The keys to success for in-house lawyers were on the agenda when Andrew Davies spoke to Blake Morgan. As part of the Counsel+ In-House Insights series of interviews, The General Counsel and Deputy University Secretary at the University of South Wales highlighted opportunities, challenges and what is needed to thrive in his role.
The chat started with Andrew describing what has driven him in his career – being a lawyer and working in the education sector. “There’s certainly a rewarding feeling about being a part of the provision of education,” he explained. “Everything you do is helping to inspire the next generation. Perhaps one of the better moments I’ve had is sitting on the stage with a cap and gown on, watching all of the graduates come up to receive their awards at our graduation ceremonies.”
What are the keys to success?
With good governance being in the spotlight of late, including regulatory and legislative updates, Andrew spoke about what is important to in-house lawyers moving forward.
“We’re faced with an ever more complex legal landscape, and greater legal scrutiny. The governance and how you respond to that is key,” he said. “Those problems are common across most in-house positions.
Success is being able to spot and manage the risks that exist and adapt to new problems and challenges.
Andrew stressed the importance of in-house lawyers keeping pace with technological change but knowing the risks involved. He cited examples of businesses looking to move towards holding information in the cloud, adapting to new methods of delivery and using apps. Helping the business adapt to tech change is important.
“It’s important to get a good foundation while understanding that sometimes there is a need to slow businesses down. Making them think about the risks is critical.”
Risk was something that came up a lot during the interview. Andrew commented: “As advisors to the business, it is about helping the business understand the risk. They can accept the risk, adapt to the risk and mitigate the risk. Risk control is something that in-house lawyers actively help manage.”
One of the main challenges for in-house lawyers according to Andrew, especially in the education sector and universities, is the wide variety of problems encountered. Within in-house, there is a smaller pool of specialist resource.
“In private practice there are specialist teams of lawyers and you are surrounded by knowledgeable partners,” remarked Andrew. “You have got a wealth of related expertise around you. You can call on experts when you’re in larger firms but in in-house, you have to respond and adapt to any issues that are arising. You have got to be prepared to offer support out of your comfort zone. After doing that, you’ve got to be able to sleep at night.”
With those challenges, an in-house lawyer needs to have the ability to adapt and must know their business. “You’ve got to develop skills that put you in tune with the risk profile of your business,” commented Andrew, who highlighted the need for commercial advice and adding value where you can.
Working with external partners
However, what happens if the need for specialist advice is overwhelming? “You’ve got to know when to bow out and use experts in external firms,” said Andrew, who uses the three Cs – capability, capacity, cost – when deciding whether to go to the panel of lawyers the University of South Wales use.
“Understanding capability is important, can you add value, is it within your expertise, can you comment on the risk involved in certain decision? If you get it wrong, is it likely to cost you more money?
External expertise might better understand the legal position, the market position, have more diversity of thought and bring in creative solutions.
Crucial factors when looking at external expertise include added benefits. “We like to make sure we can get the additional extras that a panel can deliver in terms of things like understanding our business and opportunities like training,” said Andrew. “You want partner firms who understand your methods of working, understand your risk profile, and the type of advice you are looking for. The legal advice needs to be commercial with risk analysis built in. They need to understand what the university wants to achieve in given situations. That builds-up over time and relationships become more and more important.”
Does networking help?
“It really helps in-house,” confirmed Andrew. “In-house can be much more isolated than private practice. At Blake Morgan you are surrounded by hundreds of lawyers.
“I’ll quote Donald Rumsfeld here, there is a need to tackle unknown unknowns.
“In tackling those unknowns, you need diversity of thought, perspectives, inputs and experience.”
“This is all required to advise a business. One person, or small teams, cannot achieve that. Peer networks of lawyers, in-house lawyers, private practice lawyers, your related networks are all necessary to help with creative solutions as well as a great legal panel of course. It helps you understand what the market standard is. You can call on specialist knowledge to look at the best possible solutions for the business.
It is really helpful to reach out to someone who has the same problem as you, or has similar or more relevant expertise, and say – does this sound crazy to you?
That is where Counsel+ can help.
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.
This interview is part of a series of conversations with in-house lawyers which Blake Morgan are documenting, as part of our business forum for in-house counsel.
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