This Q&A was featured in our Winter edition of the DisruptiveTech newsletter. If you would like to receive our newsletter regularly, please click here.
Kolvin Stone, partner and head of technology at Fox Williams, spoke with Jenifer Swallow, award-winning lawyer, business leader, innovator and coach, with two decades’ experience helping high growth tech companies, including leadership roles at Yahoo! and Wise (formerly TransferWise).
Jenifer is the former CEO of LawtechUK, a government-backed initiative to transform the legal sector through tech. She appears in the Women in Fintech Powerlist, GC Legal 500 PowerList, 2019 Most Influential Women in Payments, British Legal Awards’ Individual of the Year, and Chambers Global 100 most influential General Counsel. Jenifer is a mother to 2 boys, is passionate about equality and human well-being, and supports a range of pro bono and industry initiatives.
Q1: What advice would 2023 Jenifer give to 2018 Jenifer?
What you are doing counts. Hold nothing back.
Q2: Why is independence of inhouse lawyers so important and what should we be doing to protect and improve that?
In-house lawyers are critical to the growth and resilience of our businesses and institutions. Independence is a key ingredient in doing that job really well. Being able to say what needs to be said, come what may, and holding in the hand not only client interests, but societal interests too and foremost. The rule of law is ever more pertinent in the age of ESG. In fast growth tech environments, groupthink is an existential risk and few are better placed than in-house lawyers to pierce. There is also a liability issue, where not acting independently is in breach of regulatory duties and leads lawyers to become embroiled in corporate misconduct at various scales, such as we are seeing with the Post Office Horizon Scandal (related research into lawyer ethics here).
Assuring the value of independence from a business and regulatory point of view requires infrastructure – governance that makes it come alive. Coding it into employment contracts (template here), talking about it undramatically in recruitment, with board members and in advice, building it into corporate risk controls and reporting lines (guidance on NED/GC relationship here), understanding who is – and critically who is not – your client. There is a checklist on my website and some further materials here.
Q3: What’s the most helpful piece of advice you have received?
Listen to your body.
Q4: How do you see the role of the inhouse lawyer evolving with the ever increasing use of AI, legal technology and process management tools?
Tech is what takes us to the boardroom. Properly deployed, it is the path to inhouse lawyers coming out from under a pile of overwhelm and moving back to the role they were designed to play, which is strategic. An efficient tech stack with composite data intelligence makes inhouse lawyers invaluable to decision-making, not just operational excellence – and decision-making at the far-sighted level business and society need, not only reactive.
Q5: What are your predictions for the inhouse legal community for the near future?
The compliance and controls aspects of inhouse lawyering will come to the fore, with increased scrutiny from regulators and the general public, mindful of Wyn William’s report on Horizon next year, and greater discussion on the role of lawyers in society, including within the profession.
This will precipitate a need for greater engagement and cohesion in the community around this topic, which may result in the establishment of an institute for IHLs, to provide the representation, support and leadership that broader professional bodies and regulators do not provide for this critical and growing community.
The increasing capability of inhouse lawyers and adoption of genAI tools will increase in-sourcing of work and pressure on outside counsel business models. With a bit of gumption, the power dynamic can tip, which will help IHLs push their outside counsel and themselves up the value chain in service delivery.
With the move to greater engagement in ESG, I can also see inhouse lawyers increasing their involvement in risk mitigation more broadly. This is an exciting area of development for fast growth tech companies where building dynamic risk control measures and culturally-aligned, data-informed decision making methodologies can deliver competitive advantage. Noting that lawyers working in this space need to structure their role with care so they do not take accountability for something outside their control.
Q6: What attracted you to working with fast growth tech companies?
Speed and impact.
Q7: What advice do you have for lawyers who want to succeed in this industry?
Understand the business inside out. Focus always on its purpose. Demonstrate your insight and integrity through this lens.
Be clear on your role and your red lines. Diarise to read and re-read your regulatory code. Sleep soundly.
Remember why you are a lawyer and be proud of that.
Q8: What keeps you up at night?
Except sometimes my kids, nothing. I don’t worry about things these days. During the day I’m typically thinking about client problems, scaling my business, and the future of the world!
Q9: How do you relax?
Fun and fitness are my daily bread. If there’s no fun, life has gone horribly wrong and needs correcting immediately! Hanging out with family and friends always brings perspective.
Q10: Your recommendations for an inhouse lawyer in tech to read, watch, join or attend?
Need more information about the above people and legal expertise? Talk to one of our lawyers: +44 (0)20 7628 2000
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