Interview: Chris Fox, Excellence Awards highly commended

Chris Fox, chief legal officer at Kambi, was highly commended in the In-house Solicitor of the Year category at the 2018 Law Society Excellence Awards. We speak to him about legaltech, supporting his team and building trust.

You’ve grown your team from two to 10 lawyers in the last 12 months. How have you done that and what are the skills and qualities that you look for?   

Chris FoxIt’s been quite tricky. Initially, the business felt the team was properly resourced, but I argued that as a regulated company with huge compliance requirements, we needed more people.

For each role I was recruiting for, I held at least three interview rounds, because I felt that was the right amount of interaction needed to get to know someone. I treated every interview bilaterally, so that they were interviewing us as well. As the team grew, I made sure that everyone on the team met every candidate, so that we could check the personality fit was right.

Generally, I’m not looking for the finished article when recruiting. I want bright people that get stuck in, can apply themselves anywhere, and are really curious.

Is damage limitation ever an issue for you when giving people in your team the experience to learn and exceed?

Generally, I trust people by default. I’ll empower them, but it’s their responsibility to come to me if they have any issues or questions.

I have monthly catch-ups with two senior counsel, and quarterly catch-ups with everyone in my team. I have also an open-door policy so that people can come and speak with me whenever they want.

I think that we’ve needed to mature as a business in terms of our internal processes, to support lawyers to be as good as they can be. The reasons for mistakes are always multifactorial. A team member once phoned me in a panic, saying: ‘I think I’ve messed up’. Before he told me what the problem was, I tried to reassure him that he wasn’t solely responsible; there were other departments involved and information we didn’t have.  

On top of that, I take a risk-based approach – I’m not going to give the most complex contract with our most complex customer to a junior, but I’d be happy for a minor contract to be run by one of my trainees and for the only oversight to be where they bring it up to their manager if they have an issue with it.

How have you built up trust with the wider business and communicated the strength of your team?

In part, my team have different stakeholders from me. My principle stakeholders are the CEO and CFO. I’ve tried to give my team as much access to them as possible, so the execs know that they can go directly to my team if they need to.

For my team’s other stakeholders, I run induction seminars or speak at their meetings about some of the things we’ve done. For example, I spoke with our sales team, emphasising all the work Legal had done on a new regulatory tool. We’ve got big demands placed on us from a regulatory perspective and our sales team need to understand certain key questions relating to different jurisdictions, so they can tell prospective clients whether we can serve them in different markets, and what the relevant risks are.

To support the sales team, we’ve launched a template answering seven complex legal questions for every jurisdiction that we’ve analysed. The sales team can log in and see information on every territory in the same format. It shows when it was last updated by a lawyer and can be accessed on smartphones to be used in the field.

In terms of driving simplification and innovation, which of your initiatives have you been most proud of?

So far, the off-the-shelf tool that has made the biggest difference relates to NDAs. I stripped our NDA precedent down from four pages to one, and made it really reasonable so that companies are prepared to just sign it. Before, I had a paralegal who was doing NDAs almost all the time; now we barely see any.

But I’m most proud of the bespoke work we’ve done on tools which aren’t available on the market and which directly suit our requirements.

After the US Supreme Court overturned a law in 2018, effectively liberalising sports betting in America, the regulatory team made history by seeking a license in New Jersey – taking the first legal sports bet in the whole of America. I’m unbelievably proud of this, because involving Legal is often an afterthought, but in this specific context, getting licensed in different jurisdictions was driving our sales process.  

This project generated a vast amount of data. We needed to re-engineer how the information was displayed and looked at various packages. We ended up going with Excel and coding a tool that automates much of the information delivery. It has visual representation, such as swim lanes, to provide information as concisely as possible. It’s completely changed how the executive team and board receive the data, and that’s been driven by my team working with the project management arm of the business.

Behind the scenes, I also asked all the execs to stress to their teams what a great job Legal has done. I worked at it from both perspectives, and I tend to do that in different areas of the business to try to improve my team’s visibility.

If an in-house lawyer wants to drive efficiencies within their team, what approach should they take?

In a nutshell, do not just take a step back, but go a mile in that direction. It’s so easy to get caught up in the detail when you should be looking at things holistically. Look at what the business is trying to achieve and then work out how you can use your legal skills to assist, rather than only addressing the legal problem which is just a small part of the overall equation.

Getting any sort of traction in these areas basically comes back to people, and this is where soft skills are important. You can have the best idea in the world, but if you haven’t developed the stakeholder relationships to enable your idea to flourish, you’re not going to go anywhere with it.

Have you procured a piece of tech that hasn’t worked for you or your team, or done what you expected it to?

E-signature works very well from a functional perspective, but there’s not been as much uptake of it as I’d like within Kambi. It works brilliantly, but a tool is only as effective as the number of people that use it.

I think there are three factors to consider in a piece of legal technology:

  • its quality and how suited it is for its intended purpose
  • how keen people are to use it
  • what are the demands on stakeholders to ensure that the tech is available to use?

If you have a tool which works perfectly and that users love, but is incredibly needy from an information perspective, you’re probably going to have less people prepared to input the data because of the time it takes. So, engineering a tool that isn’t burdensome from a input perspective is critical.

A big issue is that legaltech is such a buzzword right now. Don’t just snap up the next big shiny tool – think about what problem you have and then look for a solution.

I think a lot of legaltech is really immature. Businesses should recognise that legaltech has come far, but the tech that we’re looking at now will look comical in comparison to what will be available in the next 10, 20 years.

After your success at the Excellence Awards, have you got any tips on how to put together a successful application?

I was very fortunate. Marketing wanted to put me forward, and I came to it quite late in the process. I was in Canada on a deal and asked people in my network if they could write a testimonial; lots of people responded really quickly, which was great.

The submission was a great opportunity to review and reflect on what I can do better. I wanted people to be honest, as well as hopefully saying something good. I also wanted feedback at different levels, such as board directors, fellow execs and peers, but also trainees and my line reports.

You’ve only got 50 words for the summary and 500 words for the main application. Every word counts, so you need to be really structured. 

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