The In-House Experience: Interview with Maaike de Bie, General Counsel, Royal Mail
Maaike is the General Counsel of Royal Mail. She obtained her legal degrees in the Netherlands and Canada and is qualified to practise as a solicitor in both New York and the UK. Maaike started her career in private practice in New York moving to London five years later where she has held a number of senior in-house legal roles at the EBRD, GE and EY. In addition to her professional career, Maaike trained as a coach in 2005. Maaike uses these skills both professionally and personally as well as pro-bono through the Aspire Foundation Mentoring Scheme.
What one change would you make within your in-house legal team that you feel would revolutionise the way you or your team operates?
I wish it were that simple. There is no such thing as a quick fix or a single change that would revolutionise the way we operate. What I would say is that we are all people, we have different drivers and different reasons why we do what we do and how we do it. Understanding what motivates people, nurturing, supporting and helping them to develop/realise their potential are all key elements of my role (and that of all the people managers in my team). I would be nowhere without a great team, so creating, stimulating and developing a team/people is critical – however, that is of course hardly revolutionary!
What is your biggest challenge?
Keeping many plates spinning without any one of them crashing down. There is a lot going on, from ever more legislation and regulation to market disruptors, from economic uncertainty to the rise of AI and robotics. Back to my first point on the importance of having a great, switched-on team.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for the legal profession in general?
For law firms, the continuous drive for efficiency, pressure on cost/fee structures by their clients. For the legal profession in general, I don’t think there is ‘one biggest challenge.’ It is linked to the challenges I mentioned before – staying ahead and on top of it all.
What does “adding value” mean to you? What really makes a difference?
We can make a difference in so many ways, big and small. Personally, I strongly believe in our role as lawyers providing legal advice with high integrity (not just focusing on what is legal but also on what is right). And as in-house lawyers, we do so much more than ‘just providing the legal advice’. You could easily write a book about it – and in fact, there are quite a few out there on this very topic.
There has been a lot of discussion regarding legal project management. What does LPM mean to you?
I can see within our own company how positive it is for our lawyers to be able to have project management skills. Not just for legal work streams but also being part of the wider project management strategy for any given project.
How do you think the role of the GC is going to change over the next decade?
Ever more into a strategic business leader with a strong focus on risk management.
What is your vision for your legal team?
Our vision statement is ‘helping Royal Mail make good decisions.’ A broader vision for the team itself is being agile, a ‘team of teams’ – flexible and agile to adapt and adjust to the needs of the business.
Where do you go to for learning and inspiration, or who inspires you?
I find inspiration and learning all around me – in books/articles; through networking; listening to others. I am curious and I like learning, that helps. I am currently reading Rise of the Robots – fascinating, if not unsettling, reading.
What key skills do you look for your in your team members?
Excellent legal skills combined with commercialism; risk awareness; innovative/forward looking; change leaders; ethical; able to stand up and voice an unpopular opinion; being comfortable with ‘grey’ (as opposed to black/white) and good relationship builders.
What innovation could you not do without on a daily basis?
Mobile connectivity – not sure if that still counts as innovation – but it is critical in my daily life.
What innovation would you most like to see that would make your day better?
An instant time travel machine!
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