Sheekha Saha and Vlad Valiente, Co-conveners of the In-house Lawyers Committee round up the committee’s key priorities and achievements of 2020.

What a year!

This has been a very different year, to that envisaged at the start. There is no question the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically altered our ways of working, impacted on us all: personally; for some dramatically on the type of work we do; and impacted on the client-organisations we work for. There are positives however: the in-house community, like the legal profession at large, has demonstrated agility and resilience; we are all gaining increasing awareness of the importance of good mental wellbeing and the Society has led significant work in this area. At the annual conference delivered this year over three days, as an online Festival of in-house Legal, the mood in ‘the room’ was firmly one of optimism.

Highlights of 2020

In line with our aim of improving engagement with solicitors across the in-house community and promotion of the interests of in-house solicitors, the In-house Lawyers’ Committee (ILC) has concentrated on the following projects in the 2019/ 2020 practice year.

A major highlight of the year was our in-house legal virtual festival. The conference was originally scheduled to be held in Glasgow in June 2020, but moved to a fully online forum in October 2020, in light of physical distancing measures mandated by Scottish Government in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. There was fantastic content, produced in collaboration with the Society’s CPD team, and it was a great opportunity to meet so many colleagues at the three-day online event and a first for us both to chair this event in this new online world! 

We also undertook outreach activities to learn from others in the global in-house legal community. This included supporting the SOLAR annual conference, as well as Sheekha’s attendance at the Local Authorities Solicitors Bar Association (LASBA) annual conference in Dublin, in December 2019 and the Society’s Head of Engagement for In-house Lawyers, Beth Anderson, was invited by the European Company Lawyers Association (ECLA) to their Legal Disruption conference in Dublin in February 2020.

We are passionate about providing topical and relevant Journal content, which this year included a feature on in-house lawyers’ Covid-19 response by Catherine Corr; a Black Lives Matter opinion piece by Thembe McInnes and interviews with eminent in-house solicitors over the course of the year.

The in-house landscape

It is of continued importance to the committee to input into and promote the Society’s research into the in-house traineeship landscape. This included a detailed survey of the in-house community, three focus group sessions and a Journal report on findings in February 2020. We also supported the Society’s research into the profession’s Covid-19 response, which included telephone interviews with over 50 GCs and Heads of Legal and an online survey that had over 450 responses from across the in-house community.

It has been fantastic to see the growth of the In-house Rising Star Award 2020, to recognise emerging talent in the in-house community. This year saw a record number of nominations, with 14 outstanding new lawyers being put forward for the award.

You might have spotted the new Society guide on establishing an in-house legal function – we published this new resource in October to support those who are an organisation’s first or sole in-house counsel, but we would encourage all in-house counsel to consider this strategic document.

We enjoy the continued dialogue and openness that our colleagues share with the committee, this year our highlights included running a number of roundtable sessions for in-house counsel to support information sharing in the early stages of the pandemic and the three dedicated CPD webinars with a focus on risk management in the context of the Covid-19 crisis. We are also looking forward to considering options for an online community platform to support in-house counsel this coming year.

Looking ahead

Looking ahead, the Society’s Council has set next year’s annual plan and budget in context of an overall two-year strategy, shorter than previous five-year plans given the sheer unpredictability of the longer-term impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit upon the work we do and the members we support and represent. It will be another busy year ahead; the ILC will continue to support the Society’s work in all areas, focusing on the needs of the in-house legal community.

Your In-house Lawyers Committee

We were elected by our in-house peers as Co-Conveners of the ILC, effective from 1 July 2019. The current Committee Members are:

  • Thembe McInnes of Edinburgh Airport Limited and ILC Vice Convener (Education & Careers)
  • John Morrison of Phoenix Group and ILC Vice Convener (Engagement)
  • Arlene Gibbs, Aberdeenshire Council
  • Catherine Corr, Scottish Enterprise
  • Debbie Carroll, COPFS
  • John Forsyth, Lloyds Bank
  • Michael Byrne, Thermo Fisher Scientific
  • Norma Shippin, Central Legal Office of the NHS
  • Rachael McLean, Scottish Government Legal Directorate

You can read more about the work of the committee in the Annual Report, For further information and/or to get involved with any of the work we do please contact us at inhouse@lawscot.org.uk. We would love to hear from you.