David Bryson, In-house Lawyers’ Committee vice convener and senior legal counsel at Baillie Gifford & Co, reflects on his experience of chairing a recent in-house roundtable.
When bringing together solicitors from seven different sectors at a recent in-house roundtable, I wondered what exactly we would have in common and how quickly our varied backgrounds would result in diverging opinions.
Focusing some of the discussion on how in-house lawyers can add value to their organisations, it turned out we had huge amounts in common and the sectorial differences seemed insignificant.
For me, there were three key takeaways from the session.
Proactivity versus firefighting
It is important to engage with your colleagues across the organisation to find out what is happening on a regular basis, so that the legal team can be proactive rather than being called in solely for firefighting – the additional benefit of course being that proactive activity can minimise or prevent difficulties arising in the first place. That said, legal teams should not undervalue being reactive – organisations want their in-house counsel to be available and helpful at times of crisis or greatest need. The key is matching the legal team’s resources appropriately to the proactive and the reactive spheres.
Join the dots
Legal can often be an agent for 'joining the dots' across the organisation, helping to pull different areas together in cross-team projects. A legal team’s value to an organisation can be its commercial skills, common sense and understanding of the environment in which the organisation operates. As part of the organisation, in-house lawyers’ priority is the success of the organisation and they are committed to its goals.
Be a critical friend
Guard against colleagues seeing you as a barrier and adopting a 'don’t send to legal' attitude, but rather be seen as a 'critical friend’ across the organisation. Get the balance right though, to avoid things being 'thrown over the wall' to legal. The model of running everything past the lawyers or providing a special service to a particular team is unsustainable. Empower colleagues to deal with certain things themselves, while developing good relationships with your non-legal colleagues so that they seek your advice at the right times.
Ultimately, despite vast differences in the service each of our organisations may provide, in-house solicitors often encounter the same challenges. Having a forum to share these challenges and, perhaps more importantly, how we’ve dealt with them is hugely beneficial.
We’ll be holding more in-house roundtables over the coming year, with our next event on Tuesday, 12 March 2019. If you’d like to take part in that or any future sessions, please contact Beth Anderson, Head of Engagement for In-house Lawyers at the Law Society.