Professional Development

Education, education, education

The in-house profession is growing in scale, ambition and sophistication. So why is it so difficult to get the training that aspiring GCs need?

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Professional Development |

Speaking at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum recently, renowned industry futurologist Richard Susskind accused the UK’s law schools of being stuck in the 1970s, preparing graduates to undertake work that will become increasingly uncommon while failing to train aspiring solicitors in the new technologies that will replace much of the work lawyers now do.

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Speaking at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum recently, renowned industry futurologist Richard Susskind accused the UK’s law schools of being stuck in the 1970s, preparing graduates to undertake work that will become increasingly uncommon while failing to train aspiring solicitors in the new technologies that will replace much of the work lawyers now do.

He has a point. Dutch start-up Clocktimizer recently compiled a list of legal tech courses available in English – of the 37 courses currently being offered, just four are taught in the UK (one of which, the Legal Geek Hackathon, is delivered extramurally).

It winds me up when GCs say they don’t have a training budget. If you don’t have enough influence to get training for your team then you’re not doing a very good job.
Paul Gilbert – LBC Wise Counsel

But for a growing number of general counsel, there is a further sense in which the UK’s legal curriculum is failing graduates: its lack of focus on in-house career paths. Claire Debney, director of legal strategy at rare diseases-focused biopharmaceutical company Shire, was one of the first student intake to sit the LPC (legal practice course) shortly after it was introduced in 1993. Encountering the same materials nearly 25 years later came as a shock. ‘The curriculum hasn’t changed at all and it still makes all the same assumptions about professional life. Essentially, it prepares you for life in a law firm and ignores the considerable number of jobs that are available in-house. The problem is, many of today’s graduates will go on to work in a corporate legal team, and if the universities are not teaching the skills they need to thrive it will fall on GCs to educate them.’

It is not just recent graduates who arrive with little understanding of what the in-house role entails. Those arriving from private practice often find the transition just as difficult, says Amol Prabhu, head of emerging markets EMEA at Barclays. ‘Very few associates understand what it means to work in-house. Frankly, I am surprised that it hasn’t had more of an impact on the way in which careers in law are considered. People tend to assume they will be continuing as they had done in a law firm, but when you work in a company legal team you are suddenly faced with a whole new set of questions and expectations for which no training has been given.’

Chris Fowler, GC for UK commercial legal services at BT Group, agrees. ‘I have seen the struggles of the junior lawyers and their lack of support or preparedness for the complexities and professional expectations of in-house life all too often. Even if a company is recruiting a lawyer to work in a highly specialised field, that lawyer needs to understand how to interact with a number of different functions and needs to work out how their career will evolve. Very few juniors have thought about that question at all and we, as a profession, need to change that.’

If private practice and universities are not preparing people for life in-house, how are corporate counsel picking up the skills they need? And why, given the obvious gap in the market, is there still no systematic training offered at this level? The In-House Lawyer spoke to some of the leading GCs and educators to find out how they are preparing lawyers for life in-house.

Limiting factors

‘There is a gap in the general offerings available to in-house lawyers and there is a tremendous demand for training at junior levels,’ says Claire Chapman, who recently left her role as GC of Daily Mail and General Trust. But, she adds, there are a number of reasons why no-one has moved to address the situation. ‘GCs are often incredibly busy, and it is as much as anyone can do to get through the day, which means a focus on personal development gets left behind, particularly in small teams.’

A small team can also make it difficult to find a suitable course, says Adrian Marsh, UK GC of ING. ‘We tend to recruit lawyers from Magic Circle and equivalent firms at the four-to-six-years PQE level and, although some of them need time to adapt to life in-house, that is more connected with learning the policies and procedures of our own organisation. In-house work has become so specialised in a small team and can be so driven by the policies of an organisation that it can be difficult to find a general course that works.’

educaysh1GCs are often incredibly busy, which means a focus on personal development gets left behind.
Claire Chapman

This is particularly true in the UK, where, although in-house is becoming a more common career path, small teams account for the bulk of employment.

Even those running large legal teams can find external courses problematic. BT’s Fowler – who works within a legal, governance and compliance team of 500 – says the general training that is available is rarely pitched toward lawyers. ‘No-one is taught how to present to a board as part of their legal training, but [you can’t just attend] general presentation skills training [because it] will fail to deliver what you need as an in-house lawyer. The experienced GCs from the FTSE 100 are good at taking complex legal principles and distilling them in a concise way so the board can understand them. These are the guys who have been accountable to CEOs and learnt how to pitch issues – that’s who you need to train you.’

Royal Mail group GC Maaike de Bie says this type of peer-learning is essential to training the in-house function: ‘The most useful training I have received in my career has come from interacting with GCs from a range of sectors. Learning from the experience of others is key. Peer-learning also allows you, as GC, to see what other teams are doing. Pooling information is a good way of demonstrating to both your internal legal team and senior management that you’re not taking a wild approach.’

Finding the budget for training can also be a challenge for GCs. As many training providers have found, the business of trying to help in-house lawyers is not a very good business to be in, commercially speaking. It is a problem Paul Gilbert, chief executive of in-house training provider LBC Wise Counsel, has encountered many times: ‘It winds me up when GCs say they don’t have a training budget. If you don’t have enough influence to get training for your team then you’re not doing a very good job. As GC you are in the leadership role, it’s up to you to work out what you want and push for it.’

Which brings us on to the problem of working out what GCs want. A recent leader in this magazine spoke about the emerging GC ‘shrouded in the vague’. It is indeed odd that a profession which prides itself on being precise and detail-oriented often lacks precision when it comes to articulating the in-house team’s role in the organisation, and what is needed to make it a success.

GCs might counter that with the role evolving so quickly it is hard to know what skills will be needed in the coming years, though most agree they will go far beyond those developed in traditional legal education. As Debney says: ‘“Being a lawyer” is not a very clear job description anymore. I don’t draft many contracts and I don’t do a lot of technical legal work, yet I am employed as a senior in-house lawyer. If you accept the role is no longer to provide legal advice alone then just giving the same training is clearly not going to work. If we want to train the next generation for this role then we need to formulate, as a profession, what we are doing within our organisations.’

Tipping point

For most in-house teams, training has traditionally been delivered via their company’s general learning and development (L&D) functions – typically in the form of leadership programmes for more senior staff – or offered by law firms, often for free as part of the formal pitch process. The problem with this, says Rachel Jacobs, GC of Springer Nature, is that it overlooks the skills most needed by those arriving from private practice: ‘Law firms offer good training on technical legal areas, but it is often not client-focused. It would be a great help to in-house counsel for relationship law firms to develop a more bespoke training programme that is tailored to the development needs of the legal team.’

Many of the GCs consulted for this piece said they considered the training offered by their firms as a legacy CPD audit requirement rather than a contribution to staff development. Jacobs continues: ‘Often a bigger challenge for GCs is being able to offer non-technical skills training. Lawyers have to deal with complex issues involving multiple stakeholders who may not be aligned. When developing an approach to something like GDPR [the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation framework], for example, understanding and applying the regulations is only one aspect. Often more challenging is engaging with a broad group of people across the organisation to effect technical IT changes, behavioural changes in managing data, identifying dependencies and process changes, and being able to present effectively and persuasively on the issues that arise in connection with the regulations to all levels of the company, including board level. That requires project management skills, change management skills, effective stakeholder engagement, conflict resolution and other skills like resilience and negotiation. Those are hard things to master, whether you’re a lawyer or not.’

As a member of the Association of Corporate Counsel’s European board, Fowler has become acutely aware of just how widespread the demand for new forms of training has become. ‘At every conference and every meeting we hear the same thing: “We need more soft-skills training.” It’s what in-house lawyers want because it’s what their businesses want them to have. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult for a legal team to find ways of acquiring these skills, even now.’

Things are slowly changing, however. Many law firms are now offering non-technical training – including Slaughter and May, Macfarlanes, Eversheds Sutherland, and Berwin Leighton Paisner. RPC has gone further, launching its Centre for Legal Leadership (CLL) to address the gap in the market for in-house education. While these offerings show that law firms are begging to change their approach, the general feedback from the 30 or so GCs canvassed for this piece is that they remain too aspirational and cater mostly to those already on a senior leadership track rather than newly arrived in-house lawyers. As such, they do little to address the more fundamental need for training that can bridge the gap between private practice and in-house.

The legacy model for training corporate counsel was saying “figure it out for yourself”, which is absurd.
Mark Roellig – Mutual Life

Peter Connor, who held a number of GC roles before setting up the in-house training provider AlternativelyLegal, says the tendency of most training to focus on more senior members of the in-house team is illogical. ‘Everyone wants to teach things like management and leadership while overlooking the junior lawyers who are still engaged in transactional and other more routine legal work. But, precisely because they are engaged in day-to-day legal matters, those juniors have more opportunity to collaborate with business and work out new ways of delivering legal advice. They’re closer to the service user and, if they can be taught to think less like lawyers and more like staff in other functions, they can often make a big impact on how in-house operates.’

Non-traditional providers looking to offer in-house training may end up doing a better job of it. A number of GCs in the US have spoken highly of Deloitte’s offering, which includes a chief legal officer programme and a Next Generation Academy, drawing on a similar approach to the firm’s existing chief financial officer programme.

GCs often tend to be unenthusiastic about training provided by law firms, seeing it as coming with strings, through this is ironic given that few GCs make the case for significant spending on their own staff’s training. Relying on a company’s own learning and development resources can be equally problematic. Not every GC can refer staff to a structured internal programme, and even the most sophisticated internal courses cannot cover everything. For example, GSK has one of the most extensive in-house training programmes available, offering new hires in its legal team 29 courses covering everything from Sarbanes-Oxley risk compliance, new drug applications, preservation notices in litigation to billing guidelines for external firms. Even then, says Sean Roberts, legal head of GSK Consumer Healthcare, there is a need for peer learning and interaction with other lawyers to help staff understand how they can use that knowledge effectively. ‘We recruit people that are well trained on the legal issues, but if they are coming to us from private practice or are fresh paralegals we often find they don’t have the right skillset to slot straight in to our team. Our training is broad and covers things that are essential to us as a company, but the role of in-house adviser is so peculiar and fast-evolving that we can’t sit people down and teach them everything they need. A large part of the training has to come through experience and interaction with others.’

Barclays’ Prabhu has similar misgivings about the use of internal resources: ‘At a large institution there will be training programmes for all staff, and often there will be specific training for the in-house function. However, while there are a lot of courses around leadership and management, personal and technical skills, this still doesn’t cover the essential question all in-house lawyers face: what does is it mean to advise an organisation? There is no right answer, which makes it very difficult to teach by relying on the traditional channels.’

Gilbert has broader reservations: ‘The increase in team-specific training initiatives, particularly at the larger plcs, shows the world is moving on, but the typical in-house lawyer is likely to move companies several times in the course of a career. Any form of training which equips you to deal with the expectations of one company is therefore unlikely to be transferable.’

In response to these difficulties, some large companies are looking to recruit and train graduates directly. This approach has been relatively common in the US for a number of years, with Procter & Gamble, DaVita, DISH Network, and HP among those with large graduate hiring and training schemes, and has started to catch on in the UK. The BBC, for example, has recently begun to develop its in-house training programme in partnership with CILEx Law School, while BT has started taking on four graduates each year within its legal team. These initiatives are still in their infancy, but in-house graduate training is unlikely to replace law firm-based qualification. Many GCs view post-qualification experience in a reputable law firm as a prerequisite for working in-house, and even large companies would struggle to train lawyers in the mandatory seats.

Law firms themselves may also look to train their associates in the expectations and pressures faced by clients. It would be an ambitious move – managing partners may not be keen to see their associates pick up the skills needed for a new career elsewhere – but it is also one that could reap rewards, says Lori Lorenzo, programme director at The Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD), a US-based membership body for GCs and managing partners. LCLD has been offering training to member institutions’ early-career lawyers for a number of years, helping newly-qualified lawyers from private practice and in-house understand the changing nature of the profession, and Lorenzo says the advantages of such an approach to firms far outweigh the risks.

‘If you’re in a firm one of the best things you can do is develop strong relationships with in-house lawyers and work on understanding how to behave like clients. Some associates become interested in pursuing a career in-house after participating, but most firms accept the inevitability of a certain level of attrition, and savvy firms will use it as an opportunity to develop alumni relationships. It is all too common for lawyers to move in-house and say, “I’ll never send a dollar to my old firm”, and by demonstrating to newly-qualified staff that they are interested in helping clients, these firms will end up getting a huge advantage in later years.’

Similar initiatives are starting to appear in US law schools, with Harvard and Stanford making notable steps to add in-house content to their curricula. Perhaps the most ambitious offering of this kind was the now defunct Corporate Counsel Intensive Institute, which ran between 2013 and 2016 at the University of Colorado Law School. The course was established by former Obama administration official and White House adviser Philip Weiser during his time as dean. ‘I was convinced that the profession was being driven by in-house leadership,’ says Weiser. ‘When I graduated, in-house lawyers paid the bills and didn’t ask questions. That is no longer true. In-house used to be viewed as a second-best option if you couldn’t get into a good firm. That has now flipped and ambitious students have a great desire to learn how to get a position in-house.’

Weiser worked closely with Mark Roellig – now head of technology at Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, though at the time its GC – to develop a GC-led course for law students, junior associates and in-house lawyers. A senior roster of GCs was lined up to deliver the lectures, including Laura Stein of Clorox, Mark Chandler of Cisco, Randy Milch of Verizon and Susan Blount of Prudential Financial. Roellig himself designed much of the course material, using the process to help him understand the pressures his own staff were under. ‘The legacy model for training corporate counsel was saying “figure it out for yourself”, which is absurd in a world where tens of thousands of highly-paid people are employed in the role. I got tired of hearing senior people say they wished they had been told what to expect when they moved in-house so I looked to design materials that would help students while also helping in-house staff. That process taught me far more than any course I have ever attended. By sitting down and thinking like a junior counsel rather than a GC I started to understand how the function can be improved.’

Many of these initiatives will be useful, but there is unlikely to be a single solution that will work across all organisations, and while the need for change is obvious, where the new training will come from, and what form it will take, remains unclear. As Chapman concludes: ‘There is no well-defined path to becoming a GC and a lot of that comes down to the lack of structure in the in-house role. Businesses recognise this has to change, and a large part of that is going to involve training to ensure our future GCs are getting a rounded experience.’

james.wood@legalease.co.uk

Learning from each other

Few general counsel have had the opportunity to carry out a ground-up redesign of the legal function. Claire Debney has done so twice in the last three years. In 2014 she was engaged in RB (Reckitt Benckiser)’s legal transformation project, I-Legal. The programme, run at the request of RB’s then GC Bill Mordan, saw Debney help build an automated self-service platform for contracts and establish the first phase of an MBA-style in-house academy learning programme. The academy covered a number of skills Debney felt were critical to lawyers’ development in-house but which were being overlooked in the course of their education, including people management, self-awareness, core foundational financial skills, understanding risk and reward, and how to communicate tough messages.

It’s a community that is constantly changing and we are under a lot of pressure, so being able to share the burdens in a confidential way is really useful.
Claire Debney

Debney left RB shortly after Mordan’s departure in 2015 and has since joined him at global pharma giant Shire in a joint chief of staff and director of legal strategy role. Following Shire’s $32bn merger with Baxalta in 2016, the 80-strong legacy Shire legal team has doubled to 160 staff globally, with further growth planned. As a result, Debney is now overseeing an even bigger legal transformation project known as POD (People, Operations and Development). Between leaving RB and joining Shire, Debney also qualified as a Gallup ‘strength finder coach’ and has since founded Mosaic (Mentoring Opportunities Shared Amongst In-House Counsel), a pro-bono programme co-run with colleague Emma Sharpe that finds mentors for young in-house lawyers. This mentoring, says Debney, will be key to any systematic training of the in-house profession in future.

‘Very few in-house teams are set up to train their staff and, as a result, they will look for the limited external training options available. The obvious solution is to work together on this and teach each other. Even a relatively junior mentor can be a good partner because when you go in-house it’s so very different to what you have encountered before that anyone who has been there and done it can be a big help. It’s a community that is constantly changing and we are under a lot of pressure, so being able to share the burdens in a confidential way is really useful. I have very big ambitions about how this type of mutual training can support the profession and effect change.’