General Counsel Interview Series – Paul Boyle, General Counsel, Airwave
For the latest of our General Counsel interview series we catch-up with Paul Boyle, General Counsel and Company Secretary at Airwave, the company behind Great Britain’s emergency services communications network.
After qualifying in New Zealand in 1996, Paul worked for SJ Berwin and then Baker & McKenzie in Sydney until his move to the UK in 2004 with Minter Ellison. A cross-border M&A and securities specialist, he spent 12 years in private practice before moving to Airwave in 2009.
Airwave owns, operates and maintains the 24/7 network used by the three emergency services and other orange light services, such as the Highways Agency and RNLI. The service was born out of the inability and unreliability of analogue radio to meet communication needs following various high-profile disasters in the 1980s and 90s and due to this, there can be no underestimating the mission-critical capabilities provided by Airwave.
Previous General Counsel Rachel Davidson joined Halebury a year ago, which then saw Paul promoted to General Counsel and Company Secretary. His current team is responsible for Airwave’s risk and company secretarial function, with a team of three lawyers and two company secretaries.
Upon joining Airwave, one of Paul’s first actions was to put in place a legal panel made up of firms known to him and other sector specialists to support the business which has over 300,000 public service users. “As all of our customers are in the public sector it is essential to know the public procurement process and regulatory environment, which is why we appointed the best brains in this area to our panel.”
Such decisiveness has served Paul well in the move from private practice to in-house. It’s well documented that the move from private practice suits some and not others. “In-house requires a different set of skills,” he explains. “In my experience, private practice lawyers are great advisers but often not good at decision making, yet in-house requires rapid decision-making.”
“You also have to be comfortable with far less detail simply because there isn’t always the time, so a lot of decisions rely on instinct. Of course, as an in-house counsel you’re in a privileged position as you operate, and have an in-depth understanding, across the whole business.”
The skills of private practice lawyers are still very much in demand by the business, despite it recently reducing its panel to two top-tier specialist firms. “We re-engineered our panel for both the long-term benefit of our business and for the two firms we work with. Guaranteeing a volume of spend with each firm ensures they invest in us. It’s a long-term, two-way partnership.”
These changes are perhaps indicative of a market that is undergoing evolutionary change. “There is, and always will be, a demand for highly specialised top-tier law firms. However, below that, the market saturation is intense which is encouraging firms to be more entrepreneurial, embrace technology and consider alternative models, so this will engender greater change in the long-run. There’s no doubt that the market was crying out for disruptive alternative models like Halebury.”
“Certainly over the coming years there will be more transparent billing models available, although I don’t see the billable hour disappearing completely as it can be difficult to purchase skills on a non-time basis.”
Paul cites those models offering flexible working to an untapped potential of highly-experienced female lawyers returning from maternity leave, which offer really good solutions for both lawyers and clients alike, as a good example of change for the better sweeping through the profession.
Closer to home, Paul’s current big challenge is playing a role in steering Airwave through some of the Government’s major tendering processes as the business looks to evolve with new technologies.
“Airwave has unique assets and experience and so we want to exploit these to their full potential. Our aim is to remain a world-leading provider of mission-critical communications.”