Lessons I Learned in Law

Steven Berry on having the confidence to take action to create change.

August 02, 2021 Heriot Brown Season 1 Episode 6
Lessons I Learned in Law
Steven Berry on having the confidence to take action to create change.
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Lessons I Learned in Law, Scott Brown speaks to Steven Berry.

Steven is the Legal Director for the European Nuclear & Power and Aerospace, Defence, Security and Technology businesses of SNC-Lavalin. SNC-Lavalin is a Canadian headquartered company that provides engineering, procurement, and construction services across a variety of sectors. Steven qualified in private practice with Speechly Bircham (which is now part of Charles Russell Speechlys) before moving in-house to Atkins (now part of the SNC-Lavalin group). 

Steven shares the three lessons she has learned in law including:

  • Be bold enough to follow opportunities that align with your career interests.
  • It’s important that lawyers are people too, so bring your personality and your whole self to work.
  • Be prepared to take action, if you think there’s room for improvement in an organisation.

Presented by Scott Brown of Heriot Brown Legal Recruitment.

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This episode of Lessons I Learned in Law is brought to you by Beamery.

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Scott Brown  (0:02)

Hi, I'm Scott Brown. I'm founder of Heriot Brown In-House Legal Recruitment. Welcome to Lessons I Learned in Law podcast where I sit down and have honest and open conversations with people from across the legal community to understand what influences shaped their careers. And of course, some of the lessons that they've learned in law along the way. The hope is that this inspires others, regardless of what stage they're at in their careers, to enjoy the path that they're on and perhaps provide some valuable guidance to them as well. Just to give you a snapshot as to timing because the podcast will be going out in a couple of weeks. I picked up COVID when I attended one of the European Championship games the other week, so I've had a little bit of a break from recording the podcast, and I'm joined on the podcast today by Steven Barry. Hi, Steven.


Steven Berry  (0:59)

Hi, Scott, thank you very much for inviting me on the show.


Scott Brown  (1:04)

Steven’s Legal Director for European nuclear and power and aerospace, defence security and technology businesses for SNC-Lavalin, also known as Atkins. For those not in the know, SNC-Lavalin is a Canadian headquartered company that provides engineering procurement and construction services across a variety of sectors. Steven qualified in private practice with Speechly Bircham, which is now part of Charles Russell Speechly. That was before moving in house to Atkins. Atkins was acquired by SMC in 2017. So a big welcome, Steven, great to have you. Before we jump in to the lessons for those that have listened before, you know that we like to start with a few facts about our guests that you might not be aware of. Steven tells me he's a keen hiker. He walked the north section of the West Highland way, just two weeks ago. What he told me off Mike was that he didn't quite make it up. Ben Nevis twisted his ankle the night before in a pub in Fort William. So that sounds like a good night. Number two, one of his guilty pleasures during lockdown is to be spending a few countless hours indulging his geekier side playing computer games. And thirdly, Steven is co-chair of SNC Lavell in Atkins, staff, LG BT Q network, which is called equilibrium, which he helped to establish and create a few years ago. So good to hear more about that later on. But we're gonna jump straight in to learn more about your life, Steven, via the three lessons that you've learned in law. So if you could tell me one of your earlier lessons that you've learned? 


Steven Berry  (2:42)

Yeah, sure. Thank you, Scott. So I guess maybe just starting at the beginning, then so one of the key lessons that I learned fairly early in my legal career was at the end of my training contract. And really, I think the key message here is to be bold enough to pursue the opportunities that are aligned with your career interests, but also keep your eyes open, remain flexible as well. And striking the balance can be hard, especially during the early stages of a legal career, right. And so as, as you mentioned, so I trained at speech, the Burcham, had a had a great training contract there. It's a lovely firm to work for. But unfortunately, there were no in queue roles available in my seats of choice. And those were at the time, commercial litigation or property litigation. And this really was it was a result of the recession. And Charles's speeches were no different to many other firms who had transferred some of their teams out into the regions, and these opportunities just weren't coming up in the job market. So I did take a bit of a gamble. Well, actually, I wouldn't recommend someone takes quite as drastic a gamble as I did. I declined to remain at the firm and my training contract ended. And by myself on the job market, yeah, I was really lucky to discover an opportunity at Atkins, where I am now. And this was a mixed contentious and non-contentious role advising the energy business. And yeah, our energy business at the time, it was focused mostly on oil and gas. That's not the case anymore, for obvious reasons. But it wasn't exactly what I was looking for. But it had the potential to fulfil sort of my interests. So I made this leap of faith. It's probably worth mentioning as well, Scott that I hadn't. I didn't have any prior Construction Law experience. So I didn't fit in the construction team at CRS. So it was a bit of a blind leap of faith, if any, if anything, and but on paper, it had the potential to fulfil my interests. And actually, as things panned out over the course of time, I genuinely preferred the non-contentious work that I was involved in. I hope no potential recruiters are listening. No, but I'm not necessarily the most organised people. Right. And you do have to be organised in order to be a litigator so much found myself doing more and more transactional work and I found that incredibly enriching now to find Where I try not to meddle in disputes work if I can. Right. Okay,


Scott Brown  (5:04)

go That sounds better sliding doors moment then in terms of opportunity that came up? Have you considered a moving house up to that point? Or had it been something you had you had looked into much during your training contract.


Steven Berry  (5:18)

So I looked into it, it was something that I would always have been interested in doing. But I'll be honest, I didn't think those opportunities were available for MQ solicitors. There are very few in house legal teams with the capacity to sort of run their own training contracts. And they do tend to recruit more senior lawyers. In fact, the role that I moved into, I think, originally they were looking for a slightly more qualified lawyer, but have managed to convince them to offer the role to me, and I'm glad that I did it. As an in house lawyer, you get an awesome amount of exposure to the business, which you just won't gain that lots in private practice. And although obviously, the role is a lot less technically focused,


Scott Brown  (5:59)

and how did you go about positioning yourself and finding that role?


Steven Berry  (6:03)

So I said to Atkins, you know, you can see for my CV that I haven't done a construction seat, but I have done quite a bit of litigation. And I had lots of transactional experience to the corporate finance work that I did at CRS. So I said, you know, I'm, I'm very interested in learning more. And I truly was of the view at the time, that is an n q, and you do need to be open minded, you don't necessarily need to qualify into a seat that you practice previously.


Scott Brown  (6:30)  

But from your side being in the position of hiring at Atkins since then, do you? Do you feel that person looked outside the box? Do you do you take that thought process when you're when you're hiring if you're looking at CVS?


Steven Berry  (6:43)  

Exactly that? Yes. So the latter, we have lots of great construction lawyers, already napkins, but the world is changing, technology is becoming more important intellectual property is becoming more important. And so if we just sort of recruited more and more construction lawyers, that wouldn't necessarily help us fulfil the role that business needs us to. And so I think that it's actually beneficial for legal team to have lawyers in a team, a variety of different backgrounds.


Scott Brown  (7:13)  

Good advice.


Scott Brown  (7:21)  

on to lesson number two,


Steven Berry  (7:22)  

yes, sure. So I'm going to echo what one of your previous guests I think he wrote and talked about, and it was, he explained that it's really important for lawyers to be people to, to bring their personalities to work with them. But I guess I'd like to explore this a little bit more through the LGBT lens. So I do identify as a gay man, and bringing yourself to work does pose additional challenges if you're LGBT, because that means you're likely to have to come into the closet, while you will have to come out of the closet. I think, in order to give sort of full disclosure to your colleagues, you have to echo what roe Han said in terms of, you know, lawyers should bring their full personality to work. And it helps to build relationships of trust, where you can influence your, your internal clients. And lawyers should be no different from the businesses, I could probably write pages about the senior management of the company, they have personalities to expect the lawyers to be the same. And these relationships aren't necessarily just going to be built when you're talking about contract bids, disputes, it's conversations around the water coolers. It's conversations during work, social events, that that kind of thing. As an LGBT person, it can be difficult to have those conversations unless you are open about our sexuality. And when I say open, I don't mean parading around the office, waving rainbow flags and dancing to Britney songs. I keep that strictly for the weekend. It's Yes. But you know, it's simple things that I would say possibly non LGBT, people may not necessarily appreciate. So the use of pronouns for example, when talking to your colleagues about what you're up to over the weekend, if you aren't able to disclose the gender of the person you're spending your time with, and you aren't able to refer to their names, it just become a very difficult conversation to have. And if anybody doubts me, I challenge you to spend five minutes talking to any of your work colleagues about what you did over the weekend without using a gender identifying pronoun, when referring to the person that you speak to, can be very difficult and taxing. So how did


Scott Brown  (9:29)  

you decide to express your own diversity or your sexual orientation at work? How did that how did that come around?


Steven Berry  (9:37) 

I guess maybe the first thing to say is, is to mention the environment that I was in. So I was incredibly lucky to join what already was on day one, a diverse and inclusive legal team. And so you know, we had a very good gender balance split. We have people from ethnic minorities, I ticked the box when I joined the game and people were openly having conversations about you know, that their friends that they spent the weekends with, for example, and that created an environment where I didn't feel unsafe talking about what I was up to. I didn't go up to somebody and say, Oh, by the way, do you know that I'm gay? It just, it just happened to come out in conversation, because somebody asked me what I've been up to at the weekend. And that was that. But really, the process of coming out is not something that you ever really finished as a gay person. So there will be many other people in the organisation that I've since had conversations with, where I've sort of indirectly disclosed my sexuality to them as well.


Scott Brown  (10:33)  

Yeah. What advice would you give to people within an organisation like yours, to encourage LGBT individuals to, to express themselves? How can you receive that in that information or be open?


Steven Berry  (10:46)  

I guess there's two points really, in that the first issue is to explain the benefits of having an inclusive workplaces. So if an LGBT person remains in the closet, it's personally damaging to them. It can be distracting in the workplace, and it can have impact on your mental health, and potentially impacts upon the relationships that you have with your colleagues as well. And but from a company's perspective, that that is not good. You know, if a work environment does not seem inclusive, then you may not have the best LGBT talent applying for the role in the first place. And when they are with the company, they may become less engaged, and the company could have difficulty retaining them as well. And then the whole issue with pronouns and remain in the closet can actually have an effect on people's productivity. And ultimately, that could affect a company's bottom line. So there are real sort of commercial imperatives for addressing this issue. And I guess, in terms of how do you foster that, that inclusive work environment, and I would say, firstly, it has to come from the top down, I'm really, really pleased to see to say that the senior management at SNC-Lavalin, are on board with this, they now openly talk about importance of diversity and inclusion. And they encourage those that report into them to do the same. And I was especially pleased this year, when the company announced at the start of the year as part of our sort of personal development review programme that everybody was encouraged to have some sort of EDI objective. And that could be something like, you know, just attending a webinar or a panel event run by one of the staff networks to raise your own personal awareness. Or for those that want to get actively involved. It could be working with HR on policies, it could be participating in the organisation network, that sort of thing. So and that really did come from the management. And then they mean what they say when they talk about the importance of EDI. So they set they set the right example. But they also are responsible for making sure that that disseminates across the organisation and that it results in real cultural change.


Scott Brown  (12:58)

What was your view on the construction or engineering industry prior to joining Atkins from that side, because I guess people's view may tend to be that it's a traditional industry, white men, perhaps boys club mentality in construction, was that quickly put down from your side?


Steven Berry  (13:20) 

I guess maybe the first thing to say is when I applied for the job that didn't really factor into my consideration, you know, I wasn't concerned that I was moving into a sector that was perhaps going to be you know, have that idea, possibly my show urbanistic culture. But I did notice very quickly that at the time, certainly the company's definition of diversity was limited to gender balance. And there was no discussion around the inclusion of other minority groups within the organisation. And if you compare engineering to other professions, including the law, and we were really quite far behind, really on at the beginning of our EDI journey. So that that was a little disappointing. And but at the same time in I joined an organisation with something like 50,000 staff, all of whom are very highly educated with you know, great, great leadership teams and as I mentioned earlier, the legal team in particular was quite diverse. So I could see that the framework was there for improvement and we just had to get the ball rolling


Scott Brown  (14:27) 

can do more about that and the network that you've been responsible for creating as well and been heavily involved in just take a quick break from the from the lessons however, come back to your the facts about you that we shared at the start so keen hiker and West Highland way a few weeks ago. How was that?


Steven Berry  (14:48)  

A spectacular? Yeah, it was an awesome holiday. I'm very sad that I haven't done something like that earlier. So we only walked for five days along the West Highland way with a We've managed to have a few little excursions up mountains as well along the way, clot top 165 kilometres without a single injury, including blisters, until the very penultimate evening before the grand finale of it was Ben Nevis. And I'd had a lovely dinner in a pub just off the key Fort William and I managed to twist my ankle on the way out. So there's certainly a safety moment there. And a lesson learned from me that you need to be on your guard at all times when you're on holidays, especially if you've had a glass of wine or two. 


Scott Brown  (15:32)

Yeah, absolutely. Oh, well hope it didn't hope it wasn't too much of a cloud over the rest of the holiday. It sounded good. I think it's one of the one of the nicer things that has come a COVID to appreciate what's on our doorstep. Been able to or Forster being able to explore the UK a bit more. So, so yeah, sounds it sounds great.


Steven Berry  (15:55) 

Yeah, it just pains me that I didn't make it up and nervous though. So when I am tempted to get the Caledonian sleeper up there one day, yeah, go on top of the mountain and come down later in the day just so I can take it off the bucket list.


Scott Brown  (16:08)

Yeah. Oh, good excuse to go back because like you said, it's a nice part of the world. And then during lockdown been your gather you're a bit of a gamer.


Steven Berry  (16:21)

I've certainly become one. You know, I'm not I'm not going to pretend that I'd never played a computer game before. And as a single Pringle, I've been left to my own devices for quite a lot of time. So I've racked up a fair few a few hours dismembering people on mediaeval battlefields and stone down the scope of an AK 47.


Scott Brown  (16:38)

Yeah. Do you get affiliated to it with the headset on and


Steven Berry  (16:42)  

oh, yes, absolutely. I've got all the equipment.


Scott Brown  (16:44) 

Yeah, good. It's crazy. How gaming the like, eSports and online gaming the amount of money there is. It's, it's I think that's passed me by a little bit. But yeah, seems like they're giving out scholarships and things in the US for, for gamers. And obviously, Twitch is a massive platform for people actually paying to watch people play games, which pretty it's pretty nice.


Steven Berry  (17:10) 

It's certainly hugely ballooned as well, over the last year in terms of the take up across the UK and globally, I think so you can't get a PlayStation five for love normally these days, because he wants a PlayStation five. And there's a huge issue with a supply chain positive high end PC components as well. I think it's driven by a perfect storm of a pandemic, the Brexit votes, and people being stuck at home with nothing to do unless you've got kids, of course, but I'm not child free at the moment. 


Scott Brown  (17:40) 

Yeah, yeah. Well, good distraction from work, something to switch off and relax.


Scott Brown  (17:50)  

Back to your lessons. What's your final lesson? Steven?


Steven Berry  (17:54)

So it's, it leads on quite nicely from where we left the discussion. So it's really to be prepared to take action if you think there's room for improvement within an organisation. So as I said earlier, when I when I joined Atkins, it was a little disappointing to see that the engineering industry at large and I'm not criticising Atkins in any means. This this, this was a problem across the sector, and wasn't really there in terms of EEG and I. And I didn't really set my sights particularly high. The first time I gave feedback to the company, I think I joined a sort of a panel focus group about the staff canteen, it eventually managed to look at things that were far more serious. And that was Ed and I, and really I was, I benefited from the company's growing interest at the time. And there are a couple of senior lawyers within the UK legal team who were vocal at the board about the lack of diversity within the business, and who gave me the platform to speak up. I also happen to bump into my colleague, Neil, who's the co-chair of equilibrium, we work together on a project. And when that came to a conclusion, we only then sort of moved on to the topic of sexual orientation, we only came out to each other at the end of the project. And I adopted, you know, I felt I found somebody that was keen to do more as well. He was asking, why don't we have an LGBT network? Why do we only ever talk about gender balance within this company, and yet one thing led to another, the company decided that it would actually be a great thing if we had staff networks representing minority groups. And in doing so, they said that we do not want to create these networks from the top down and to force him on our staff. There has to be sort of a grassroots interest in setting these up. And I just took that as an invitation to start doing more


Scott Brown  (19:41)

what sort of initiatives has it been in involved in and being behind within the within the business?


Steven Berry  (19:46)

So we've grown from strength to strength over the last year, obviously, things change a little bit because of the pandemic over the course of the last 12 months or so. And but we've helped the company to come to policy positions on certain issues. And redrafted in collaboration with Stonewall, the LGBTQ rights charity, and our HR team and new policy addressing transgender and also transitioning at work. And we've hosted a number of webinars and panel events, either by ourselves or in collaboration with clients are peer organisations or indeed other staff networks within the company. Addressing points of interest, things like the right to adopt. So we recently worked with that parents network on a webinar about it was focused on demystifying adoption and giving advice to not only potential adoptive parents from the organisation, but also the managers and colleagues of adopted parents so they can understand how to better support their colleagues going through that process. We've looked at things like if you're an adult, and your child is exploring their sexual orientation, or gender identity, what do you do about it? Here's a guidebook. We recently hosted a joint event with Atkins Bay network on LGBT refugees, and the black pride events that are taking place at the moment. And on that note, we've marched a number of pride parades across the contrary, so it's a real sort of spread of activities. Some of its very serious, its policy. Some of its very fun, it's just having drinks in a pub and getting to know your colleagues a bit better.


Scott Brown  (21:21)  

For someone in that position looking to drive change or improvement within your organisation, either from a diversity of inclusion and inequality standpoint or elsewhere, what advice do you have for them for having the confidence or feeling empowered to call out that room for improvement?


Steven Berry  (21:40)

I guess maybe the first thing to say is so that, you know, this is a this is a podcast for lawyers, and we are advisors and advocates, so we should be prepared to speak up when we can. And in many cases, were actually going to be the best place people within our organisation within an organisation to do so. So don't be afraid to do that. But in order to sort of give your message the greatest chances of landing Well, I would recommend adopting the language of senior management and mapping your agenda against their interests. So as an example, I did talk earlier about the impacts of being in the closet and the impact that has on an LGBT persons sort of engagement in the workplace, their productivity, their chances of being retained by a company, and no management wants staff leaving and having to recruit new staff, they also want to recruit from the broadest range of potential talent. So it's important to have a good offering on ED&I. And there's a wealth of information and content out there to help any LGBT person trying to push this in the workplace. So McKinsey published a report not too long ago, that identified a very clear link between the racial diversity of large company management organise large property management teams, and the company's financial performance. The construction news magazine, which people in the sector may be familiar with, carries out an annual survey of the sector. And they pick up on concerns around career progression coming out at work, the impact that it has on the mental health of people in the construction industry that provided some very helpful collateral to share with management. We've also collected information from our own staff. So we do understand where the touch points lie and if you build that picture for management, it's very difficult for them to say no,


Scott Brown  (23:36)

so those are great, great tips. And I think the other point you made about being a lawyer and being the person that should be calling these things out is something everyone should everyone should take something from it. Has it been any setbacks to ideas that you've proposed? Or if you did have any, how would you handle them?


Steven Berry  (23:55)

I guess maybe, in terms of what we know, what are the key lessons that we've learned? I would say, maybe at the beginning, we weren't using the resources that were available to us to convince management so you know, the collateral in the construction news, the McKinsey reports, that sort of thing. We were approaching this very much from a, you know, he denies the right thing to do. But we didn't have those statistics to back up our requests. So we couldn't do the demonstrate how change would benefit the company how it would benefit individuals.


Scott Brown  (24:28)

I'm personally on a journey on ED&I and learning about learning about all of the issues that should be apparent, but it's through conversations like this that that I'm educating myself slowly but surely, but obviously the legal profession as arguably a long way to go. What do you think are the main challenges in the legal profession from a from an ED&I perspective?


Steven Berry  (24:53)

I would say the most common challenge that I encounter and it's not specific to legal it really is Most people in the country are still only really starting very deny journey trying to and they are trying to better understand the issues, that people have a lot of concerns about sort of wrong footing somebody else by asking a question in the wrong way, by not using exactly the right language and I can fully understand why people would have those concerns. You know, I make mistakes as well. That concern shouldn't stop people from having a conversation in the first place. And I really do think that it is incumbent upon a person from a minority group to accept that people will make those mistakes when having a conversation around at night, and be ready to politely correct somebody but recognise that what they were saying was well meant.


Scott Brown  (25:46)

I think that's, that's really helpful from my side and from others, I think that I've spoken with I have certainly grown in confidence in talking about it, but it's certainly something I've felt conscious of. So but yeah, we will meet we can only we can only do that by him address issues by being aware of them. And that's through having conversations so really appreciate you sharing those insights, with me and with those listening. That brings us to the end of the podcast, even those that flew by and thank you for thank you for joining me today. It's been good getting to know you a bit more and hearing more about your lessons. So thank you for sharing those with us.


Steven Berry  (26:25)  

You too, Scott, thank you so much. I really appreciate having the platform to share this with you.


Scott Brown  (26:33)

Thank you for listening to Lessons I Learned in Law. As always, if there's a subject or someone that you'd like to hear more about on the podcast, then please, please get in touch. And you can contact us at hello@heriotbrown.com or connect or drop me a line on LinkedIn. If you've enjoyed listening, please rate subscribe and review the podcast. If you'd like to find more about Heriot Brown, head over to heriotbrown.com. But until next time, I'm Scott. Thanks for listening