I was fortunate to attend this excellent event on 15 June at 113 Chancery Lane, as a member of the In-house Division Committee and in-house solicitor at York University.
Whilst the building outside remained shrouded in scaffolding and builders’ coverings (some magically disappearing during the day, as renovation progressed), the conference inside was bright and vibrant from the start. There were some 170 delegates from private and public sectors, including energy, construction, finance, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, higher education, local government, housing and transport – with even a representative from NATO and a lawyer from a football club. This cross-section emphasised how widely in-house lawyers are now valued. The conference afforded lively networking opportunities, particularly in the Reading Room amongst the sponsors’ tables (Lexis Nexis, Proclaim and ICSA: The Government Institute).
Robert Bourns, vice president of The Law Society, opened with an address highlighting the importance and potential loneliness of the in-house solicitor. A panel session chaired by Sapna Bedi Fitzgerald, Legal Services director/company secretary at LSL Property Services and chair of the In-house Division Committee, discussed ‘The Value of the Legal Team’. Speakers were Michael Coates, head of UK legal at Shell International, Angela Hutchings, interim director at Essex Legal Services and Dr Deborah Prince, GC/company secretary at British Heart Foundation, looking at ‘added value’, innovation and strategic contribution. Common themes emerged of need to become a ‘trusted partner’ and ‘challenge constructively’.
The first plenary covered SRA Changes and the new Competency Framework, with speakers Robert Bourns, Julie Brannan, SRA’s director of education and training and Jo Large, BT’s head of knowledge management for legal governance/compliance, with chair Matthew Heath from the In-house Division Committee/head of UK legal at Fidelity. This was timely, as a show of hands revealed most delegates had not yet moved to the new system, soon to become compulsory.
Breakout sessions followed, comprising: Shared Services and New Models of Delivery in Local Government (speakers Angela Hutchings and Anthony Collins Solicitors); Managing In-house Legal Teams (Michael Coates); Civil Service Priorities-digital commercial and diversity (Claire Johnston, DG Government Legal Department); and Hot Topics for Charity/Not-for-Profit lawyers. I had privilege of facilitating the latter with speaker Joss Saunders, GC/ company secretary, Oxfam, who gave a fascinating address, touching also on his work with Lawyers against Poverty.
A plenary followed with Ciaran Fenton, leadership/behavioural change consultant, discussing ‘Disruption–relationship between the legal function and the business at a time of change’. After lunch, the Law Society’s technology policy advisor, Timothy Hill, and Colin Passmore of Simmons & Simmons tackled issues of privilege and threats to this. Then came ‘What have techies ever done for US? Can technology help lawyers lead a happier life?’ with Ethien’s Sue Pratt, client engagement head, and Paul Taylor, business solutions head.
The final plenary concerned building high-performing teams with Paul Hughes of Praxis centre for leadership development, Cranfield School of Management, Manu Kanwar of LexSolutions and Iain Larkins of Radius Law, with insights into how teams can position themselves around organisational aims. Closing remarks by Joe Egan, The Law Society’s deputy vice president, were followed by a drinks reception. Certainly feedback I heard there indicated the conference was successful and likely to grow in future years.