In-house Division committee member Helen Shay reviews day one of our annual conference, held on 18 June at Chancery Lane

Day one’s keynote address on “What top executives expect from the in-house function” came from Clare Woodman, CEO and head of EMEA at Morgan Stanley, in conversation with the Law Society’s director of strategic relationships, Stephen Denyer. Clare drew upon what she had learnt on her MBA course at business school for good advice on work-life balance (one of the main themes to emerge at the conference). She advocated being ruthless on prioritising and ready to seek support elsewhere, and having a sensible mantra of “good enough is fine”, striving for 80% and not always 100%.

Gender equality

From the morning breakout sessions, I chose “What part should men play in the advancement of women in law – male champions for change”. It was chaired by Stephen Denyer, with Anthony Kenny from GlaxoSmithKline, who has managed teams of predominantly women, and Brian Hanlan of Sky, where 75% of the directors are female. With an incumbent female Law Society president (Christina Blacklaws) at the time of the conference, and the profession soon to celebrate the centenary of the admission of the first woman solicitor, this discussion was highly topical.

 

It was accepted that women are still under-represented at senior / managing partner level, but in-house careers can be an opportunity for higher advancement. The Law Society has recently run some female-only roundtables to focus on barriers such as unconscious bias, the gender pay gap and the lack of flexible working. The paucity of best practice in these areas were discussed by the panel. 

Anthony, who has seen the challenges faced by his wife, confessed that he was not necessarily a fan of male champions. He stressed the need to modify how we measure work, because flexible working and part-time arrangements are not perceived as “working” in the same way, and it would be better for emphasis to be more on output. Brian, although single himself, saw gender equality as a universal problem, which needs men to be involved too in solving it, as otherwise it could be “a classic case of those with privilege, being blind to the problems of those without it”.

Achieving a work-life balance and becoming a trusted partner were two key themes to emerge from the conference

An intense discussion followed, with delegates sharing their own experiences. There was a general feeling that things were changing for the better, but many problems remained, particularly access to quality commercial work if working part-time / flexibly. It was also agreed that paternity benefits should be made in equal to those received by women and that men should be supported when they wish to take familial leave.

Tech

We then learnt “How to be a smart purchaser of technology” in a session chaired by the Law Society’s operational director, Sophia Adams Bhatti, with speakers Ben Foat, Post Office GC, Holly Manvell of Trainline, David Melville of Smartmatic and Amy Wallace of Onfido. It was acknowledged that there are always constraints on capacity and budget, together with the need to make a business case for more technology and to get your legal team to engage with what you might purchase.

Amy found that technology had enabled a contract to be done very quickly, cutting out a lot of painstaking drafting analysis. David uses cross-functional solutions wherever possible, but advised on assessing where your time and money goes in order to identify the most critical “pain points” that might suit a technical solution. He also advised to “find the geek” who loves tech in your department, and use them! He also warned how technology will make legal teams smaller in future by doing some of the work, especially if it is finally decided by the Law Commission whether a smart contract is legal. Amy felt that whilst technology will reduce admin and process, she could not see it replacing GC advice. 

Metrics

In the afternoon breakout sessions, there were three separate “Design Thinking” workshops. These aimed to bring together peers within sectors in a creative problem-solving and assumption-challenging process. These were led by specialists from LexisNexis: Darci Dutcher, Louisa van Eeden-Smit, Lucy Glyn and Matt Wardle. My workshop was “Which metrics do to I use to quickly and effectively report on the value of activities and outcomes of the legal department?”, run by Matt and Darci. They stressed the need to become a trusted partner (trust becoming another theme of the conference) and be seen as strategic, rather than just a cost centre. 

The day ended with a session on “Achieving closer alignment between the in-house legal function and the needs and priorities of the organisation”, chaired by Simon Dodds of Shearman & Sterling, with speakers Richard Armstrong of the London Metal Exchange, Jon Doyle of Barclays, Victoria Ferguson of MMC Ventures and Chris Fox of Kambi Group plc.

It was felt that there can be issues in identifying priorities, particularly in large organisations, but the speakers argued that, whatever your brief, you should try to expand it to help grow your career and personal brand. Building relationships is fundamental, together with holding on to your integrity, even when having to give unpalatable advice. Jon reminded us that it is always our advice that is scrutinised first in any investigation by a regulator. Simon made an interesting comment that, during the last 25 years, he has seen what is “acceptable” in practice change considerably, and that good in-house lawyers must be “sensitive to the changing norms” – thinking beyond the legal issues and bearing in mind reputational risks and business needs, to provide added value.

He summed up by saying that “the requirement of the lawyer to be quite brave these days is perhaps significant change”. This resonated with many of us – though the drinks networking event, which ended the day, helped fortify delegates before they left.