Interview with Cornerstone, winners of the Excellence in-house award 2020

Carlos Pierce of Cornerstone, the Law Society’s Excellence in-house award winners 2020, tells us about virtual hearings, maintaining strong working relationships and his team’s top achievements over a challenging year.

A group of people in businesswear smiling and clapping.

What would say your team's biggest achievement has been over the last twelve months? 

Having five major cases in a short period of time that set key precedents on big issues and to do those during a pandemic has been a fantastic achievement for the team.

In fact, running those cases virtually underlines the importance of what we are trying to achieve – quicker and improved connectivity for the UK.

So being at the forefront of changing the law, during a pandemic – when we’ve all relied so heavily on connectivity – has been a fantastic achievement.

How have you been able to foster a team spirit and keep morale up over a difficult year? 

We're a small team that is used to spending time with each other. So, it was a real eye-opener and a real challenge at first.

Ultimately, it’s all about communication – and we're lucky perhaps to have such a strong collegiate team. We have regular virtual team meetings and speak often to keep up team spirits.

We also touch base informally with each other three times a week when we specifically don’t talk about work and just chat about how we are all doing. As a team, we have a very open and honest approach. 

What would you say has been the biggest challenge for you as a team?

Sometimes, just sitting down in the same room, around a table, perhaps with a whiteboard, is the best way to deal with complicated or thorny issues. Not being able to work through some issues like that has meant some items perhaps took longer to solve. 

Whilst not a problem for our team, I know that others have found it harder to provide constructive challenges on some issues – perhaps through fear of how those might be interpreted virtually – when, in fact, those challenges are most needed.

I guess, some things are best done face-to-face.

Telecoms is a fast-evolving industry. As a team, how are you able to flex in terms of resourcing, knowledge sharing and keeping up to date with those changes?

Part of our role is to guide the business on those changes and to be at the forefront of change.

We have multiple communication channels and dedicate significant time to understanding our business, our customers, and the industry.

So we use that knowledge to share information with our business and suppliers – during the pandemic via virtual sessions – but prior to that through conferences, seminars and webinars. 

We pride ourselves on our ability to be agile and we have strong working relationships with our external lawyers and barristers which enables us to manage resourcing challenges and work spikes. 

You've worked with a lot of high-profile stakeholders like RICS and British Property Federation. What would you say is the key to building and maintaining those good relationships? 

Having an open mind, listening to people and having a genuine desire to understand their position is key to building good relationships – even when you might disagree.

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter if you disagree, the most important thing is that you're talking. 

As lawyers, we have some great qualities: attention to detail, we don’t jump to conclusions, we're usually quite balanced, honest, level-headed people.

Yes, we like a good a debate, but we do like to consider other people’s point of view as well. Those are good skills to have. And it’s about how to use those skills to develop, represent and promote the business in a positive way with internal and external stakeholders. 

Also, thinking outside of your normal parameters and not being afraid to question, challenge and probe with a genuine interest in understanding or solving problems.

How have you gone about educating the business about your recent successes and initiatives? 

Good and regular communication is key, and we use multiple formats to cascade different forms of communications.

They range from bitesize bulletins to the board, regular weekly and monthly updates, drop-in sessions and more detailed seminars and knowledge share sessions. Recorded webinars also work well.  

In terms of this award – we were really pleased to be nominated – so actually winning the award was the icing on the cake.

It's important for teams to feel recognised which reinforces our centre of excellence mentality. 

Can you tell us a bit about the virtual hearings you organised in April 2020?

Because they were forced on us by the pandemic, I think it’s fair to say that we were a bit anxious about them at first. 

And initially, they were a bit rough and ready – with judges and barristers a touch uneasy, and people’s IT connections also posing a challenge. But they’ve worked well and I think the courts should consider having more virtual hearings for perhaps routine matters.

We’ve all learned from the pandemic that we can do more things virtually than we ever thought were possible. 

Do I think that they work for difficult matters or for the appeal courts? Perhaps not. But I think we’ve all wasted less time travelling to and from court hearings and meetings. Hopefully, common sense will prevail as we move away from lockdown restrictions. 

Any general advice for anyone thinking of applying to the Excellence Awards this year? 

Focus on the question and keep it simple.

What's the message you're trying to get across?

What have you done that is really going to make you stand out?

Try and capture that in a simple way. 

It's a well-run process. So don't be afraid. If you're not sure whether you're going to get shortlisted, or win, be proud of what you’ve achieved and submit an application.

It's important for your teams and you never know, you might just win, like we did!

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