Kolvin Stone, partner and head of technology, Fox Williams, spoke with Tom Hambrett, group general counsel, Revolut during a virtual fireside chat, about his experience since joining Revolut in 2017 as sole legal counsel and growing his legal team to more than 50 lawyers, operating across four continents. Revolut is a leading fintech business supporting more than 112 million customers across 30 countries and recently was valued at £4.2 billion
Below are the top takeaways from Tom’s experience.
When going inhouse, find a business that you are passionate about. While working in private practice, Tom had a side project building a budget app with his cousin. When he began exploring going inhouse he was advised to look at Revolut because its business was similar to Tom’s project. When he interviewed for the job, he was able to establish rapport because he was a true believer in the Revolut business. His passion and excitement give him energy that he brings to his work and team.
When you are in private practice you have specialists for every practice area. But when you join a startup you may have to cover all, or most practice areas, even though you do not have experience in them all. It can be daunting. Be open to learning and using resources such as Practical Law (PLC) and your network to help you.
There is a thrill and rush that comes with being inhouse counsel in a fast-paced business. You are constantly fighting fires. Daily the legal department is pulled into many matters. You need resilience to respond. You need to have relationship skills to communicate well about the intersection of business and legal, what can and cannot be done and why, and appropriate timeframes.
Client service and expectations
Provide quality internal client service. Set expectations and explain advice and decisions. Have service level agreements to set expectations. Then ask for feedback from your internal clients. At Revolut when a project finishes a communication is sent asking about the lawyer’s client service. It is not about if the recipient liked the advice, it is about if the issue was explained and how the lawyer was to work with. The rating is included in the lawyer’s performance review.
Quantify your value
Quantify the value of your legal service. Put financial numbers behind budget requests and legal spend. It is especially important for new legal teams to use data to justify value. Keep a note of savings you made on a new deal or claims you resolved in any disputes. If you outsourced projects in the past that you brought inhouse, highlight the cost savings.
Understand your company’s priorities. Look across the company and teams and products and weigh the tradeoffs. Do not lose sight of what your company is trying to achieve. Those priorities should influence how you spend your time.
Do not think of yourself as a lawyer but a project manager. Understand the process of the business and what it takes to make things happen and how legal fits in.
Integrate into the business
Legal is integral to the company and its direction and should be in the room when every project kicks off and part of the conversation from the start.
Decide the structure of your team as you build it out. It can either be centralized, decentralized or a hybrid (hub and spoke). Tom recommends reading the book “How to build an outstanding legal team,” by Bjarne P. Tellmann. Revolut uses the hybrid model with core teams at the London headquarters and then local counsel in each market. These core functions are not replicated in every market and local counsel liaise with the London team on product and governance matters. Revolut has a global and local panel and have flexibility to use their own local counsel as needed.
Hiring takes a lot of time and can become a big part of your job. Embrace it. Think about what you need to get the right people hired and aligned with what you want to achieve. At Revolut their process is an initial screening phone call, two home tasks – one skill and one analytical, two face to face interviews, and then a bar raiser and problem-solving interview. In total there are six interviews and two home tasks. While Revolut’s process takes time, it helps them find the right fit for their team.
When working remotely, find ways for your team to have companionship, socialise and have conversations. When times are hard, people especially like to talk. Virtual activities Revolut has been doing include drinks and team trivia with different team members taking the lead every month. They host coffee drops-ins by scheduling a calendar break for 15 minutes. Lastly, pick up the phone, it can be more efficient and humanising.
And finally, what would 2020 Tom say to 2017 Tom? Understand what is important to the top team and what is not. Manage requests and make sure that it is not just the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. Think of yourself as a project manager and not only a lawyer; you need to be able to deliver for the business and get from A – B effectively.