As part of a series of interviews we are showcasing the potential for lawyers beyond the ‘traditional role’,  Syed Nasser speaks to Hitesh Chowdhry, Co-Founder and Managing Director of InvestIN Education.

Could you tell us a bit about your background and your current role?

I’ve had 3 careers so far, all before the age of 40! I was a practising lawyer for 8 years, first practising as a litigator at a law firm in the City before joining the Treasury. I then moved into legal tech, after completing my MBA, running a business development team across EMEA and APAC for Kroll.

Whilst working full-time I co-founded an education start-up, InvestIN, with a friend of mine with a finance background. Initially we were just trying to help young people who were interested in careers in either law or finance. Today we run InvestIN full-time with 45+ permanent staff, offering immersive career experiences to 15,000+ school students per year in 28 different careers and across multiple jurisdictions.

 

Why did you leave legal practice?

I was always more interested in the commercial aspects of matters I worked on than the legal ones. I remember even being a trainee and feeling like I belonged on the other side of the table in meetings with clients. In the end, even in litigation, the commercial realities dictated everything else. The move into business and Legal tech was a breath of fresh air for me – I could see first-hand how innovation was making the business of law much more efficient; something that was long overdue in my opinion and has of course only accelerated since. But my heart has always been in education. It has a lot of parallels with legal services – an age-old industry that’s ripe for innovation. That’s what we’re trying to do here at InvestIN.

 

Were there any challenges in making a move?

I was lucky to enter a company (Kroll) that wanted ex-lawyers. It was the ideal stepping stone really from the world of law to entrepreneurship. I owe so much to the people at Kroll who gave me such a hands-on grounding in how to run a business. There were other challenges of course, it felt risky moving away from a secure and respected profession and I was always conscious that my peers might be wondering what on earth I was doing but ultimately I had to follow what was right for me, luckily, I have never looked back.

 

Do you have any advice for those considering a similar change?

The working world isn’t evenly made up of fixed professions and industries. Often we like to see it like that, or are taught it is in fact like that, probably to feel a sense of comfort in what can seem like a chaotic reality. And that need for comfort I think is what draws many people into traditional professions like law. My legal career gave me an excellent grounding, a variety of skills and confidence and I am grateful for that, but for those that want something more – a way to express creative and entrepreneurial energies –  there is a whole world out there. I know it can be difficult to take a risk, but in the grand scheme of things taking a couple of years out to try something else speaks volumes about your resilience and character and you should embrace it.

As part of a series of interviews we are showcasing the potential for lawyers beyond the ‘traditional role’.  Syed Nasser speaks to Imran Bhatia, General Counsel for Unbound and Norlake Hospitality about his legal career and his transition from private practice to in-house roles.

 

Could you tell us a bit about your background and your current role?

I started my career at Herbert Smith (as was then, before becoming HSF – it was a while ago!) as a trainee and then qualified into a Corporate team specialising mainly in private company M&A. I worked with a truly incredible team (I’m lucky enough to count many of the team as friends as well as counsel that I’ve had the chance to instruct since moving in-house) and worked on some amazing transactions.

When I was two years qualified, I moved to a firm called JAG Shaw Baker (now known as Withers Tech), advising high-growth tech companies and venture capital investors, on investment rounds, exits and everything in between. It was a firm I had never heard of, and neither had anyone at HSF (many of whom thought I was crazy to make the move) and so it felt like a massive gamble (shoutout to Syed Nasser for placing me there!) The work involved completely different types of transaction and clients, and the firm itself was very different too, and I absolutely loved it.

A couple of years later I heard, from one of my old bosses at HSF, that Ennismore (operators of The Hoxton Hotels, Gleneagles and some independent restaurants in London) and Norlake Hospitality (the owner of several of the properties) were looking for their first ever legal counsel. At the time, there were four Hoxtons trading, across London and Europe, with several more planned to open in the coming years (including four in the US). Having just turned 30, and despite massive imposter syndrome, it was an opportunity I felt I could not turn down. I joined as General Counsel to both Ennismore and Norlake, and in the next four years I supported the business as it opened more hotels and added several sites to the development pipeline, went into new business directions (such as coworking spaces and private members clubs) and navigated the challenges that Covid brought to the hospitality industry, before leading Ennismore into a merger with Europe’s largest hotel company, Accor.

Post-merger, it was no longer appropriate for me to represent both Ennismore and Norlake, and I was also ready for a change. As of the start of 2022, I have continued my role with Norlake but have also gone full circle by taking on the role of General Counsel with Unbound, a venture capital firm investing in disruptive tech companies.

 

Why did you leave private practice?

To me, being a lawyer is about building relationships with your clients and helping them to solve problems. It would have been unrealistic for me, at two years qualified, to expect that I could be the person that the likes of Sky or BP would make contact with at HSF when they needed support. But I knew that even at such a junior stage, being part of a large transaction team that would only be mobilised when that client needed help on a transaction, was not the level of client interaction and relationship building that I was looking for.

The move to a much smaller firm, with smaller ticket transactions and earlier stage clients, absolutely fit the bill for me. Often, the client company was comprised of two guys and an idea, who had suddenly found someone to invest in them, and you were the first lawyer they had ever spoken to. It gave me the chance to work closely with the business and ‘get under the bonnet’ to understand how it worked and prepare it for investment, as well as to be on the other end of the phone or a Whatsapp to help solve the problems that an early stage company might encounter on an ad hoc basis. Still at a junior level, it was incredibly satisfying to work on deals that you know could completely transform the business, as well as to go out and win new clients as well as being personally introduced to new companies by clients that I’d worked with.

Moving in-house was taking that integration within a business to the next level. It was a step I always thought I might take, and JAG Shaw Baker was probably as close to being ‘in house’ as I could be whilst still being in private practice. When the opportunity with Ennismore came up, it was a no-brainer to take the plunge and step out of private practice – and I’ve never looked back.

 

Were there any challenges in making a move?

Making the move from HSF to a much smaller firm posed some practical challenges. I joined a firm that had as many people as HSF had offices! Where HSF was a 24-hour office, at JAG Shaw Baker you deactivated the burglar alarm if you were the first in and set it if you were last out. I actually loved that side; it felt like we were not only advising start-ups, but were a start-up law firm ourselves. It had a real family feel, and the firm felt a lot more connected to the type of work we were doing and the work that I had moved firms for.

Moving in-house to be the sole (and first ever) lawyer within not only a large London office, but supporting a network of hotels across the world, had a couple of immediate challenges. Firstly, when a lawyer comes into a design and brand-led business that has grown incredibly quickly off the back of creativity, the suspicions are there that you might now step in to be the ‘fun police’. The Day-1 challenge was therefore to show that you were there to support and not hinder the progress of the business, and in doing so probably become a lot more commercial in approach (read: let a lot more slide than “Law School Me” could ever imagine!)

Another challenge was to build a function from scratch that had never existed before, within a business that had already grown so much. And in particular, to do that without another lawyer there to bounce ideas off.

Finally, and being transparent, you do hit a ceiling quicker on what you can earn in-house, compared to working in private practice.

 

What are some of your biggest challenges today?

I’m still a team of one, for each of Norlake and Unbound. It’s a daily challenge not having another lawyer to discuss proposed strategies, or even discussing drafting, with. It also means that whatever the issue is, you’re still the only person in the room who can give a legal view, even if you do not see it as your specialism or something that you have seen before. Fortunately, I have zero shame in saying “I don’t know” and over the years have built up an amazing network of lawyers who I have no problem picking up the phone to and asking silly questions.

At the same time, I have also learned to trust my own judgment. Law firms teach us to see lawyers as sitting with a particular specialty or skill set, and whilst this is necessary in a law firm context, within a business you have to trust that the ‘lawyer’s radar’ can flex to scenarios and that you will, inevitably, bring a point of view and an instinct that no one else in the room may have, even if it feels like an unfamiliar situation.

Today, having two very different roles at the same time, covering both hospitality real estate property management/ownership and venture capital investment is a lot of fun. These are two areas that have been a big part of my career over my past roles, and I feel very blessed to be able to be involved in both. However, flipping constantly between two email inboxes is a real challenge!

 

How does your working day differ now?

Well first and foremost, no timesheets! Otherwise, I would say generally speaking, in-house work is more intense across the course of a day, as there are always things to do and a to-do-list (or in my case, two) which will never be fully ticked off. Whereas even if you are working on a huge transaction within a law firm, there will be peaks and troughs as drafts are exchanged from one side to the other and there will be an end point to the matters you are working on.

The flip side is that in-house, your hours are generally more predictable – you might have to contend with timezones but if you are going to need to work anti-social hours, you will mostly have more foresight of this (and it will likely be rarer) than working in private practice.

 

Do you have any advice for those considering a similar change?

Do a client secondment, as this will give you the best visibility (as a private practice lawyer) of what in-house life is actually like. But at the same time, there is no ‘one size fits all’ view of what an in-house lawyer’s role is like – every company is different and what the role of a lawyer will be will vary dramatically based on size of company, size of legal team, the industry etc. I did a client secondment as a trainee, which I thoroughly enjoyed and reinforced that I would want to move in-house at some stage. But at that company, there were 100 lawyers; I was never under any illusions that my ‘team of 1’ role would be anything remotely similar.

Also, talk to people who’ve made a similar step to work in the type of in-house role that you are actually interested in. I’m always open to talk to people so feel free to reach out!

And if you’ve done these things and it is still what you want to do, my final advice would be simply to do it.

 

Do you have advice to law firms and/or young lawyers as a result of your experiences?

Keep an open mind (and that probably applies to firms and young lawyers, actually).

To firms, be creative as to where your new clients and opportunities might come from. Set up relationships with smaller law firms who might then pass the baton on to you of clients who scale and outgrow them. Today, the next generation of big corporates are start-ups who are being serviced by a firm you may have never heard of, but you could support that firm when it comes to an IPO or a massive exit when the client become a unicorn.

And to young lawyers, do not close your mind to any area of law during your training contract. In my head I was destined to be a litigator, and my first seat was in Corporate because it was compulsory and I wanted to get it out of the way whilst I was at my ‘greenest’.  Fast forward, that was the team that I wanted to qualify into, doing the work which has set the roadmap for the rest of my career.

 

After years of uncertainty, hyperbole and clashing opinions across Europe, we finally have in place the timeline of when the Unified Patent Court will (finally) be launched. My previous article explains the origins of the Unified Patent Court and why thus far it has not been able to go ahead. In this brief commentary, we will look at the reasons for the sudden change of pace and what this now means for not only existing patents, but the wider intellectual property world.

The origins of the UPC stated that the number of member states required to ratify the official creation of the UPC is 13. The 13th country, Austria, deposited its instrument of ratification on January 18th, 2022. With this confirmed, it now means that the provisional application period has now come into force. This means that the UPC can start to recruit staff and put in place IT infrastructure etc. ready for launch. It is anticipated that this will be ready to go in September 2022, although it could take longer.

This also coincides with the introduction of a Unitary Patent, which will allow applicants to file European patent applications, this will be searched and examined in the normal way. Once granted, applicants will be able to choose the Unitary Patent option that will provide a uniform right covering up to 25 of the 27 EU member states (Spain and Croatia have declined to take part) The obvious benefit behind the introduction of a Unitary Patent it’s that it will provide much simpler administration and lower maintenance costs across the board.

The specific date that the new system will come into force will be determined by the 13th state, in this case, Germany, who will have to deposit its instrument of accession to the UPC agreement. Germany has always passed through the required legislation, so it is purely a case of when not if. It has been commented that Germany will only deposit once all the above preparations are completed.

Moving back to the UPC, now 13 member states have ratified this, and the process is already underway to create the necessary infrastructure, it has been announced that the UPC will come into force by the end of 2022- unless there are any major last-minute roadblocks (which look highly unlikely at this stage due to the afore mentioned reasons) The UPC will create a more streamlined process for applications, it will also create legal certainty. Other positives include it will more than likely, cut costs for applicants who have multi-jurisdictional patent applications and help with pressures of the current administration procedure.

So where does this leave a patentee with existing European patents? When the UPC eventually happens, it will have jurisdiction to enforce and to invalidate any existing European patents with effect to all participating member states. This will apply to all European patents, including those which were granted years ago and are still in force.

When the UPC comes into force, it will not be based in one location. It will consist of several divisions spread over the participating member states (for political reasons) The court of first instance will have a central division in Paris and Munich. There was meant to be a branch in London, however since the withdrawal of the UK from the agreement (Brexit) there is no official plan for where this branch will be transferred to. There have been suggestions for a replacement- notably Milan and Amsterdam, however this is yet to be officially confirmed.

What are the benefits of finally having plans in place for the UPC?

Several in-house counsel I have been speaking with, have given a variety of benefits, however the most common ones were; a more streamlined approach to patents, as opposed to having multiple agreements across different jurisdictions. It has also been mentioned that the UPC will make patents stronger and give greater protection for the invention. This dovetails nicely with the fact that costs will be kept low due to being a “one stop shop”.

Whilst there are obvious benefits, it does create potential problems. One of them being that it has made it much easier for larger companies to cover their patents. It could potentially put smaller companies at risk due to the new structure of the UPC and indeed the unitary patent. In addition, there has been controversy around which languages will be officially recognized for the UPC. As it stands, English, French and German are the languages accepted. What does this mean for counties such as Spain & Italy? Spanish is arguably, one of the most used languages in continental Europe, if not globally, so this might potentially cause unrest. It will be interesting to see how this all develops once everything has gone live.

To surmise, whilst this has been a long time in the making, it now seems that everything is in place to make the UPC a real success. it is the next logical development of patents in Europe, and we now have a clear vision for the future. Remember that Europe was built on the mantra of getting stronger together.

 

Written by Chris Excell

Chris@Fidessearch.com

 

 

In a vocation as rigorous and demanding as the legal profession, lawyers with non-visible disabilities have felt the need to cover up the true extent of their impairments, or to hide the fact that they are disabled altogether, out of fear that their employment prospects and career progression will be negatively impacted.

In March 2020, The Solicitors Regulation Authority conducted a study which found that just 3% of solicitors declared they had a disability, a figure which has remained stagnant over the past 10 years. This is in sharp contrast to the 13% of the workforce in the UK who have declared a disability, however through the lens of the Equality Act 2010, which uses a broader definition, this figure is estimated to be around 19%. Non-visible disabilities can include Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, visual and hearing impairments, and health conditions such as auto-immune disorders and Diabetes.

The study commissioned by the Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) and conducted by Cardiff Business School titled “Legally Disabled? – Career experiences of disabled people in the legal profession” was released. The study drew on focus groups, 55 interviews and approximately 300 survey responses from solicitors, barristers, paralegals, and trainees, where 70% exclusively reported having non-visible impairments and 20% reported having both visible and non-visible impairments. This survey found that of those questioned, 60% of solicitors and paralegals had experienced some form of ill-treatment or bullying at their place of work, and 80% of them believed it was a direct result of their disability. With barristers, 45% of them reported experiencing the same, and 71% believed it was a result of their disability. Over 80% of both groups reported that “poor attitudes/lack of understanding towards am impairment or health condition” was the most significant form of ill-treatment.

Of those surveyed who were disabled when they began their careers, only 8.5% of solicitors and paralegals and one barrister felt confident enough to disclose their impairment when they initially applied. 86% of solicitors and paralegals who have requested adjustments or support reported that doing so “created stress and anxiety for them”.

The implication of these statistics is that there are solicitors and barristers who should have been receiving reasonable adjustments to accommodate their impairments, but they are not asking for them. This could be due to a lack of confidence in their employers to adequately provide these accommodations, or out of fear of creating negative attitudes surrounding their ability, which might impact their careers overall. Either way, the stigma around asking for reasonable adjustments remains a massive barrier in allowing those with disabilities in law to preform to the best of their ability on a daily basis. Even when these lawyers felt confident enough to broach the subject of reasonable adjustments with their superiors, the negative emotions that were consistently associated with the experience do not inspire the confidence needed to continue to be self-advocates, and to champion the need for inclusivity across the spectrum.

Overall, 71% of barristers and 56% of solicitors, paralegals, and trainees felt that they did not have the same potential for career progression as their non-disabled colleagues. The SRA’s study found that there was an overwhelming feeling that their disabilities ‘lowered the bar’ and was “perceived as reducing the standard of competence”. Even in a seemingly inclusive working environment, disabled solicitors and barristers can still be subject to unconscious biases, which can take the form of “rituals, practices, and attitudes that exclude or undermine them”; even if there is no overt intention of discrimination.

It is clear that only “radical positive intervention” can begin to cope with the “uneven playing field” that disabled lawyers are dealing with on a daily basis. There have been a number of recent strides towards promoting inclusive accommodation. Many firms have begun to develop their own Neurodiversity Networks within the firms; these networks can range from focus groups which work on tackling diversity issues, intranet systems which provide educational information on different visible and non-visible disabilities, as well as detailing the accommodations that can be requested and utilised within the firm. These networks have also allowed lawyers who are not neurodivergent themselves but might have neurodivergent or otherwise impaired family or friends receive additional information or support where needed.

Perhaps the most radical recent change is the initiative called ‘Project Rise’, developed by the Law Society’s Lawyers with Disabilities Division (LDD) as a direct result of the “Legally Disabled?” study, aims to promote part-time training opportunities for candidates who might benefit from them. Both Osborne Clarke and Eversheds Sutherland have committed to offering all trainees the ability to work on a part-time basis from September 2024, although both firms currently employ some part-time training candidates.

There is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to reasonable adjustments and accommodating different impairments; where a part-time training opportunity might help one person, it is not guaranteed to have the same positive results for another. Firms must continue to promote environments which encourage lawyers to come forward where they need adjustments made to help them realize their full potential. In September, the Law Society released a guidance on reasonable adjustments, which detailed the different ways that firms could offer their disabled employees more support. Some of the suggestion include: a ‘passport’ which would detail the needs of that specific employee; continuing to promote flexible work arrangements; physical changes to the offices such as sound-proofed rooms or more suitable furniture; disability equality/awareness training, and; making appropriate changed to billable hours where appropriate.

The legal profession as a whole has been promoting Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) initiatives across the board, seeing an upswing in racial, gender, and socioeconomic diversity in firms nationally and internationally. However, disabled people are often invisible in these D&I programmes, which has only intensified the issues that they face day-to-day and is a major barrier in creating a truly inclusive and open work environment for everyone.

UK Disability History Month aims to celebrate the lives of all people with visible and non-visible disabilities, challenge disablism, and achieve equality.

A number of the largest banks in Britain have joined investors, insurers, and over 40 countries in making a pledge to phase out the world-wide dependency on coal, the single largest contributor to climate change, at Cop26 this past week, in what might be a last-ditch effort to limit global warming to 1.5 oC.

A coalition of many state and non-state actors have either signed on to the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement or joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA). The signatories of the Statement have agreed to accelerate the technologies and policies needed to successfully transition away from coal power to sustainable clean power in the 2030s or as soon as possible thereafter for major economies, with the overall goal of being globally independent from coal power by the 2040s, or as soon as possible thereafter. The PPCA, which was established in 2017, gained 28 new members, raising the total membership to 165 countries, cities, regions, and businesses.

The 33 banks and other financial institutions, including HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, and NatWest Group who are all members of the PPCA, will play a crucial role in helping achieve independence from coal, as they have all pledged to ending all domestic and international thermal coal financing by 2030 as well as limiting their own individual carbon footprints.

This announcement has had a mixed reception as it does not take in to account other forms of fossil fuel financing. Between 2016 and 2020, sixty of the largest banks invested $3.8 trillion into fossil fuel companies, raising questions about how much money will be committed to the oil and gas industries in the future. Promises that have been made in the past have been scrutinized as current policies and pledges to creating more sustainable business and investments are seen has having too much discretion and “wiggle room”.  Ex-Unilever head Paul Polman has spoken out saying that “People are starting to realize that implementing the Sustainable Development Goals — which cost $3 to $5 trillion a year — is significantly less than dealing with these horrendous consequences of inaction. And the financial market is actually the first one to understand that”. The ability to follow through on moving the funds that currently finance coal into more sustainable energy sources, rather than just alternative fossil fuels such as oil and gas will play a key role in the success of these pledges.

With banks taking this next step in the fight against global warming, it is becoming clear that other global business leaders need to take a transformative approach to preserving and protecting the environment through collective action. Inevitably, the outcomes of these agreements will affect the way that law firms and solicitors conduct business on an international scale. Decisions that businesses make will be held under greater scrutiny regarding the impact they have on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors, and as these agreements are transitioned into actionable policies and laws, the regulatory landscape will be transformed.

Many law firms have taken individual steps to reduce their carbon footprint, with the likes of Stephenson Harwood launching a scheme that allows employees the ability to lease an electric car through the firm, and CMS planting 8,000 trees after tracking their employee’s carbon footprints.

Browne Jacobson in particular has taken a number of steps to reduce their carbon footprint and have achieved a carbon neutral status within the last year.  Beyond creating programmes for sustainable waste management and the recycling of industrial waste produce, such as ink cartridges, as well as financing the CIKEL Brazilian Amazon REDD APD Project, which will use sustainable logging practices to save over 27,000 hectares of rainforest from deforestation, they have begun to incorporate sustainable thinking into their everyday business practices. Projects that are being undertaken within the firm must analyse the amount of carbon output that this is likely to produce, this applies to the entire supply-chain within the firm, including projects with outsider companies. As a firm, they have also been looking into green financing initiatives and advancing clean start – ups to further encourage a more sustainable business practice. Acknowledging an individual’s environmental impact, and thinking diligently about how to offset that, seems to be a practice that is encouraged across the firm as a whole. Browne Jacobson have also been instrumental in showing and giving their support to the “Midlands Engine” which is an established centre of excellence for energy research and innovation- investing now in a broad range of alternative energy technologies that will accelerate energy innovation and the growth of clean energy. They are working in partnership and again, is a great example of how a law firm is going above and beyond to play an integral part in the long term sustainability of the environment.

While individual initiatives show that firms are taking accountability for their carbon output and are committing to more sustainable business practices, the importance of collective action in response to global warming cannot be overstated. As highlighted by the efforts of Cop26, a collective commitment to developing a dedicated approach to reducing and eventually phasing out large scale investment into finite, fossil fuel-based energy sources must be undertaken immediately with substantial investment being funnelled into the implementation of widespread ‘greener’ energy sources including nuclear, geothermal, wind, hydroelectric, tidal and solar systems in order for global businesses to operate in sustainable and environmentally-cognisant ways. Moving forward what can the legal industry do to make the promises and agreements actionable and enforceable?

For more information about Cop26 please contact Gwen Shaw gwen@fidessearch.com

 

September 2021 is now upon us and as many of us prepare for a return to the physical office, there is an overwhelming feeling that things are not as they once were. Numerous city law firms and companies are expecting staff to be in the physical office and although we have all long anticipated a return to the office, it is not yet clear what the impact will be.

The next few weeks will offer a look into the future, we will have a front row seat to a tussle between policy, productivity, tradition, technology and diversity.

What should we expect? Firstly, with very few exceptions the return to the office is talked about in almost every discussion that we have with our clients in the UK. It is best described as a lively discussion and at the very least it is a management headache! Key sectors such as professional services, financial services and technology have transitioned, almost seamlessly, for an extended period of time, into remote working. Most conversations with candidates and clients feature some dialogue around the working dynamic and we have all become accustomed to discussing our specific circumstances and often voicing our preferences. Some might say that we have been able to enjoy bespoke working arrangements. By that we mean if you wanted to work from the physical office it was possible, if you wanted to work from home, well that was the norm and those seeking a balance between the two have actually been able to achieve that. The need to be in the physical office dissipated as a new digital form of collaboration amongst colleagues was enabled through technology rather than office space. For anyone that has visited their physical office however it is clear that uptake has been low, numbers quoted to us have indicated a range of 10-30% but our surveys suggest fewer than 10 % have actually been traveling into the office regularly.

We conducted three surveys during the height of the pandemic. We sought to understand the impact that the pandemic was having on working dynamics. Why three surveys? At the time we genuinely thought that there would be a start, a middle and an end to the pandemic. The reality however was not as we first anticipated. Survey 1 was conducted at what we thought was ‘early pandemic’ which was 2 – 4 weeks after the first lockdown in the UK commenced. Survey 2 was what we felt was the midpoint, this was at 6-8 weeks. As we sought to complete the final survey we realised that a return to normal was not within sight. So we paused, choosing to complete the picture as we advanced towards what was eventually dubbed ‘freedom day’. But even with ‘freedom day’ looming the return to the office did not crystalise. There are a number of contributing factors towards this, not least rising levels of infection widely reported in the news. Employers in sectors such as professional services, financial services and technology have instead largely focused on September, or the end of the summer, for the watershed moment.

Why it has taken so long to return to the office is of course debatable but for argument sake it is worth first acknowledging just how well the legal industry has performed in the remote working environment. Every aspect of day to day business that could be performed remotely, has been performed remotely and there have been some surprises along the way. This is not to say that parts of our economy haven’t been hard hit however.

What are challenges employers might face? 45.2 % of respondents would prefer to work from home post the restrictions.

What was a temporary shift has turned into a long term way of working. With almost half of the sampled respondents ‘preferring’ to work from home post restrictions lifting; employers take note. This result shows a shift in attitude when it comes to working from home. Employers seeking to get the most out of their talented employees must now reflect on a staggering shift in perception. 23.3% of respondents indicated that they didn’t mind working from home, only 26% responded that they prefer to work in the office. With only 4 % responding that they are unsure. This is a clear thumbs up to remote working.

Let’s now look at the fear factor. 42.5% of those who were concerned about returning to the office listed “the commute to the office” as their primary concern compared to 17.8% who said their main concern was a “safe work environment”

Our survey shows that commuters are more concerned about their journey to work than their safety whilst working in the office. These concerns are due to the lack of infection control, social distancing and health and safety precautions during the commute. Nonetheless, employers are not able to factor the safety of the commute of their employees into their return-to-work strategy as this is beyond their control. Whilst not all respondents work in congested urban environments an overwhelming number do. It is simply not productive to have employees arrive pre or post rush hour, this simply extends congestion times and is disruptive. Whilst there are alternatives to public transport these are not necessarily accessible to all and given that an overwhelming percentage of respondents listed the commute as their primary concern it begs the question, how do employers seek to distil this concern?

What are we expecting from the return to the office? 60 % of respondents said they “would expect to work 2-3 days in the office once restrictions lift.”

As it stands, law firms have differed in their approach to the return-to-work strategy. Some have decided to return to their offices three times a week, others like Allen & Overy are looking to open their premises fully, while some are planning to open at 50% capacity, with desk booking systems and extra cleaning measures in place. Other firms such as Simmons & Simmons are gradually allowing employees to return to the office once a week to meet with their team until the firm’s hybrid policy commences. Several others are taking a more cautious approach and using the summer to explore different working patterns.

Arguably it is too early to settle on a long-term approach to office re-entry or agile working, considering new variants and the constant changes the pandemic brings. Even today we are waiting to see the impact the return to schools will have. Only 15.3% of respondents said that they would expect to work 5 days per week from the office. This represents a staggering shift in mentality.

59% of respondents said their employer has communicated a return to the office strategy.

This is not all together surprising, there is no one size fits all policy, trial and error is likely the way forward. After all what does 50% in office time mean? Is that 2.5 days per week, is that 2 days one week 3 days the next, is it a rough guide, is it an aspirational value or could you spend 6 months in the office and 6 months at home. It means all of the above, potentially! What happens when a team member contracts Covid-19, should teams be split into bubbles or should they seek to be in at the same time in order to collaborate better. Prior to March 2020, leaders had the fortune of a one size fits all approach. Is it irresponsible for the office to re-open whilst some are not vaccinated or further still, should vaccinations become mandatory? As we work through a period of unprecedented change in terms of the office working dynamic, it is clear to see that there are more questions than answers.

What should we look for?

Should employers consider productivity a key barometer? The legal industry offers us a glimpse into what may be a tangible gain from the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to March 2020 the office environment was considered the only environment to house a large employee base. We now know that there is an alternative, however the alternative thrived as the majority were working from home, we achieved a form of level playing field. Service provider and service seeker both found themselves working from home, leaders and their teams all found themselves working from home, single adults and adults with children all found themselves at home. Not only was it a level playing field but respect crept in, people had to respect each individuals specific situation. Empathy and understanding prevailed.

The pandemic created different and unique challenges for those on their own and for those with young families, those with partners working on the front line and those with partners who lost their livelihoods or were as a result of the pandemic forced to work under challenging conditions. However…the mean productivity rating out of 10 was a 7.6 with most respondents grading their productivity between a 7 and 10 out of ten. This is a phenomenal finding as average would have been a 5. Employees clearly feel like their productivity is enhanced by working from home. Big Law has clearly been party to this productivity gain as most major firms have enhanced both their revenue and profitability during the pandemic.

On top of productivity gains 63% of respondents expressed that their loyalty to their employer had increased and that as a result they were less likely to leave.  Only 12.3 % of respondents expressed that they are less loyal and actively considering a new role. For those employers hoping to capitalise on pandemic related hiring opportunities this perhaps provides an insight into the reason unemployment figures have been falling and numerous media outlets have reported on a lack of supply in the labour market.

76% of respondents answered “No” to, “does your employer currently have a hiring freeze in place?” This statistic has changed from 50 % during the height of the pandemic.

While people have enjoyed the benefits and flexibility of working from home, there is a consensus seemingly of an overwhelming need at the junior and trainee level for a return to the office. Is there an optimum level? There is no denying the benefit of learning by osmosis, simply being around experienced individuals creates a learning environment. It also enables real time corrections to take place, which can be a major hurdle in a remote working scenario. Furthermore, we have emerging evidence to support that trainees and junior lawyers have expressed that working from home has had a negative impact on their mental health, their need for more supervision and their desire to develop boundaries between work and home life. During the height of the pandemic 89% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that ‘working from home is more productive when a significant percentage of the work force is accustomed to working from home’.

Whatever the office dynamic looks like moving forward, the ‘new normal’ and the transition to a hybrid model will be more challenging than the shift to universal home working. Law firms and companies will have to consider new ways of managing significant numbers of employees who will be split between home and the office. Firms that will succeed are those that communicate effectively and keep the needs of their lawyers and clients at the forefront.

Now we must decide, are we a fist pumper, foot tapper, elbow bumper or hand shaker?

 

If you haven’t heard of #blockchain then where have you been? Many people shy away from new concepts or think, I’ll figure it out when it concerns me.

Blockchain does concern you. This tech has been operating for years. It is already mainstream and in the not too distant future it will permeate all aspects of society and no longer carry such an alien stigma.

There is so much more to blockchain technology than cryptocurrency. That is an obvious statement, but many people just associate blockchain with bitcoin.

Yes, #Bitcoin operates using blockchain, but what actually is blockchain?

Blockchain is a system of recording information.

It is a system that is immutable, meaning you can’t change the data that’s been recorded.

(Well… a #quantumcomputer may be able to, but that’s a post for another day!)

It is essentially a #digitalledger of transactions that is duplicated and distributed across an entire network of computer systems on a blockchain, which makes near impossible to hack.

You may have come across the acronym #DLT which stands for Distributed Ledger Technology, essentially what is described above. A DLT is a decentralized database managed by multiple participants, across multiple nodes.

The transactions are then grouped in blocks and each new block includes a hash of the previous one, chaining them together, hence why distributed ledgers are often called blockchains.

Are you lost?

Let’s try and simplify: A blockchain is a database shared across a network of computers.

Think of the actual concepts, “block” and “chain”.

The block is a bundle of records.

The chain is all those bundles chained together.

Let’s work through an example:

Stage One

Let’s say Chris Excell is selling five of his FAKEcoins to Ed Parker for £5000.

This transaction will be recorded as a trade.

The record will detail the transaction, including a digital signature from each party.

Stage Two

The record will be validated by computers in the network.

These computers are called, “nodes”.

Stage Three

The validated records are added to a block.

Each block contains a unique code called a hash.

Stage Four

The block is added to the chain.

The hash codes connect the blocks together in an order.

This creates a #BLOCKCHAIN.

Making sense?

Uses

The bottom line is that this technology offers (for the moment) unrivalled security for the storage of data. Because of this, there are numerous uses. The most recognisable is probably #cryptocurrency, but we can park that immediately given that Blockchain isn’t all about #crypto.

Let’s consider some mainstream uses below:

Financial Institutions

Banks and other financial institutions have been investing in blockchains to streamline their transactions record-keeping. This is probably a need as opposed to a want given that they are at risk if they do not keep up with digital currencies.

Property

It wasn’t all that long ago that we had paper deeds for our houses, bibles of parchment paper that looked as though it had been scribed with a quill. But now 87% of homes in England and Wales are registered. By registered, this means the data is stored on a central database at the UK Land Registry. If these records were stored on a blockchain, this could cut down on costly title research and insurance. It will also help resolve historical issues of ownership.

Products/Retail

Recording trades on a blockchain offers a way to check the history of a product. For example, the luxury fashion brand #LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy), is launching a blockchain to help consumers track the authenticity of their products. AURA has been built using a version of the Ethereum blockchain called #Quorum, which is focused on data privacy and was developed by #JPMorgan. This software should boost consumer confidence if it is able to validate the origination of the product. Particularly in industries, for instance, the diamond industry to assure customers that diamonds are not sourced from places where they could finance war.

Healthcare

Have you ever tried to access your medical records? They are usually stored on a database and you have to submit a request for them. They aren’t easily accessible and there is usually an admin fee for the luxury of obtaining your healthcare data. Using blockchain, could allow medical records to be decentralised, but stored safely and securely, which would allow more accessibility and patient control.

Summary

Whilst only a few have been considered above, there is a huge appetite for the inherent possibilities of blockchain technology.

The global blockchain market size is expected to grow from $1.06 billion in 2020 to $10.45 billion by 2025. This is astronomical growth that some consider on a par with the evolution of the internet and personal computer technology (Report Linker. “Blockchain Services Global Market Report 2021: COVID 19 Growth and Change to 2030.” Accessed May, 2021).

If you don’t know about Blockchain technology, be curious because it is #thefuture.

Glossary of terms

Bitcoin: A type of well known digital currency founded by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009.

Blockchain: A specific type of database that stores data in blocks that are chained together.

Cryptocurrency: A form of digital asset, usually maintained by a decentralised system.

DLT: aka Distributed Ledger Technology, which is essentially a record of transactions shared across a network of geographical locations, held by nodes, which eliminate the need for a centralised third party. These are considered highly secure due to their immutability.

Ethereum: A decentralised, open-source blockchain with smart contract functionality founded by Vitalik Buterin a Canadian-Russian Programmer.

Hash: A function that meets the encrypted demands needed to solve a blockchain computation. It is the backbone of the blockchain network.

Nodes: Nodes form the infrastructure of blockchain. A node contributes to the network of a blockchain by communicating with other nodes to assess validity.

Quorum: An enterprise blockchain platform being used to support business needs.

By Suzanne Natalie Jeffers, Crypto & Blockchain Enthusiast.

 

Venture Capital (VC) remains all the rage in London and Europe with record levels of investment in 2020 and a clear pattern of increased hiring in the VC space by law firms as we saw in our Transfer Market piece. However, as alluded to at the conclusion of that article, when discussing VC, there is a huge challenge when it comes to Diversity & Inclusion.

Lack of diversity within VCs

According to Forbes in 2019, of the 2,114 venture capital professionals in the U.K, 76% of them are white, compared to the 59% population of London, where most of the funds are located, with women making up 20% of that percentage. These numbers become even worse when you consider the statistics from Diversity VC on the decision makers, which show women make up only 13% of decision-making positions in U.K VC.

Lack of diversity in investments

These figures are incredibly problematic as VC firms help shape the next generation of technology companies by pumping billions of dollars into businesses. The lack of diversity amongst VC decision-makers is reflected in the businesses that typically receive funding from them. According to statistics accumulated by Dealroom.co, of total capital invested in European tech in 2020, 91% went to all-men founder teams whilst just 9% went to teams with at least one woman founder.

Extend Ventures, a Not-For-Profit which aims to diversify access to finance conducted research to see how VC was invested in the U.K between 2009 and 2019 amongst 3,784 entrepreneurs who started 2,002 businesses within that period. The report found that ethnic-minority groups received a total of just 1.7% of the venture capital made at seed, early and late stage over this period.

Atomico meanwhile found that looking at the composition of the founder respondents to the State of European Tech survey based on self-reported ethnicity, 83% of all founders identified as White/Caucasian. Only 2% of all founder respondents self-identified as Black/African/Caribbean, and none of those respondents raised external capital! Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon recently wrote that ‘As a Black woman, I’m part of a demographic that’s least likely to successfully raise venture capital’.

The challenge

But why is that and why are the statistics so bad? It is not, by any means, the only industry to have challenges around D&I and we know only too well here at Fides Search that our law firm clients who support VCs, entrepreneurs and tech companies face their own challenges. We spoke to a few leaders working within the VC/Tech space to gain some insight into the challenges faced by the industry:

 

Elena Pantazi, Head of Talent and Portfolio Development at Northzone, told us that there are a number of reasons for this such as ‘recruiting from a handful of non-diverse organisations in the first place and relying mainly on warm introductions to build up teams, leading to inherent bias’.

 

 

 

Richard Goold, Head of Tech Law and Fast Growth at EY Law UK, told us that ‘VC is a small industry, and the network is strong – the lack of diversity throughout is therefore somewhat self-perpetuating’.

 

 

 

Yvonne Bajela, Founding Member and Principal of Impact X Capital Partners, said that ‘there is a lot of research out there that highlights the fact that there is systematic and unconscious bias.’

 

 

 

Mike Rebeiro, who is currently Chairman of Adoption UK and previously the Global Head of Technology at Norton Rose Fulbright, believes that ‘most VCs come from City backgrounds, which remains white and male-dominated. They will naturally invest into businesses where they feel some empathy and sympathy, so through conscious or unconscious bias, they will largely invest into businesses founded by people of a similar background and profile.’

 

He went on to say that ‘law firms and accountancy firms have, in recent years, undertaken a wide variety of training on microaggression and unconscious bias. I have my doubts that this happens in the VC and investment space; they naturally run leaner business models and lack the necessary expertise.’

Elena points out that historically there has been ‘limited understanding of why diversity is important in business and how it ultimately leads to better outcomes.’ But there is now at least a growing consensus that things need to improve because as Mike says, ‘it isn’t just the right thing to do morally speaking, but it fundamentally makes business sense’.

The benefits of a diverse workforce

Inclusive and diverse workforces enable better decision-making, better performance and better results. A study by Gompers & Kovali showed that not only did varied teams make better decisions, but they also made better investments. “The success rate of acquisitions and IPOs was 11.5% higher on investments by partners with diverse school backgrounds, and 22.0% higher for those from ethnically diverse backgrounds”. This is likely to be especially true of innovative technology businesses because as Mike pointed out ‘the best innovation comes from diversity of opinions and the diversity of solutions’.

Companies led by diverse management teams are better equipped to compete in a global economy due to the diversity in opinion. There is a “33% higher likelihood of industry-leading profitability for the companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity” according to Launch with GS. Richard sums it up nicely pointing out that the evidence clearly shows ‘that diverse teams are stronger and, frankly, better’.

While associating with people from similar backgrounds and cultures may have its benefits, such as providing a sense of shared culture and belonging, it is clear from the evidence presented over the years, particularly in the VC space, that neglecting diversity and inclusion results in a huge financial sacrifice for companies, investors, and firms. Yvonne believes that ‘diversity of thoughts and ideas is just so powerful’ that it can no longer be ignored by those chasing profitability.

Progress on diversity

So there is growing acceptance of the benefits that diversity can bring but how serious is the effort to improve things and how focused are VCs on it both internally and when it comes to investing? Elena is encouraged to have seen progress in the past few years.

Recent data from the BVCA and Level 20 shows that female representation has now risen to 30% in the industry. ‘Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that it is still a long way from being a reflection of society, especially with respect to ethnicity and socioeconomic representation.’

There is no question that progress to date has been slow, so what needs to improve and how? Elena makes the point that ‘we have seen that more diverse teams attract diverse candidates’, and this would be a natural place to start for Venture Capital firms. This will naturally help to change things when it comes to investing but it is, as Richard says, ‘frustratingly slow’ and according to Yvonne ‘despite the fact people are now openly talking about diversity in VC and tech, we are still a long way from cheques being written to rectify this’.

There will be some natural progress as decision-making teams become more diverse, but a more proactive approach is required. Elena told us that at Northzone, there are ‘active and continuous efforts to track the diversity of our deal flow, review our investment process end-to-end and sponsor a number of programmes that enable entrepreneurial talent to flourish. We found that going through the Diversity VC assessment process and achieving certification has been a great way for us to keep ourselves focused and to track the impact of our initiatives’.

Solutions

Our contributors also mentioned a range of other sensible steps that should be taken including, such as education and training on unconscious bias, microaggression and the benefits of D&I both culturally, but also from a business and commercial perspective. Richard told us that the training he and his fellow EY Law partners go through is extensive and that there is no reason investment firms should not be doing the same as professional service firms in this regard.

Diversity targets also have a major role to play. A great recent example seen in the legal industry is that Coca Cola have taken bold strides to make diversity and inclusion a business imperative by announcing to their outside counsel that 30% of billed time must be from diverse attorneys, of which 50% must be black attorneys, or risk having a 30% non-refundable reduction in fees payable.

This can be mirrored in VC by setting targets for women- and multicultural-led businesses in portfolios, as a practical way of improving diversity. An example of this is Goldman Sachs “Launch with GS”, which is a $1 billion investment strategy grounded in its data-driven thesis that diverse teams drive strong returns. Through this strategy, Goldman Sachs aims to increase access to capital and facilitate connections for women, Black, Latinx, and other diverse entrepreneurs and investors.

Role models have an important part to play, and Mike does not believe that there are enough visible female and ethnic minority role models to inspire the next-generation of talent. Ultimately, he feels, ‘to effect serious and long-lasting impactful change, government will have to intervene with legislation as self-regulation and organic progress will never suffice’.

The role of Search Firms

We asked our contributors whether they thought Search Firms had a role to play and Richard was very clear: ‘Yes! Having a D&I mindset and helping to build diverse teams is a critical part to this role’.

Elena believes ‘a search firm that can proactively unearth high quality, diverse talent will undoubtedly be adding differentiated value in the mid to long run’, while Yvonne made the point that she does not ‘believe there is a shortage of pipeline and you need search firms who proactively ‘go outside of the usual circles’ when looking for talent.

Here at Fides, we have, since our inception championed diversity and inclusion, and have revamped our internal policy to reflect this. For example, when mandated on roles, at least 30% of our longlists are female with a minimum of two female candidates on every shortlist. We recently hired an inclusion lead and are also currently working hard internally to develop a manifesto on ethnicity which we hope to be able to share with you shortly…

Article written by :

 

Syed Nasser, Head of Technology Transactions & Venture Capital

Email: snasser@fidessearch.com

Mobile: +44 (0) 7960 739 158

Direct Dial: +44 (0) 20 3642 1871

 

Dorothy Adu-Mfum, Researcher and D & I Lead

Email: dorothy@fidessearch.com

Mobile: +44 (0) 7803 788 086

Direct Dial:+44 (0) 20 3642 1872

 

In the final instalment of a series of interviews showcasing the potential for lawyers beyond the‘traditional role’, Syed Nasser speaks to Caroline Wayman, the outgoing Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman. As a high profile female leader she offers a real insight into the challenges many organisations face around D&I as well as the challenges in leading a public service organisation.

1. Please tell us a bit about who you are, your background and current role?

I’m Caroline Wayman, chief executive and chief ombudsman at the Financial Ombudsman Service – an independent public body set up by Parliament to sort out complaints between financial businesses and their customers in a fair and impartial way. After studying law at Nottingham Law School (NTU) I was called to the bar and spent my early career working in the insurance industry, before joining the Insurance Ombudsman Bureau in 1999. I joined the Financial Ombudsman Service in 2000 and was appointed to the executive team, in 2011 as principal ombudsman and legal director. In 2014 I became chief executive and chief ombudsman. Outside the ombudsman service, I also sit on the board of the Crown Prosecution Service, am its Senior Independent Director and chair its Nominations and Governance Committee. I am also on the Board of Governors at Nottingham Trent University and sit on their audit and risk management committee.

After nearly 7 years as chief ombudsman & chief executive and after 22 at the ombudsman service, I have decided that the time is right for me to step down from the role and will leave in April. The ombudsman service has reached a pivotal point in its history and as nations, organisations and individuals, we are contemplating a landscape shaped and forever changed by a global pandemic. It’s against this backdrop, that the service is embarking on the next phase of its journey and it’s time for me to do the same. I am very excited about the next chapter in my career and what the future may hold.

2. You studied law and were called to the Bar but didn’t practice. Have you remained close to the law in some way?

When I finished my studies, I decided to take a year out and planned to come back and practice the law at some stage, but my career ended up taking a different path. One of the interesting things about working for an ombudsman service is that it has a lot of similarities to a court – an ombudsman needs to weigh up the evidence from both sides to reach an independent view about what has happened and decide what needs to happen to help put things right when they have gone wrong. Under the rules of the Financial Ombudsman Service an ombudsman has to take into account relevant law and regulations; regulators’ rules, guidance and standards; codes of practice; and (where appropriate) what the ombudsman considers to have been good industry practice at the relevant time. But a complaint must ultimately be determined by reference to what the ombudsman considers to be fair and reasonable in all the circumstances of the case. If an ombudsman makes a decision that departs from the law, they have to clearly explain the reason why. As principal ombudsman and legal director I had to work through sometimes very complex areas of law to understand how that might relate to the casework we saw, and the everyday problems people might encounter. I helped establish the ombudsman service’s approach to payment protection insurance (PPI) and later helped successfully defend a judicial review against that approach. Now more than £33billion has already been paid back to people who complained about the sale of PPI with the financial industry applying the ombudsman service’s well established approach to determine if someone is owed compensation. As chief ombudsman I am responsible for overseeing the development and implementation of the service’s casework policies and approaches –for example our approach to fraud and scams cases and more recently complaints caused by or affected by Covid-19.

3. What led you to the Financial Ombudsman Service?

One of the things that drew me to working for an ombudsman service was that remit of ‘fair and reasonable’. Fairness is something that I have always been passionate about and I have always ensured that was front and central in any career decisions I took. I will continue to look for opportunities that align with my passion for fairness and doing the right thing – values I worked hard to embed in the ombudsman service and which I will carry with me when I go.

4. What have been the biggest challenges you have faced as chief ombudsman and chief executive?

I’m sure this must be the answer everyone would give at the moment, but leading the organisation through the Covid-19 pandemic has been one of my biggest challenges. We had to transform to a fully remote organisation overnight and maintain a good level of service to our customers whilst also needing to maintain a strong focus on our people’s health and wellbeing. Demand for the service substantially increased as a result of the pandemic and we needed to ensure we continued to respond to vulnerability and complexity in the complaints we were seeing – providing additional support to those who needed it. Our people’s strength and resilience was tested in ways it never has been before and it was important the service provided as much support and flexibility as possible to help people adapt to the huge changes in their personal and professional lives. I’m extremely proud of everything our people managed to achieve despite all those disruptions and I think is real testimony to what can be achieved when you lean into a challenge and work together to overcome it. Aside from the challenges the global pandemic brought, over the years there have also been times when we have faced periods of extended external scrutiny. As a public service organisation, it is absolutely right that the ombudsman service is subject to external scrutiny and challenge but that can of course be very difficult at times too. I’ve found that being as transparent and as open as possible on the work and challenges we face as a demand led organisation helps ensure we can help set the wider context and give appropriate account of the work we do.

5. What unique challenges, if any, do you feel you have faced courtesy of being a woman in a high profile leadership position?

There have been plenty of times in my career where I have been the only woman in the room and sadly, I have experienced explicit sexism in my career – although gladly never from someone from within the ombudsman service or other organisations I have worked for. On a more positive note though I have found that in general there is an extremely supportive wider community of senior women who have always been incredibly generous with their time, advice and support. I have always tried to mirror that approach and give back as much as I can – whether that be through mentoring programmes, at networking events or more informally over a cup of coffee and a chat. As a senior leader I have a responsibility to challenge where I see inequalities or discrimination of any kind and to ensure there is a constructive narrative to help move conversations and attitudes forward.

6. What has been the biggest change you have noticed during you career?

Definitely how much more open employers have become to recognising the value of and encouraging diversity of backgrounds when they are hiring or promoting to roles. Also, people’s careers can take much less linear pathways than in the past which I think also really adds to the richness of backgrounds and experience that we’ve started to see come through in recent years.

7. Diversity and Inclusion is a hot topic of course, but what do you feel are the benefits beyond simply being the right thing?

I have always tried to make sure I lead a workplace where people can join knowing they can be themselves – and in doing so I believe they will provide the best possible service to customers. The ombudsman service is one that is available to everyone in the UK and I don’t think we’d be able to understand our customers and the society we serve if we weren’t a diverse and inclusive organisation. Of course, Covid-19 wasn’t the only significant event of 2020. The issue of racial injustice was also brought into sharp focus – something which, sadly, has impacted many of our people. We made sure that we gave our people a platform to share their experiences of racism and helped us understand where we can do more. As an organisation and society more widely, keeping up the momentum on these conversations, continuing to ask ourselves tough questions, and exploring the areas where we aren’t as good as we want to be, remain extremely important.

8. What advice would you give yourself in your early 20’s?

Part of what I really enjoy about leading an organisation is having the opportunity to hear a wide range of views and perspectives in my day to day role. When you first go into any type of leadership role it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that all the responsibility for ideas and solutions fall on your shoulders. I think I would definitely give my 20 year old self the advice that actually it’s the diversity of thoughts and perspectives and working collaboratively that will bring out the best in your own leadership style and will ultimately help you to create an environment where people see the success of an organisation as a shared responsibility and something everyone can take ownership of. Also, try to learn the importance of not being too hard on yourself when you don’t get everything right first time. When you learn an important lesson – celebrate it – as it means you are continuing to learn and grow – something that we should never stop doing.

By Syed Nasser, Head of Technology Transactions

& Venture Capital

Email: snasser@fidessearch.com

Mobile: +44 (0) 7960 739 158 

Direct Dial: +44 (0) 20 3642 1871

As part of a series of interviews we are showcasing the potential for lawyers beyond the ‘traditional role’. In Part 4 of the series, Syed Nasser speaks to Al-Karim Makhani, a former litigation lawyer in a City firm, to discuss his experience transitioning out of private practice and into the exciting and expanding legal technology universe.

1.Could you tell us a bit about your background and your current role?

I am a Vice President at TransPerfect Legal Solutions, prior to which I was a senior disputes associate in the London and HK offices of Stephenson Harwood. The plan was that I brought that “coalface” experience to bear on a talented tech team who were breaking into the English eDisclosure market – TLS empowers lawyers to leverage technology, particularly AI and analytics. We work with firms ranging from the Magic Circle to highly specialised boutiques and GCs from the Fortune 500 to start-ups. I lead our legal technology offerings for EMEA and APAC. My role today is as different to the role I left practice for 5 years ago. But, the evolving nature of the work is why I still haven’t suffered the Sunday blues once!

2.What made you leave private practice?

The next few years would have been head down to secure partnership. Once you’re made up, it takes a few years to see the benefits. I thought to myself, if I don’t try something new now – I never will. I’d always been interested in disruption and in the business side of things. Whilst I felt my learning and passion had stagnated I didn’t want to leave behind almost a decade’s worth of knowledge and network. I wanted a new challenge, to broaden my horizons. I looked into a variety of things – going in house, litigation funding, even recruitment – there were actually a lot of good options out there. But TLS ticked boxes for something commercial, entrepreneurial and progressive. It’s not quite as brave as it sounds. The beauty of being a lawyer is that you always have the safety net of getting back into practice if things don’t work out!

3.What challenges did you face?

 After 8 years you have both good friends and good will in abundance. Leaving all of that behind is scary. Going from an office with just myself and a trainee, to bustling open plan space with sofas, table tennis tables and hundreds of people was a shock to the system (although it became quickly clear I was more of a distraction to open plan than vice versa). In private practice you’re focused on giving legal advice. Tech and even business are somewhat tangential and you never know quite where you will land. That fear soon disappeared – shift in the balance of the commercial, advisory and tech elements of the roles was a surprisingly quick and smooth transition. There was of course the intangibles like status, the perception, questions marks about why anyone would leave a successful career track in a firm. Lastly – going from the middle age wise, to one of the oldest 5 people in a 500 person office. A few too many lost 80s film references.

4. In your new role, what are your biggest challenges?

 The speed of change. As a technology company, you have to be at the cutting edge. What works today, may be obsolete tomorrow. So there is constant pressure to innovate and diversify. Law is always changing but technology updates faster. Either intersection – legal technology or data centric regulation seem to keep pace with the latter. When I started, the GDPR didn’t exist and you think how much that has permeated into society. Robot lawyers were painted as Susskindian machinations but real AI is being used to radically innovate all over the legal world. The diversity of the role is hugely satisfying. But it means I always feel time poor. It’s all well and good saying “prioritise”, but different hats mean genuinely urgent things for different teams. So then you’re looking at the big picture. It’s really important to keep sight of the organisation’s strategic goals and values.

5. Is your typical working day different now?

 Cliche as it sounds, there is not a typical working day. On Monday, I could be advising on the GDPR ramifications of reviewing data across divergent merger control proceedings. Tuesday speaking to a room of 500 people about the application and ethics of AI in the legal space, Wednesday looking at billables, revenue, gross margins etc. to see how we can be more profitable, Thursday collaborating with a client’s innovation team on a legal hackathon to design a piece of tech responding to real client needs, Friday piloting a new piece of information governance technology that could revolutionise (but cannibalise) our legal tech offering and on Saturday diving into one of our awesome CSR initiatives. May not be quite as exciting as Craig David’s 7 days, but it keeps me on my toes.

6. What advice do you have for those considering a similar move?

 Borrowing from Nike (a client!), just do it. Often lawyers are blinkered to their own transferable skills. There may be some areas of extended specialisation, especially for senior lawyers, but the soft skills you learn are invaluable anywhere. Communication skills (written and verbal) are paramount for most roles. The ability to ingest and simplify complex concepts. Strategic thinking and problem solving. A good understanding of risk. But – leaving the law doesn’t always mean less late nights. The last few years I’ve clocked more time working than even my busiest years in practice.

7. Anything you miss about the world of law firms or any advice to law firms?

I sometimes miss the pride which used to stretch across my parents’ faces when they told people their son was a lawyer! Joking aside, there is a certain status about being at a City firm in a legal/financial centre like London. That was hard for the first year. I miss some of the legal jousting – with colleagues, counsel or the other side. Overall though, anything I miss pales in comparison to what I’m grateful for. Job satisfaction, happiness levels, continuous learning, leadership opportunities, and a global business to service. The list really does go on!

 

By Syed Nasser, Head of Technology Transactions

& Venture Capital

Email: snasser@fidessearch.com

Mobile: +44 (0) 7960 739 158 

Direct Dial: +44 (0) 20 3642 1871

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