The In-House Experience: Interview with Nicholas Eldred
Nicholas Eldred is a consultant General Counsel who specialises in assisting companies going through a significant issue, whether it is a major regulatory challenge, a piece of significant litigation, an M&A project or a governance overhaul. Nicholas has worked in senior in-house counsel and GC roles for BT, 02, the BBC and Christie’s and has more recently worked on projects for the English National Ballet and Architectural Association. Before moving in-house Nicholas trained and worked at firms including Trowers and Hamlins and Simmons & Simmons.
What one change would you make within your in-house legal team that you feel would revolutionise the way you or your team operates?
The best type of change builds on a solid base and for that to happen it is important to understand where a team is at any one time. This calls for a real internal dialogue and time needs to be made available to swap perspectives. It is often the quietest voices that merit being heard the most and a good leader will make sure that everyone’s contribution is made. Spending time on what is working well can be a valuable approach to adopt as it leads naturally to ideas that build on success. No team should be wholly internally focused, however, and it is important to maintain a dialogue with business colleagues. Their perspectives, whether objectively right or not, can shape the legal team and change it for the better.
If I could make one change it would be to have a team that shared pretty much the same risk profile to issues. However, this takes time and engagement to bring about and must allow space for considered risks to be taken without comeback if they do not come off.
What is your biggest challenge? What do you think is the biggest challenge for the legal profession in general?
The legal profession is changing in so many positive ways. There is so much more competition and choice available, with different business solutions offered to clients. For practitioners, this means that we need to be nimble and adaptable to really satisfy our clients’ needs, not just provide the service that we have traditionally offered.
The biggest challenge remains the ever-present one: how to add value. See answer to the next question.
What does “adding value” mean to you? What really makes a difference?
It’s hard to define this in just one sentence, but for me, it is about lawyers who “get” the business and help steer it round rocks and rapids, look out for issues that are ahead and help design solutions, are fearless in saying NO where appropriate and above all work in a collegiate way to support business colleagues on issues of importance to them. Being the first and then the last people to be consulted on an important issue is often the sign of a team that is making a real difference.
There has been a lot of discussion regarding legal project management. What does LPM mean to you?
LPM for me is about getting a legal team/department operating at its maximum efficiency, and creating a team which is consulted and valued by colleagues across the business. There is an art and a science to this which both need to be applied. Science, perhaps, to ensure that a business has the right cost profile and balance between in-house and external support but an art too as a lot of success is the culture you build within a team.
How do you think the role of the GC is going to change over the next decade?
The days are long gone where the General Counsel sat somewhere at the back of the building, turning the handle to produce “standard” contracts (did these ever quite exist?). Different businesses will have different needs but the successful GC needs to have: a strategic understanding but retain an eye for detail, be completely comfortable with complexity and have the ability to make fine decisions/recommendations in ambiguous situations. They should also have the ability to speak truth unto power and earn the right to do this. Lastly they need to keep their feet firmly planted on the ground.
We often look States side to see what might be coming our way in the UK. I can see the role of Chief Administrative Officer, where the holder is responsible for the performance of all non P&L functions, start to develop in the UK. My senior direct report in the Americas when I was at Christie’s was their CAO there.
What is your vision for your legal team?
Setting the tone, culture and approach goes a long way. I like legal departments that are outgoing, appropriately confident and proactive. A lot depends on how the GC behaves personally, as the team will take their cue from them.
Where do you go to for learning and inspiration, or who inspires you?
I think that it is important for GCs to consider having a mentor or coach and I say this regardless of how senior or successful they are. The role of GC can be a lonely one at times and it is important to have someone at hand who you know and trust and who is able to challenge and develop your thinking and approach. I have benefited enormously from having access to such invaluable people.
What key skills do you look for your in your team members?
Attitude and aptitude. Not being afraid to take the lead but being a team player too. A good sense of humour is a bonus: work doesn’t have to be hard work.
What innovation could you not do without on a daily basis?
I am not sure that it counts as an innovation but my smartphone: it is invaluable. Of course, it has its downside too: know when to ignore it and be immune to its charms.
What innovation would you most like to see that would make your day better?
Stress free commuting but I cannot see this happening anytime soon.
Follow Nicholas on Twitter on @watten1.
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