes to pro bono work, there’s no need to be frightened about professional negligence suits and insurance, because the contribution you make could be very simple – for example, reading and explaining a document, drafting a simple letter, or just providing general assurance that there is a solution.
As Sybille Raphael, head of legal services at Working Families, passionately declared, it can be extremely rewarding to help others out; you don’t even have to put forward a massive contribution. In any event, providers of pro bono schemes like Working Families and LawWorks provide insurance for you, so there’s nothing to worry about. As Mathew Gingell, GC at Oxygen House Group, put it, life is more than just about work: find your purpose and use your privileged position to help others out.
After lunch, we held our second panel discussion. The speakers were incredibly honest and open about their experiences and gave many useful tips on developing and running a legal operations function. Here’s what I took away from each speaker:
1. Maria Passemard, partner and head of legal operations, John Lewis Partnership: get your people to come with you on the journey; don’t just try to impose your new policies and procedures without buy-in.
2. Max Hubner, GC, DPA Professionals: focus on the end goal. Do more of the things that will get you there, and less of the things that won’t.
3. Jo Rogers, CEO and founder of NaviStar Legal: have a vision – take time out of your day to find out what you want to achieve and how you’re going to get it. Use simple methods like pictorials and imagery to sell yourself and the legal department and the value you bring.
4. Vicky Lockie, consultant GC: if you’re not getting things done between 9am-5pm, then you’re not working efficiently. Streamline processes, get the non-commercials to do more, and keep things simple.
The final panel discussion, “Crisis management – how to prepare and implement a strategy” was attended by speakers Jonathan Ollivent, senior counsel at Uber; Uma Metha, chief lawyer, Islington Council and Felix R Ehrat, non-executive chairman and board member and former group GC at Novartis. They gave great insight into the way organisations in very different industries deal with crisis.
Felix explained how it’s about going back to tried and tested ways of ensuring everyone in the organisation feels safe sharing their ideas and creating a situation where all work together to tackle the crisis. Jonathan explained how Uber uses technology to communicate and deal with a crisis, whether it be a notification that something’s happening or to stop bad practices. He also pointed out that it is the crisis that helps an organisation to learn and make positive changes.
What I took from this session is that to deal with a crisis, you must build a well-organised community of people that are equipped with the tools to communicate and willing and able to work together. You can’t avoid crises, but you can certainly do things to cope with them: bring people together, give them a voice, and learn from mistakes.
I can’t thank the speakers enough for their contributions. Thanks also to everyone who attended; without you, there would be no conference.
I mustn’t forget the speakers that contributed to the breakout sessions, too. I received great advice and insight from all of them. Thanks so much for all of you that chaired / contributed to those sessions.