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On our own feet

18 September 17

Our in-house interviewee heads an award-winning legal advisory team at a bank which last year completed a demerger from its parent group – the awards recognising the team’s role in the process

by Jill Brown

Where do you come from, and what was your career path to your current position?

I was born and brought up in Dumfries before going to Glasgow University to study law. I trained and qualified at Shepherd & Wedderburn before taking the plunge in-house at what was then called National Australia Group, now CYBG PLC. At that time, as well as corporate work I worked with procurement and also did a stint working with the company secretary. I also took the opportunity to join an operational team within the bank, managing customer complaints. As the deputy head of Customer Engagement I managed a team of around 120 before moving back into Legal & Governance and building the Corporate Advisory and Treasury team.

What is a typical working day? What motivates you on a Monday morning?

There is no typical day in-house, and I guess that is what makes the job so interesting. We have a wide and varied workload from many different areas of our business; however, I work closely with our Corporate Development team. This covers all aspects of their work in place to M&A (merger & acquisition) work, such as our demerger and IPO (initial public offering), in 2016.

My team also supports our “financial calendar”, which included our inaugural AGM, in Australia, at the beginning of this year, as well as our Treasury and Capital Markets team. This is the bread and butter of the team, but as a member of the extended leadership team within CYBG PLC I get the opportunity to contribute towards the strategy of the group. This can be supporting our strategic agenda, supporting change programmes or facilitating roadshows to the wider bank.

It’s the ability to get involved in the wider business and not simply provide legal advice that makes the role so rewarding and makes me jump out of bed on a Monday morning. I believe that the work of my team positively contributes to the future success of CYBG PLC, and watching the bank go from being a wholly owned subsidiary to standing on its own feet has been an enormously rewarding experience.

What was the biggest change for you when you moved in-house? What do you really enjoy about working in-house?

It was the realisation that if the printer jams you have to work out how to mend it yourself! There is considerably more self-service in-house, where legal teams in general are much smaller and are one team in a large organisation. There are around 26 solicitors in our team together with three trainees, in a bank that employs over 6,000 people. 

Has your organisation experienced any major change recently? What are the current hot legal topics in your sector?

Last year we completed a demerger from our Australian parent company. A unique structure was required to achieve the demerger, establishing CYBG PLC as the only UK banking group to have a dual listing in London and Australia. The complexity and cross-jurisdictional issues which arose from the separation and IPO presented a great opportunity for the legal team to help guide the bank through complex legal and regulatory issues, while ensuring that the “business as usual” activities of the bank continued.

This was an extremely rewarding experience, and we won the Scottish Legal Awards 2017 In-house Team of the Year, the Law Awards of Scotland 2016 In-house Legal Team of the Year and we came second, highly commended, at the British Legal Awards 2016 for the Legal Department of the Year (financial services). 

What is your most unusual/amusing work experience?

There have been so many. I particularly recall a teambuilding event where the task was to build IKEA furniture while wearing blindfolds. Surprisingly, some team members were Olympic standard at this. 

What makes a good in-house lawyer? What is your career advice for young lawyers who want to start an in-house career?

My advice would be to spend a few years in private practice, whether focusing on a particular specialism or taking a more general approach, before moving in-house. The breadth of work that we look at in-house still takes my breath away. One of the critical skills for me is having the right attitude and confidence to be able to pick up a piece of work that you have never done before, perhaps in an area of law you have not looked at before, and be able to step back and consider how best to tackle it. Having the ability to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in, adapting to a fast paced and changing business environment, without being overwhelmed, is an essential part of the day-to-day life of an in-house lawyer.

My general advice to the team nowadays is that our clients are really busy with competing priorities: “If your legal advice is longer than an iPad screen, are you clearly and succinctly explaining the issue, and is there a risk you might lose the attention of your client?”

I would recommend that anyone who is interested in being an in-house lawyer, whether now or in the future, battles to get a secondment. In-house teams frequently look to law firms to provide secondees for specific projects or work types and it gives a fantastic insight into in-house life.

What do you look for when you seek external legal advice from solicitors or counsel? How do you see the in-house/external legal relationship changing?

We work with a panel of firms who provide legal advice to the CYBG Group. It is a given for me that those firms will provide top quality legal advice. However, it is far more than a legal interpretation that I am looking for. It’s often market insight, the added value that I need from the relationship, as well as speed of delivery. It’s important to me that firms understand what the CYBG strategy is and what the drivers are that we as an in-house legal team are trying to achieve, and that they work together with us on those aims.

What keeps you busy outside the office?

I have two young children who keep me on my toes. Otherwise I have recently dusted down my bike, and I am trying to run home from work a few evenings a week. I also enjoy keeping up with friends.

What would you take with you to a desert island? What would you put in Room 101?

If I was stranded on a desert island then I think an endless supply of books would be fantastic – the equivalent of the scene in the film I Am Legend, when Will Smith’s character works his way from one end of the DVDs in Blockbusters to the other. If I could work my way through all the sections in a virtual library, that would keep me out of mischief, and if I could also take my bike that would be ideal.

Room 101 – that is a tough one but I think “fake news” would be up there. I find it frustrating that this is now a common phrase used by public figures, so that where people don’t like the facts they badge it as “fake news” and pretend it didn’t happen.

Lots of law firms are talking about agile working – is this something you have experienced in your role?

I work full time but I am largely able to prioritise my work with an element of flexibility. For example, unless there is a business need, three days a week I take the kids to school and come in a bit later. If I can, I go home in time for their bath and bedtime, before logging back on if needs be. Ultimately, my boss knows that I will get my work done and meet deadlines, however challenging they may be, but I have the flexibility also to balance this with my home life. The bank is committed to being an inclusive place to work for everyone, whatever their personal circumstances. We do try to replicate this when we instruct externally – if there isn’t a hard deadline, we would rather our externals don’t interrupt their home life or send holiday emails from the ski slopes, but instead have a conversation about who is available to resource pieces of work in their absence. 

Jill Brown, head of corporate advisory and treasury, legal & governance, CYBG PLC
Questions put by Elena Sanz Arcas, corporate governance solicitor, Scottish Power and In-house Lawyers’ Committee member

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