The In-House Experience: Interview with Justine Campbell, Deputy Group General Counsel, Centrica
Justine Campbell is Deputy Group General Counsel and Head of Secretariat for Centrica plc, with responsibility for the management of the Group’s legal function and the provision of legal and regulatory support to Centrica plc and to multiple business units across the Group and to the corporate centre. She is also responsible for leading the Group Company Secretariat function, supporting board and committee administration and advising on key issues of corporate governance and compliance. Prior to joining Centrica, Justine was Corporate & External Affairs Director of Vodafone UK for 5 years. She has been involved in the telecommunications industry for some years, having spent 7 years at O2/Telefonica, the final two as European General Counsel. Justine qualified as a solicitor with Freshfields, in London and Brussels and holds a law degree from Trinity College, Dublin and an advanced management qualification from the Said Business School, Oxford.
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 don’t think there is any one change that is revolutionary – to deliver meaningful and sustainable change it is necessary to address multiple areas in parallel and to inspire people and bring them with you, often the most difficult part. We have just launched a comprehensive transformation plan across the wider Centrica function – covering our teams in Legal, Regulatory Affairs, Ethics & Compliance and Company Secretariat. It addresses culture, technology, value management and our operating model, and we expect it to take 12-24 months to fully embed. But before doing any of this, it is important to assess your current position, and consider whether it is effective or is at odds with what your business needs. Your legal function needs to match the maturity, risk appetite and culture of your business to deliver most impact – so the change needs to have a context, a starting point and a clear goal.
What is your biggest challenge? What do you think is the biggest challenge for the legal profession in general?
My (and my team’s) biggest challenge is prioritisation and demand management – trying to ensure that we are all aware of increasingly complex and challenging issues across multiple businesses and geographies, plus managing increasing levels of demand with no incremental capacity. Demand management is a challenge for many – especially as the range of issues covered by in house legal teams has expanded both into specialist legal areas plus related areas such as compliance or risk. This stretch provides great interest and opportunity but has contributed to a lack of clarity about where the legal role starts and stops in some companies. Combined with our training to be helpful, this can lead to legal teams becoming a useful “safety net” for busy or less able business colleagues (is it really a good use of resource for lawyers to approve marketing copy or draft technical schedules?). I do believe that lawyers must be an integral part of the business, but we have in some cases confused business partnering with servitude. We are not there purely to respond to our business colleagues’ constant demands for support – we are there to support key business goals with our technical and analytical capability and to safeguard the company’s assets. But the onus is on us to be clear and disciplined about our role and to have an understanding of scope, choice and risk appetite with our business colleagues. Without this clarity, we end up moaning about having to “do more with less” which implies we should just work longer hours. If we don’t clarify respective responsibilities more effectively, in house lawyers will simply become increasingly overworked and undervalued.
The other major challenge I see for the legal profession generally is the slow pace of change and the lack of recognition that a lawyer needs to acquire broader skills to thrive these days – both in house and private practice lawyers need a range of skills to operate effectively in modern companies. We need an understanding of project management, technology, finance and people management as well as legal skills, or we risk becoming marginalised or overtaken by accountants, who have adapted more readily to new demands. I don’t know if our reluctance to adapt is based on risk aversion or arrogance, but it needs to be addressed.
What does “adding value” mean to you? What really makes a difference?
Adding real value is founded on knowing what your business is trying to achieve, how it works and who makes the decisions. In an environment of constant demand, knowing where the real business opportunity and risk sits enables you to decide where to put your efforts, and how best to achieve end goals. It is where in house lawyers – unlike external lawyers – occupy a unique position of influence and can add real value. See answer above, adding value starts with knowing where you should put your efforts and being clear in deciding what you do (and don’t do).
There has been a lot of discussion regarding legal project management. What does LPM mean to you?
Legal Project Management is, at its heart, effective alignment of the legal function with business goals and strategy, to improve efficiency and deliver optimal value. It can include systems, process and technology, but I believe that the foundations of good LPM is about planning, resource allocation, governance and oversight and target setting. Once you are clear, then technology can help to deliver more efficient processes but technology alone is not a magic solution.
How do you think the role of the GC is going to change over the next decade?
GCs will have to become increasingly broad business leaders, capable of setting strategy, managing operational capability, investing in technology and automation, as well as really effective people leaders. In addition, for many GCs, the ability to lead a broad function, incorporating issues beyond legal, such as ethics & compliance, risk, regulatory affairs and public affairs will be more important given the complexities of corporate life and the increasing level of regulation faced. It is a hugely exciting time for in house lawyers who are prepared to take on new challenges.
What is your vision for your legal team?
Our team’s core vision is provide effective and efficient legal services, to be an integral part of key business decisions, manage legal and regulatory risks appropriately and to help develop a legally astute organisation. On a more personal level, it matters to me that we provide a challenging, collaborative and supportive working environment that attracts and develops great talent and has a positive impact. And last but by no means least; it has to be enjoyable (at least sometimes!)
Where do you go to for learning and inspiration, or who inspires you?
I mainly rely on my network of fellow in house lawyers and other challenging thought leaders, many of whom are now friends too, and we share our challenges and experiences. I have also benefitted from having (and being) a mentor – which I really value – it provides a safe space to test my perspectives and a critical friend to discuss things with. I would recommend it to everyone. MOSAIC was set up by Claire Debney while she was at RB and now has lots of companies which participate – it provides a great introduction to mentoring for in house teams so I would recommend checking it out.
What key skills do you look for your in your team members?
Curiosity and tenacity are really important traits in an in house lawyer. We assume sufficient technical capability, so what makes the difference is the drive the person brings to understanding the business challenge/risk, and helping to support the business agenda within legal parameters. I also look for evidence of collaboration and communication skills – we don’t want lots of individual superheroes, but a great team where people support each other with complementary skills, and are able to communicate effectively with business colleagues to achieve the right outcomes.
What innovation could you not do without on a daily basis?
Podcasts – I have a fairly long commute and rely on BBC Radio 4 Podcasts (I know I sound very middle aged, but The “Archers Omnibus” is my favourite – my children hate it all so my solo drives are ideal!)
What innovation would you most like to see that would make your day better?
Time Travel, or human cloning. That would enable me to be in a meeting, at a school concert or at my book club drinking a glass of wine, all at the same time……
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