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Webinar report: Building and leading an in-house team

Our 2023 programme of Legal Leaders’ webinars in collaboration with Thomson Reuters continued in May.

In this event, we were joined by two senior in-house lawyers.

Stephen Braviner-Roman is General Counsel at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Before taking up this role in February 2022, he was the Director General of the Government Legal Department, a role he held for nearly nine years. At the FCA, Stephen leads a team of over 200 lawyers and, as well as GC, is the organisation’s Executive Director for corporate governance. 

Charles Mayo is General Counsel at Secure Trust Bank PLC, the listed specialised lender, which he joined in March 2021. Previously, he’d worked in private practice as a Partner, working at  Simmons & Simmons over a 29-year period. Reporting to Secure Trust Bank’s Chairman and CEO, Charles attends main board meetings as well as meetings of the Executive Committee and Executive Risk Committee

Between them, Stephen and Charles shared their knowledge, experience and insights into the key issues of building and leading an in-house legal team.

Defining the legal team’s purpose and culture

A good question to start with when building a legal team is ‘What are the organisation’s goals and how will we help to achieve them?’ Establishing the why of the legal team helps you set the operational parameters and decide what you will – and won’t - do.

It also helps you frame the legal function’s culture and strengthen every lawyer’s understanding of their role in the corporate purpose and strategy. By aligning your team around shared goals, you’ll help create a culture that’s geared to ‘moving the dial’ for the whole organisation.

Culture can be described as how people behave when management isn’t looking. So the legal team’s values must align with those of the wider organisation.

Demonstrating the legal team’s value by running towards problems should also be part of your way of working. There will be times when you need to make the case for additional resource and being able to show your value to the organisation may be critical. As the 2009 Wolstenholme Report put it, ‘Never waste a good crisis.’

Communicating with your client

‘Run towards the problems’

Charles Mayo

Citing a version of Romeo and Juliet that opens with the two young lovers dead on a bed, Charles advocates getting to the point quickly when advising internal clients. 

This starts with using your active listening skills to understand what your client really needs. Sometimes this can be different from what they’ve asked for. From here, provide upfront communication distilled into summary form. This will help you avoid a tennis rally-style dialogue which can begin when the legal team responds hard and fast to a query before fully grasping the issue and its effect on the organisation.

Key to this is to make your advice and judgements on the big issues future-focussed and proportionate to the scale of your organisation and its risks. Avoid being over-scientific, minimise legalese and Charles says (among other matters) never use Latin. And spend time with your colleagues to see how your advice is being used – and what results it’s generating, and (importantly) receiving and giving feedback.

Developing your team members’ careers

Encourage your team members to take external roles where appropriate to that individual’s development. Voluntary positions, such as school governorships, for example can help people develop a whole range of valuable non-legal skills such as communication, leadership and project management. Also encourage them to develop additional specialisms across the team.

Think too about the skills your team will need in the future. This will enable you to plan training and upskilling programmes to develop people’s careers in line with the evolution of the legal function.

And, consider opportunities to broaden your team members’ experience as well as deepen it. Lawyers who understand the world from more than one perspective are a huge asset to any legal team.

Ideally, your legal team will provide good opportunities for career progression and promotion. However, in even flat structures where promotion opportunities are few and far between, these measures will help your team members develop and enjoy fulfilment in their roles.

Developing yourself as a leader

‘All lawyers can be leaders, regardless of their seniority’ 

Stephen Braviner-Roman

Can you count on your people to muck in when times are tough? If the answer’s yes, your leadership behaviours are effective.

Good leaders are always ready to help other people become leaders, regardless of their job title. Almost anyone in a legal team can demonstrate leadership through the work they do, how they guide more senior people through legal challenges and how they help develop their colleagues. 

Also essential to great leadership is inclusion. Be sure to make everyone in your team feels valued and part of everything that’s going on. This matters because meeting the big challenges legal teams face these days is only possible through effective teamwork. 

Another important leadership behaviour is to role model what you want others to do and spend one-to-one time with team members. This helps to deepen their understanding of their roles.

Finally, reassure your team that legal doesn’t have to be dull and dreary – it’s OK to foster a sense of fun and enjoyment in the work.

Next up in this webinar series is ESG - Shifting landscapes and current events on 27 September. See you then.
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