Making Work, Work

On Tuesday June 25, 2019, the Academy Awards of the legal industry, aka The Lawyers Awards, took place at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. Obelisk Support was shortlisted in the Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion category and we were particularly impressed by the winning entries in the in-house category. Via Obelisk’s legal blog, The Attic, we contacted some of the winners of the In-House category to learn about their secret recipe for legal success – and congratulate them along the way.

General Counsel of the Year: Tess Bridgman, Cory Riverside Energy Group

Tess Bridgman, general counsel and company secretary of recycling and waste disposal firm Cory Riverside Energy Group, won the much-coveted title of General Counsel of the Year 2019 thanks to the impressive evidence of technical, leadership and strategic excellence at the heart of a complex and business-critical project she led. Indeed, Bridgman has been right at the heart of the action at her company’s most significant steps forward in recent years. In 2018 the company was acquired by a consortium of infrastructure investors and in 2019, it went through a major debt refinancing.

Aged just 34, Bridgman helped steer one of the most impressive turnarounds in the market, transforming Cory from an over-leveraged, distressed conglomerate into a focused and profitable infrastructure business aimed at serving Greater London. In parallel, Bridgman changed Cory’s in-house team from a siloed structure to a department that is now considered not just an enabler, but also a creative leader of change.

Tess Bridgman shared the following with us. “Winning the General Counsel of the Year award means a lot to me, topping off an incredible three years at Cory Riverside Energy. When I joined, the company was undergoing huge change and was undertaking multiple complex transactions simultaneously. With no prior GC experience, I was really thrown in the deep end and am so proud to have come out the other side with this award. This is not something I could have done, however, without the incredible wisdom, support and challenge that I received from my colleagues and advisers.”

“To be a great GC in today’s world you need to be more than “just the lawyer”. It is beginning to sound trite, as I know GCs and in-house counsel have been saying this for some time now, but the role is about being a truly trusted adviser to the board, the CEO, the senior management team and, effectively, the whole business. It is about taking a leadership role in influencing the strategy and direction of the company and / or major transactions, and taking the skills learned as a lawyer and applying them to situations that may not, on the face of it, be “legal” (for example, the ability to synthesise complex issues to enable clear commercial decisions to be taken; or the ability to project manage). Success requires an enquiring mind, and having the confidence to ask questions or speak up and make a stand on issues that matter – whether these relate to matters of commerce, governance, sustainability, diversity or any other important issue facing your organisation. It requires energy, to manage multiple issues and projects at one time, and determination and empathy, to lead and influence others and navigate multiple and varied stakeholders.”

Fittingly, Bridgman is also a strong voice for female leadership – no doubt inspired by her ancestor, New Zealand suffragette Kate Sheppard who led the women’s campaign for women’s votes in 1893.

In-House Commerce and Industry Team of the Year: Post Office

For state-owned company the Post Office, the biggest challenge has been to become a commercially sustainable business and financially independent of government funding. It goes without saying that its legal team has been busy, winning In-House Commerce and Industry Team of the Year thanks to their hard work in modernising the Post Office as a business. In the last year it has overhauled its panel, created an academy to upskill its lawyers and created new procedures to streamline the contract approval and legal risk management processes.

A Post Office spokesman shared the following with us: “We’re delighted and proud that the Post Office’s legal team has won this award following a year of supporting the business during its continuing transformation.”

“The team’s achievements include supporting major Post Office strategic initiatives such as its acquisition of  Payzone Bill Payments and the negotiation of a new agreement with major high street banks for the services provided on their behalf through Post Office branches.”

“At the same time, the team has implemented changes to increase efficiency and value in managing the broad range of business matters it is required to support.”

In-House TMT Team of the Year: Farfetch

Fresh from winning Luxury Deal of the Year and Luxury Business In-House Legal Team of the Year at the Luxury Law Summit in London in April 2019, the Farfetch legal team wins TMT Team of the Year thanks to how they supported a period of fantastic growth for the company, culminating in the NYSE listing in September 2018. The legal team was also commended for their ‘keeping sane’ approach to procuring external counsel assistance.

The legal function at luxury fashion tech platform Farfetch was set up just five years ago, and has been at the centre of the company’s strategy and operations for all that time, advising the business through super-charged growth. 2018 was truly a year to remember; it achieved a US$5.8bn listing, a group re-organisation including a new holding company in the Cayman Islands, the acquisition of a digital and technology business in China, a global partnership deal with Harvey Nichols and an innovation partnership with Chanel, and the acquisition of a US-based premier streetwear online marketplace. At the same time, it was involved in the launch of an office in India and a tech hub in Portugal. The breadth of regulatory changes, corporate transactions and commercial issues was enormous, but the team, led by general counsel James Maynard, took it all in their stride.

In-House FTSE Commerce & Industry Team of the Year: Tarmac

Reflecting a building materials industry changing with the underlying construction industry, Tarmac has been through major restructuring and managed to forge a culture of innovation, having recently developed a new rubberised asphalt using recycled waste tires. Corporate innovation and changes came with high-stakes legal challenges. Tarmac wins FTSE Commerce & Industry Team of the Year thanks to their strong application of legal skills, leadership, management and innovation in demanding situations and under lots of pressure.

Katie Smart, general counsel for Tarmac, shared the following with us: “We’re absolutely delighted to have won this award which is a fantastic reflection of the hard work and dedication of very single member of the legal and compliance team.

“We’re all proud to work for Tarmac and this recognition from The Lawyer Awards helps shine a spotlight on the range of exciting career opportunities available within our company, as well as the wider construction industry which is such a great place to work for many professions.”

In-House Banking & Financial Services Team of the Year: Zopa

Pioneer P2P lending fintech Zopa matches people looking for a competitive loan rate with investors looking for a higher rate of return, and has lent more than £3.7bn to low-risk UK borrowers since 2004. Zopa’s bank is scheduled to launch in 2019 with plans to offer FSCS protected deposit accounts, credit cards, and a money management app. This company growth into new territory has been supported along by the legal team and this week, Zopa’s legal team won In-House Banking & Financial Services Team of the Year thanks to their creative legal advice and collaboration to facilitate the business as well as for the team’s focus on returners and diversity.

The Zopa legal team pushed into new regulatory territory over 2018, spearheading the launch of a new challenger bank to sit alongside its existing business, creating the world’s first hybrid peer-to-peer and digital bank.

General counsel Olivia Broderick saw Zopa through its acquisition of a banking license, the new bank creating unusual challenges alongside the existing peer-to-peer lending entity. The new bank needed people and assets to prove to the regulator that it was a resilient business and for this, the legal team led a TUPE transfer and a series of asset transfers from the P2P business to the bank.

Congratulations to all the winning teams for their achievements!


Making Work, Work

Change management is always tricky as it’s one thing to make a change, but quite another to convince people to change – especially lawyers in the traditionally change-averse legal profession. We reached out to Jennifer Emery, author of Leading for Organisational Change: Building Purpose, Motivation and Belonging, to discuss how legal teams, lawyers and general counsels can become better at change management and harness the power of change to innovate and be the best they can be.

#1 Tell us about yourself and your work at Arup

I am currently in a new role at Arup as their Global Leader for People and Culture. This is a new departure for me after almost 20 years in law, originally as a lawyer and then on the strategy and business side of law firms and most recently, leading the merger and integration team at CMS, Nabarro and Olswang. Off the back of that merger, I made a scary mid-career leap into the designing, engineering and architecture sector. In lots of respects, it’s very similar to law, and in lots of other respects, it’s very different.

My brief at Arup is to take what is already a purpose-led, values-driven top quality firm and help it take the next step in its evolution. Arup is now 75 years old, it started small, it’s built on networks and relationships and we now have 16,000 people across 80 offices worldwide. I’m aiming at delivering a vision of the way forward by the end of this calendar year but as always, and it’s true for law firms too, the real challenge will be in the execution of the transformation and that will take three to five years.

#2 How can legal team leaders empower lawyers who traditionally value autonomy?

In my book on organisational change, I refer to the concept of empowerment and how people like to have a say in how things are done. Given that lawyers value autonomy, have opinions and are articulate about these opinions, doing anything other than seeking to empower them is much harder and is destined to fail. In the context of change, it doesn’t work well to see people as passive recipients, victims almost, of a process of change. They will respond much better if they understand the rationale behind something and if they feel involved so that they feel that they are making a meaningful contribution.

For lawyers, it’s very important to make the intellectual case for what you are doing. Lawyers are very uncomfortable with ambiguity, as are we all, but lawyers more than most. In any change project, give as much certainty as you can and be as clear as you can about what we do know. When you’ve done that, that’s where the autonomous traits of lawyers kick in. Being clear about parameters, and then giving lawyers the maximum possible chance to get involved and shape the outcome is what gets them on board.

Practical examples:

  • At macro-scale, one of the success factors behind the relatively smooth delivery of the CMS merger smoothly was that everyone was crystal clear about the rationale and commercial purpose of what we were doing. It was different for all three parties but all three groups of people knew what we were doing and why.
  • At a more detailed level underneath that, you may be making changes to how billing processes work, for example, or trying to align different groups of people onto a single grade structure. Make it clear that various options were considered and that this is why your proposed approach is the best option for now, and here is what we might do in the future. Be transparent. The mistake that we make sometimes is that we are in such a hurry that we present people with a fait accompli rather than being willing to share the insights. That’s disempowering and irritating for people.

This sort of openness and transparency is particularly important with lawyers because they can tend to assume that you haven’t done the thinking until proven otherwise. We are trained as lawyers to find an argument, to catch the loophole and the reason why something might not work. If you are willing to show that lawyers on your team that you have applied thought and rigour, and that while the option you’re presenting might not be the perfect one, on balance it’s the best, then you’ve got a winning argument. Lawyers will go with that, rather than being presented with a statement that they think has had no thought applied to it.

#3 Is the fact that lawyers are notoriously risk-adverse impacting the change process?

Everybody has to some extent adverse reactions when we are faced with change because it’s how our brains are wired. If something is unknown, we perceive it as a threat – we have the same neurological response as if we were being chased by a tiger! For lawyers, that tendency is hard-wired in and substantiated by their training. When we are acting for clients, we are effectively minimising risk for them. But being risk-adverse is good. It brings rigour and requires people who are making the case for change to be robust.

#4 How do you deal with friction and conflict when changing a legal team?

There’s a degree of unrest and uncertainty that comes simply by virtue of changing. In some contexts, that can manifest itself for some people as being defensive and you can end up with a bit of conflict that way. It helps to understand what is going on for individuals and for that, there’s a neurological model developed by David Rock called the SCARF model that I often refer back to:

  • S stands for status. Something’s happening and the person feels that they are not on secure ground anymore. It can be anything like a change of technology that makes the person feel that they are losing some standing in the eyes of others.
  • C stands for confidence or certainty.
  • A stands for autonomy. “I used to do things my way and now you’re telling me to do things another way. I don’t like that.”
  • R stands for relationship. In the case of a merger, you may be threatening the close working relationship of people who have been together for years or you may be asking them to work for new people.
  • F stands for fairness. Are you dealing equitably with everybody?

On dealing with conflict on a one to one basis, understanding where people are coming from, what may be happening for them on a human level, will help you address those concerns better.

More generally, in the case of conflict, leaders need to show that they can listen and allow people to explain what they are cross about. Leaders need to be a human being in the room and empathise with their team members. Understanding where the pain points are is a great start. There’s a good chance you will be able to make little changes, little course adjustments, that can make a lot of difference. Just as lawyers do for a living, seek to reach compromise.

Last but not least, let’s not forget the power of storytelling in change management for legal teams. It’s a mechanism that’s really helpful with lawyers. Stories work differently in our brains to fact. You are 22 times more likely to remember a story than fact. A lot of what I was doing during the merger was telling stories, finding people’s stories. That methodology of change, showing lawyers the story of a peer that they respect and that really works – it’s a different sort of sense-making and can help to take the heat out of a situation.

#5 How can general counsels help their team build skills for innovation and agility?

There’s no single factor that delivers agility. I think about a gymnast – to be truly agile, you need a really strong spine, and then you need to discard all the extraneous stuff that weighs you down. For a legal team, your purpose is that spine, along with the core systems and processes you absolutely need to keep yourself on track. Ask yourself these questions.

  • What is it that you are changing and why?
  • What are we doing here?
  • What is the purpose of the legal team in the organisation?
  • What must we do time and time again that adds value?
  • What are the robust processes that we need to keep everything on track?

Beyond that, the case is for shedding as much as you can so that you can remain sleek and agile.

Beyond that, once you’re agile and future-fit, fostering active innovation, has a lot has to do with curiosity, bravery, and ability to connect with other people. Read about tech and invest in your own learning. My favourite current read for inspiration is

Practical example:

We always think that innovation is something huge but simple changes, thinking from the client’s perspective, thinking about the user design might make what you are currently doing even better.

At CMS, somebody came up with the idea to embed tiny animated YouTube videos in the auto signatures in Scotland because the methodology for executing legal documents is different in Scotland from what it is in England. Now the messages read, “Please find attached the documents that need to be executed. Please click here for a link to a short video explaining how to do it.” Adding video tutorials was one person’s idea over their lunch.

#6 How do you build cohesion across teams while encouraging diversity?

To solve complex problems, you need a huge diversity of opinions, backgrounds, perspectives and skills to come up with the best solution, but that only works if you’ve created a culture where everybody feels at home and everybody feels that they can participate to their best. You need a sense of inclusion.

In part, that comes with uniting people around a common purpose. We may all be different but we are all working towards a common goal and this creates a sense of belonging. However, there’s also a big interpersonal challenge there. You do need to invest time in knowing your team members well personally, there’s no shortcut, that’s how trust is built. The people in your team also need to have the same experience with each other.

Especially in remote teams, I’m increasingly really fond of doing something more structured such as using a strength inventory psychometric online tool to show the whole team who has what strengths. It will show how we might all work together and what everybody is good at. It gives a chance to people to work across silos together. It helps people appreciate each other and harvest the benefits of diversity.

#7 How will tech impact the future of work for the legal profession?

We spend a lot of time talking about the particular tools and about which bits of the lawyer’s job these tools are going to do for us. The market is still settling around what it wants but the reality is that lots of these tools will help lawyers do what has always been the most boring bits of their job. That’s a good thing.

The much more interesting and exciting part of the discussion is around what does that free lawyers up to do that AI cannot do?

  • Making fine judgments.
  • Balancing competing priorities.
  • Calls which require discretion.
  • Building relationships with clients.
  • Understanding what a good outcome is for clients.

How do we interface between being a lawyer and the machine and crucially, what do we do with the goldmine of data that we have? Lawyers don’t talk enough about the upsides of having access to data. How do you interrogate data to help support better decision making? That’s exciting – you can use that data to give better advice to your clients and come up with better solutions.

On a closing note, it is fairly clear that successful change is about a lot more than numbers even if numbers are part of the motivation. It is also refreshing to note that Jennifer Emery’s human-centric approach to organisational change applies beyond legal teams. Her sound advice provides inspiration for all meaningful changes, including life changes at large. You can find her book on Amazon and in all good bookstores.

You can follow Jennifer Emery on Twitter at @jenpens and on LinkedIn.