Youth fashion brand Missguided is a force to be reckoned with, with profits soaring, expansion into the USA and the launch of its flagship store in London. We speak to Bhavisha Mistry about how she became Missguided’s first general counsel, why staying on brand is vital in everything her team does, and how she uses Rihanna and Kim Kardashian to explain IP rights to staff.
You started your career in private practice. Why did you move in-house?
I wasn’t actively seeking to go in-house; the opportunity just arose at Missguided (MG). When I went for the interview, I was mesmerised by their offices in Eccles, Manchester; the layout was just so funky and creative and really inspired me in terms of what the legal function of MG would look like. It seemed a great opportunity and a place where I could really make my mark.
I remember going on holiday straight after the interview and all I could think about were the things I could do for the business using my legal experience and knowledge and my personal interests in fashion, celebrity culture, pop music etc. For me, it was an opportunity not to be missed – I was able to combine my personal and professional passions in my job.
In private practice, I was exposed to many different clients and businesses, but I didn’t get to see how my advice was impacting the wider business or how it was being implemented. In-house, I can see the impact of my advice and really tailor that advice to the business, because I know the business inside out and, most importantly, I know my individual clients within the business well enough to know how they want the advice to be delivered.
How did you go about embedding yourself in the business and becoming a trusted adviser?
My priority was getting to know the business really well. I had face-to-face meetings with everyone, including heads of department and directors, to identify what made them tick so I could begin to understand how I could help them achieve their goals. Through this, I was able gauge what was important: speed and simplicity.
Taking this on board, I produced a set of contract templates. The format was actually inspired by my dealings with the lawyers of the singer, Pia Mia – one of my first exciting celebrity projects. The net result has been to really streamline the contracts process, making it easier for everyone (not just lawyers). The key commercial terms are the most prominent elements, being the terms that my clients are most concerned about.
As well as the technical aspects, it was also important that my appearance reflected the brand and made me approachable so that I could get buy-in from a young, creative team, with an average age of 27. I dress in MG clothing every single day. Whilst this helps me become more approachable, it also reflects my pride in the MG brand and all of the talented people I work with.
How did you tailor your approach to legal matters to fit the company’s youthful and informal brand and ethos?
MG is a very fast-paced environment – no law firm I’ve worked for has ever worked as fast as we do here! Everything we do has to be driven by speed and a sexy, entrepreneurial, can-do approach. A lot of the things my team is asked to advise on you could not open a book and get the answer to, so we have to be innovative.
For me, the essence of a good lawyer is being able to take complex legal principles and translate them in a simple and unfussy manner, bearing in mind the commercial client often doesn’t want the all the legal details, just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
The contracts process is simplified through our unique templates. There’s also the compliance aspects of the business and being in a creative industry. So, I produced ‘The little book of legal stuff’. This contained all the key things that staff needed to know about, ie contracts, consumer rights, data protection, confidentiality etc. The title is intentionally informal, as is the book’s general tone of voice. The book is the signature MG pink colour and contains photos of Tupac Shakur. Whilst this isn’t the typical type of training material most lawyers would use, it works in our business because it captures the reader’s attention straight away and makes the content relatable. If you keep things simple and interesting, people are going to take away and absorb your message.
I did the same thing in relation to getting the message across about intellectual property rights (IP). My challenge was: how do I get across the complex principles of IP law and translate them into understandable terms to people who have no interest in the law? The answer was using the Kardashians and Rihanna – I used their quotes and friendships as analogies to get points across in a relatable way.
Working in-house, I have realised how the perception of private practice of what a client wants from their lawyers is far removed from the reality. Advice is unduly risk-averse, woolly and uncommercial. The formal, furrowed-browed approach can put people off instructing lawyers. Comments I often hear about lawyers are that they ‘cause delays’, ‘overcomplicate things’ and are ‘intimidating’. The latter is an important point – clients don’t actually want to see a ‘briefcase’, ie a black-suited, formal lawyer with danger written all over their face. They want someone that they can relate to and build trust in, who they feel is truly going to help them achieve their goals; it makes it very difficult to do this when their client feels intimidated.
One of the biggest things I’ve learnt in-house is to know your client and be your client. That is the only way you are going to gain their trust and be able to deliver truly valuable advice. Keep as your focus what it is your client is interested in, and be creative, commercial and fun!
How has your role developed as the business has grown?
The perception of me has changed. People at first saw me as someone to go to only when something went wrong or to draft T&Cs. I am now truly embedded within the business and someone that people go to at the outset when they have a business idea and want help implementing it.
I have expanded the team, recruiting two lawyers to help with the day-to-day work, which has helped give me more time to work on business strategy.
I want the legal team to continue to be influential in what the business does and be seen as true business advisers, not just lawyers; we are the business and the brand first, and a legal team second. The MG brand must be reflected in everything we do.
Why did you decide to enter the Excellence Awards 2017 (Bhavisha was highly commended in the Solicitor of the Year - In-house category)?
I think my story is quite inspirational. I was only three years’ PQE when I started at MG. When I began my legal career, I never thought I would end up where I am now. I worked very hard to build my technical expertise, which gave me the confidence to make the big leap in-house. My passion for business and for MG has helped me to set up the legal function. My message is: never give up on your dreams. Through hard work, passion and dedication you can really achieve what you want.