Talent management

None so zealous

In-house counsel are increasingly united on the benefits of mentoring programmes. Is there substance behind the corporate fad?

Claire Chapman, Daily Mail and General Trust

Talent management |

‘I believe very strongly in leading by example,’ says Nokia global head of litigation Richard Vary. Although his legal team has a formal mentoring system in place, Vary maintains that it is the informal connections inherent in mentoring that play the most important role in developing in-house counsel. ‘You bring the people along, they see what you do, they see how you work rather than [you] telling people how to do their jobs. They’re professionals, they know what they’re doing. They’re intelligent – you give them the space to figure it out for themselves but also give them an example of the model of behaviours that you want.’

Vary is articulating increasingly common sentiments among the in-house community, which in recent years has moved from being notoriously off-hand on career development to become committed converts to the mentoring cause.

Over half a dozen senior in-house counsel were interviewed for this piece – all of them cited mentoring in their teams and all were convinced of the benefit, though the practicalities and time commitments to mentoring vary enormously between teams.

Some argue the increased focus on mentoring is overdue for an expanding in-house profession working in increasingly complex organisational structures, with mounting workloads and striving to manage a widening array of risks.

A lot of our top team are female – so for them mentoring is about continuing to break glass ceilings, going on to bigger and better jobs than mine.
Geoffrey Timms – Legal & General

A 2015 report, produced by the consultant LBC Wise Counsel, argued the profession had stored up a ‘crisis of well-being’ and much more should be done to support and develop staff… including listening to their concerns. Research cited in the report found many in-house counsel felt they weren’t working in an environment that encouraged them to raise issues that had a negative impact on their well-being and careers.

But while LBC founder Paul Gilbert highlights what he argues are backwards attitudes on mentoring and supporting staff, there are some indications that the increasingly gender-balanced ranks of the in-house profession have a more committed take on the value of connecting and supporting professionals.

Claire Chapman, general counsel of Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT), argues that mentoring – both structured and informal – has become a key tool in developing lawyers into upper middle and senior roles and to build vital links outside the legal team. ‘With mentoring, I’ve seen people move from being a good manager to actually leading and owning. It’s key.’

Geoffrey Timms, GC at Legal & General (L&G), agrees that mentoring means re-positioning talented lawyers in a broader context within the business. ‘A lot of our top team are female – so for them [mentoring is about] continuing to break glass ceilings, not just my role but effectively going on to bigger and better jobs than mine, so maybe going on to be board-level within a company and take on a broader commercial role.’

Pairing up

Mentoring encompasses a broad range of informal and more prescriptive approaches. These include schemes directed solely at the in-house legal teams, informal ‘open door’ policies, and some external mentoring providers. Many of the more structured efforts occur, however, at company level, reflecting the obvious point that most sizeable legal teams still exist at large companies.

Vary outlines Nokia’s approach: ‘Within the legal and compliance department there is a mentoring strategy. There is formal mentoring. People can have their own mentors if they like. We usually encourage people to have mentors who are outside the legal compliance area so that their mentors teach them about the business more widely and how to be not just lawyers but business people. But there is a much more informal day-to-day process of making sure that everybody has a development plan and development goals are all being considered.’

Mentoring – The takeaway

I was sceptical but mentoring has been career-changing – it gave
me the confidence to take the next step.
Claire Chapman, DMGT

You lead people through your legacy. If you’ve helped two, three or four people on the way, that is a big reward.
Geoffrey Timms, Legal & General

We have a mentoring philosophy but we don’t like to force people.
Chris Newby AIG

We’ve come to a sorry path for some teams that don’t have an outlet that gives them a better chance to cope.’
Paul Gilbert, LBC Wise Counsel

Mentoring is bringing people along rather than telling them
what to do. Give them space to figure it out for themselves.
Richard Vary, Nokia

The approach is not always kept exclusively within in-house legal teams. Three of the seven in-house counsel interviewed for this article had members of their team take part in company-wide schemes.

TSB Bank’s legal team, for example, pairs its own internal legal mentoring system with a general organisation programme that goes across the business.

TSB legal head Susan Crichton comments: ‘We want to invest in growing our future leaders. It’s about individual achievement and business success working hand-in-hand, then as a legal team and as a business, we try to provide development opportunities for all our partners to enable them to carve out a career with us.’

AIG legal head Chris Newby says his company has a ‘mentoring philosophy’, covering a range of initiatives. These include programmes to advance talented women, career development plans and programmes to develop ‘skills matrixes’. AIG also has programmes to transfer team members to work in foreign offices, primarily allowing staff in smaller markets to work in larger parts of the business.

You shouldn’t underestimate the value you get from by engaging with people. If you’re talking to Gen Y lawyers or the sales team, there are a lot of rich conversations.
Clare Wardle, Coca-Cola European Partners

Newby comments: ‘We don’t like to push people to mentor people and we don’t like to force people to put their hand up and say “can I have a mentor?” We operate in a system where you can come and see your manager and say: “It would help my career to have a mentor.” Then through HR we have a pool of senior executives on a global basis that are willing to do mentoring and we try to pair people up outside of their department.’

Chapman at DMGT uses a variety of approaches, including bringing in external specialists. Whether using mentoring professionals or staff from another team, Chapman says a perspective from outside the immediate team is important.

‘Video coaching is very impactful if you’re doing presence and impact – how do you come across to external people? There’s a variety of things [the external courses offer]. There’s value in having an external person work with you. You’re a part of a group and there’s somebody videoing you to watch and see how you respond, what you look like, how you deal with questions.’

Similarly, Kingfisher’s in-house team has turned to the mentoring programme of the 30% Club, the high-profile body set up to champion women in senior professional roles, for two of its star lawyers. The programme encourages better leadership and governance through diversity. Former Kingfisher GC Clare Wardle, who has just been named GC and company secretary at Coca-Cola European Partners, herself mentored on behalf of the group and within Kingfisher.

She said: ‘I mentor three people myself and you get a huge amount out of those conversations. We try to be reasonably regular and have a discussion at least once a month every five or six weeks, but in between that we may well talk or they may bounce an idea off me.’

Though far from being a dominant approach, some GCs turn to external counsel, in some cases pairing partners with relatively junior in-house counsel.

Daiwa director of legal and transaction management Miranda Brawn set up a diversity and leadership programme, which includes scholarships for mentoring and funding, with Hogan Lovells as a sponsor. The scheme also offers work experience to young black, Asian or ethnic minority future lawyers.

‘It is not just about mentoring those that are already in the system, but helping to increase the number of diverse professionals entering the legal system. Those experiences, and those conversations with young people, will eventually benefit the legal industry and our economy.’

Projecting yourself

While in-house counsel are – for better or worse – still generally sceptical of consultants and spending time and money on anything other that hiring lawyers, it is hard to find much cynicism among GCs about mentoring itself. If anything, where they do take a jaded viewed is in teams and companies that profess to offer development without delivering.

Says Chapman: ‘I was always very sceptical about mentoring. There were a couple of times in my career where mentoring was a requirement and I went along reluctantly because it was a part of their leadership programme. It has been career-changing – taking a particular issue and a focus across three, four, five sessions – it gave me the confidence or permission to take that next step.’

Timms at L&G argues that a lot of the most effective mentoring schemes put lawyers in touch with non-executives.

‘I’ll get a non-executive to come and talk to [L&G’s legal team], I get other people who I come across who have had successful careers and I get them to come in and spend some time over a cup of coffee with two or three of the team and try to give some insights. There are a few external networking staff around, which is quite good, but let’s say you’re an early-30s female – you benefit from sitting in front of a lady who has joined the board of a non-executive here or is on the board of another company and asking them: how did they manage? How did they manage the various aspects of their career and their lives? What tips would they pass on to their younger selves? All the issues that are prevalent these days about how you have life balance and work balance and how you have a rewarding career but you don’t end up working all hours under the sun.’

Timms, who also conducts away days with staff, argues that the pay-off for time-pressed GCs is immediate in that staff respond to high-quality mentoring and development experiences. ‘You lead through your legacies really, but if you’ve helped two, three or four people on the way that is a big reward. I’ve got a great team, they’re hard-working, they’re loyal, they’re fantastic, and the reciprocation I get is in their continual good work and loyalty.’

Know your mentoring jargon

New hire mentorship
Programmes geared to support and acclimatise new staff members

Supervisory mentorship
As above, a more established form of mentoring where staff have assigned senior figures to go to with a range of issues and questions

Flash mentoring
Mentoring focused on a single meeting rather than an ongoing relationship

Situational mentoring
Mentoring geared towards a single goal or developing a specific skillset

Reverse mentoring
A more recent trend of pairing senior staff with more junior members to gain inter-generational insights

High potential mentoring
One of the most established approaches, typically geared towards maximising the development of high-performing individuals

Technology mentoring
A recent trend of assigning tech-focused professionals to assist knowledge professionals to adopt new tools

Timms also cites the benefits in terms of positioning his team within the company. ‘The top team I’ve got is exceptionally good and is recognised by the company as being exceptionally good. They don’t just do the law, they do corporate – they are the M&A function virtually for the firm as well really. They do a much broader commercial, organisational role. So they are very, very highly regarded. People have in the past moved successfully within the business but any of them who wanted to move into line roles would be very gratefully received.’

And it is not just the junior lawyers who benefit from the experience of mentoring. Wardle contends the rewards mentoring offers senior staff are often overlooked. ‘You shouldn’t underestimate the value you get by engaging with people. Whether you’re learning how Gen Y thinks or learning about the sales and marketing department and what they do, there are a lot of really rich conversations you can have. It’s absolutely about getting values on both sides.’

Chapman says a key role for mentoring is helping lawyers through the tricky transition from junior staff members, where there is plenty of structured support, to confidently establish themselves in the middle of their careers for potential moves into leadership roles.

‘When you first come into an organisation and you’re a junior lawyer you get quite looked after. There are lots of courses that you go on and things that you have to do to network, and then at the GC level you have your own group, your own network, your own group of things; you’re just more secure in your own skin and environment just through experience. But there’s that group of people that get a bit left. They’re not junior and they’re not quite at the GC stage. There needs to be targeting of that particular group and then giving them the confidence to put their hand up and say: “I can do this. I’m ready for this.” That could be a new project, leading on something; it could be making their first step into a GC role or a deputy GC role. It’s giving people the confidence to move forward and step out of that middle phase of their career.’

The confidence point is fundamental for Chapman, who argues that many talented female lawyers are held back by not learning to assume a leadership stance. ‘It’s influencing. It’s having a voice at the table. It is projecting yourself. I’m not talking about being me, me, me, me, but it is recognising the skills and experiences, putting yourself into a place where you can make a contribution. I see that with quite a lot of more junior women coming in where they’ll come into a meeting room and they’ll sneak in at the end of the table so if they want to speak they’re going to have to lean around a row of five people. They’re making it much harder for themselves.’

To cope and succeed

If those that have encountered mentoring see it as valuable, there is more cynicism over whether GCs are consistently making good on the promises of career development, particularly outside the largest companies.

LBC’s Gilbert believes that many legal teams, having taken on increasing amounts of work that used to go to law firms as part of overall budget cuts, spend more time in fire-fighting mode trying to keep up with the level of work rather than having the ability to work on career development. Since the 2009 banking crisis, his work as a professional mentor – as a former GC he launched LBC in 2000 partly to provide mentoring to corporate counsel – has found more indications of individuals struggling to cope.

‘For the first ten years all the mentoring we did – and we did a lot – would have been positive. People were looking for career advancement, becoming GCs and needed the external support and a sounding board for ideas. Since 2009-10, and therefore probably allied to the recession and financial crash, at least half and maybe significantly more than half of the mentoring has been helping people cope. People who are out of work, people who have got more pressure than they can handle, people anxious about where their career is going. We’ve come to a pretty sorry path for some teams, for some people that don’t have an outlet that gives them a better chance to cope and succeed.’

It is also a criticism that some mentoring efforts are informal to the point of confusion. Gilbert argues that GCs wanting to offer mentoring should be clear about what the legal teams currently do, how that should change and what they want to get out of mentoring for their staff and team as a whole. However, it is hard to find examples of mentoring having a negative impact, where actually offered.

Another reason for cynicism is that in-house teams remain largely flat structures with a limited number of senior roles, which are typically held for a long time. For all the talk of career development, GCs that are serious about offering such career nurturing have to be ready to provide transferable skills that will actually transfer some staff outside their teams.

Nevertheless, it seems anecdotally that many GCs – increasingly influenced by the corporate fashion for formalised networking – are coming to embrace exactly that bargain: that mentoring will create more fluid but also more fulfilled and loyal legal teams for those that remain.

Gilbert argues that ultimately, mentoring not only recognises the individual needs of staff, but creates teams that are more cohesive and resilient. ‘Sustainability is crucial both [for the] individual and for the team. Whether it is physical infrastructure, better process, clear strategy or personal wellbeing, when mentoring supports these things, it provides some buffer and an outlet for a better way to come to the fore, then everybody can win.’

madeleine.farman@legalease.co.uk