Sharing skills: How you and your legal advisor can make each other smarter

Law firms providing additional training for in-house teams is nothing new and is often one of the standards of any longer term or panel arrangement. But given the changing expectations of employees and the different demands on GCs in creating a culture that supports and nurtures their ambitions, is there scope to update or expand the ways in which we can use this activity to share skills and provide more opportunity for growth?

Jo Hayes, Jo Hayes, Learning & Development Business Partner
Sign up for updates

Over the last 12 months, our Learning and Development Business Partner, Jo Hayes, has been focusing on this question, expanding the potential for both in-house teams and their legal advisors to upskill, share knowledge, and grow in their careers. Bringing with her over 15 years’ experience as a Leadership Facilitator for HSBC working across their global network, Jo has a unique insight from both the client and law firm side on the possibilities that exist. We caught up with her to find out more.

Let’s start with law firms offering training for their clients. It’s not a new concept, so where do you see the most potential for growth?

My experience so far has been that when it comes to the legal side of things, and especially the sector specific training, law firms are already offering a fantastic service. For me it’s the non-legal topics where we can truly add value in a different way. In my role as a leadership facilitator at HSBC, I was working with people from across the bank, as well as with external partners. What became clear to me was that it doesn’t matter what type of role you’re in or what your expertise is, these kinds of self-development tools and skills can be applied to any person in any job, at any time. So, if we’re developing this kind of content for our lawyers, why shouldn’t we offer it to our clients as well? In comparison with a standard legal or business training, a soft-skill training environment offers more opportunities for people to get to know each other on a different level, creating the conditions for better relationships to form.

Makes perfect sense – how do you see it being rolled out in practice?

As we know, Covid-19 has changed the way we all work and has offered many more opportunities to reach more people using virtual and online training, allowing them to gain knowledge without needing to be in the office. And not only that, the format and standard of training has also advanced – so we’ve really progressed a long way from those early anti-corruption or data protection trainings we all had to complete. There’s so much more potential for offering more psychological or so-called ‘soft skill’ content in interesting and intuitive ways. Creating online libraries of content that people can access, as well as running virtual workshops and training, are all things that are highly do-able. We’re working on the packaging and delivery of this content with the aim of offering it to our clients as a standard part of our relationship agreements.

Are there more opportunities, beyond this expanded training offering, for in-house lawyers and their external legal advisors to share their skills?

Undoubtedly. It’s not only about what we can offer our clients, but how we can learn from each other. And there are a lot of ways to do that. Of course, client secondments are not new, and are always a valuable experience for the lawyers who spend time in-house. We’ve also been looking at how we can give our clients a similar experience. For example, we invited one of our client’s young lawyers along to our NQ day for our new qualifiers. The feedback was fantastic. It gave her the opportunity to talk with her peers, and share ideas and experiences – which goes a long way to providing a sense of cohort that can be missing when you’re in a small team. She was also able to share what it’s like to be an in-house lawyer, providing insight to our NQs who otherwise might have had to go on secondment before appreciating this view.

What’s more, we’re looking at where it’s possible to do ‘reverse secondments’, where someone from the in-house team joins us for a few months. This ‘behind the scenes’ look at private practice can also be incredibly useful in terms of creating an understanding of the way we work, the hours, and what they may see as ‘red tape’, which should lead to opportunities to work better together. We’re still establishing the right way to do this, but we hope to make it a more common reality in future.

That’s an interesting concept. How about the confidentiality aspect of bringing clients into the firm?

Obviously, confidentiality is paramount, and we’d take care of NDAs, GDPR considerations and look at which matters they work on. But just as our clients trust our lawyers to be seconded to their teams, we should be modelling the same level of trust on our side.

There’s clearly a lot of opportunity to find new ways to work together and share knowledge. What do you see as the main benefits?

It all comes down to how we can broaden each other’s horizons. I know myself that during my 15 years at HSBC I was really only focused on one sector (and one organisation) so it was hard to gain a full appreciation beyond that. But by creating an environment that makes it easier for people to share their experiences, and learn together and from each other, that’s where the growth happens – personal, career, and growth in relationships. It’s an opportunity to invite a different perspective, and we all benefit from that. I also think the old-fashioned idea was to keep hold of information somehow; to retain knowledge while not necessarily sharing it openly. But that doesn’t help anyone – we should be sharing knowledge and resource as a way to improve together.

From our point of view as a law firm, as much as we say, “we understand you and the challenges you face”, that can only go to a certain depth without some kind of first-hand experience. But if we can create these moments to learn from each other, with a greater level of transparency, then we can also get more insight into how we can offer better support for our clients – which in the end is what we want to do, and what they want too.

And there’s a particular benefit for our clients who have a smaller in-house team, or even a single lawyer: joining up with law firms in these ways creates a larger community to learn from and grow with.

Finally, do you think there are more opportunities to share skills outside of the in-house team–law firm dynamic?

That’s an interesting one – why not? That’s not what we’re doing, but I think the potential is there. Take sharing knowledge and skills across our IT teams for example. When you start to think about it, the opportunities are almost unlimited, so it would be exciting to think alongside our clients about what we could do together.

“When you start to think about it, the opportunities are almost unlimited…”

Jo Hayes, Partner, Learning and Development