In-house Insights: An interview with George Panteli

15th March 2023

As part of Blake Morgan’s Counsel+ forum, In-house Insights is a series of interviews which will delve into the working lives of in-house lawyers.

Blake Morgan is proud to have amongst our team a number of partners and staff who have previously worked in-house, bringing to private practice a wealth of experience of what it is like to be on ‘the other side of the fence’. We spoke to Blake Morgan Real Estate Partner George Panteli to kick off.

The challenges of being an in-house lawyer

Having had experience in private practice and in-house before joining Blake Morgan, George understands the demands and what needs to be done from an intriguing perspective. The challenges that in-house lawyers face vary as organisations have their own needs but there are many common themes.

On relying on the support of external counsel, George commented: “Often a good in-house lawyer will be able do the work themselves but it might be capacity issues which leads to sending work out as they do not have the resource in-house. A typical in-house lawyer will have a lot on their plate and so it is about managing it.

“There could also be an expertise gap. They know what their business is looking out for in terms of risk. However, they might not necessarily know an area of law well enough to know exactly what those red flags are. That’s where we can help.”

The importance of building an in-house community

A key attraction for joining in-house lawyer groups for George was ‘the collective’. In uncertain times, he was quick to point out the benefits of working collaboratively, sharing what issues you are facing and possible solutions. Knowing what is going on in the market and sharing experiences could prove vital as the market moves forwards. George said: “We can lead the way in collaboration and innovation at Counsel+ by answering key questions like: what are we doing at Blake Morgan? What are others doing? How can we use this information to deal with what is happening in the market?”

Horizon scanning is crucial for in-house lawyers. George commented:

In-house lawyers need to know what is going on in the market and what might be coming down the line. They need to know the potential risks that might be on the horizon.

The strapline for Blake Morgan’s in-house lawyer forum, Counsel+, is ‘Link, Learn, Lead’, and George elaborated on why this wasn’t just a motto but critical to what members wanted out of the group. He said:

Link – that is the collective piece, utilising our client base, the networking. Speaking to other GCs, contacts, sector specific and peer groups in other sectors.

Learn – what do you learn that you can build on? What can you upskill on? It can be technical. A lot of lawyers want to know the horizon scanning piece. They want to know what they don’t know. What is coming down the line? We can do that step for them. For example, ‘we know your business so well, we think this piece of legislation will have an impact on your future’.

“Learn can also be something a little more soft skill focused, like how to negotiate contracts. Commercial awareness, negotiation skills, that kind of thing.

Lead – the leadership piece is an evolution from learn. Giving people the skills, the resilience that they need. They are hearing about these skills and they can become a leader themselves. They can bring back to their organisation what they heard at a certain event to lead their organisation forward.”

George added: “At Blake Morgan, at Counsel+, we get in-house. Commercial advice is key.

“For in-house lawyers, having good outside counsel will make you look good to the business, that is what all parties want so you are on the same page.”

The advantages of having both in-house and private practice experience

George spoke effusively about how in-house lawyer groups helped him in the past when he was working in-house. “You need to understand what is going on in the market and how others are dealing with things,” he said, before also stressing the importance of having the experience of both in-house and private practice.

“If you are in-house, you are part of their team, the barriers are down,” remarked George. “For example, you understand the reasons for the points in the heads of terms. You understand more deeply what the business needs. What happens if you do this? It has an impact on the bottom line and the operational expenditure of a project. That is really key as that is the knowledge that you take outside of in-house and back into private practice. You can then really appreciate that when instructions come through and certain things need to be done. It comes back to being commercially savvy again.”

Our in-house real estate community

As part of Counsel+, George has championed the introduction of a Real Estate Counsel Network. He commented: “So much of the in-house community in general is commercial or corporate focused. Real estate is a bit more niche.

Getting those in-house real estate lawyers together to share ideas of how to add value is important.

“It is also a lonely place to be. You are trying to define your company’s risk appetite on real estate matters but you haven’t really got a yardstick to compare it with so having a community where you can say ‘well I know other tenants are asking for this, that’s where we should be as a business’.

“Safety in numbers and talking to each other will help.”

The Counsel+ in-house lawyer forum

Counsel+ is an in-house lawyer forum, aimed at general counsel and the in-house community, find out more about it here and sign up to our mailing list to ensure you do not miss out on exclusive invitations to roundtable events, thought provoking webinars and the latest developments.

Look out for future In-house Insights, which will feature in-house lawyers and the unique perspective they have.

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