Lessons I Learned in Law

Randal Barker on the role of general counsel as statesman.

June 21, 2021 Heriot Brown Season 1 Episode 3
Lessons I Learned in Law
Randal Barker on the role of general counsel as statesman.
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Lessons I Learned in Law, Scott Brown speaks to Randal Barker.

Randal is Group General Counsel of Lightsource bp, a global leader in the development and management of solar energy projects.

Randal shares the three lessons he has learned in law including:

  • You should focus on what you want to achieve in your career and how that fits into your life. Law can offer a variety of roles to suit your lifestyle and work for you!
  • Taking ownership of issues as an in-house counsel
  • Often as a General Counsel, you have to take role as Statesman, enforcing the Company’s values and ethics

Randal reflects on his education and upbringing, including at an outward bound school in Canada!

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  (0:03)  

Hi, and welcome to Lessons I Learned in Law with me, Scott Brown, founder of Heriot Brown In-House Legal Recruitment. On a daily basis, I'm fortunate to have great conversations with people from all across the legal community and learn about the highs and the lows of their careers. I'm an ex-lawyer who and I lost my way a little bit in the profession. And I think it would really have been a great benefit to me to have access to some of the information and first-hand anecdotes that I have today to explore some of the potential career paths that lay in front of me. So this was the inspiration behind lessons I learned in law and really hope to share some of those stories with you. So on lessons I learned in law, I sit down on each episode, and have an honest and open conversation with people from across the legal community to understand what influences ship their careers that they have today. And of course, learn about some of the lessons that they learned. Some recording from a bit of a makeshift office today. Hopefully by the time this podcast goes live, the Indian variant of COVID the talk of that will have died down and I'm delighted to be joined and welcome today Randal Barker, Randal is fighting the good fight for the clean energy transition in his role as group General Counsel at Lightsource BP, which is a global leader in the development and management of solar energy projects. He started his career as an m&a and capital markets lawyer and spent time at international law firms Anderson Mori Hogan level and not in Roseville bright. Prior to his current role at Lightsource BP. Randal spent a successful period of time in the in house team mining giant BHP Billiton. So welcome. Welcome to lessons I learned in law. Randal, delighted to have you today.


Randal Barker  (1:57)  

Scott, thank you very much. It's great to be with you. And I absolutely endorse what you said about getting different perspectives from people at different stages of their careers because it all goes into the pot. And I think it's, it's really helpful to get different perspectives at whatever juncture you are at in your career in terms of career development, next steps and potential trajectories.


Scott Brown  (2:19)  

Amazing. Thanks for joining us. And looking forward to our chat, the start of each episode like to share a couple of facts about our guest that you may not be aware of. So Randal went to an outward bound school in Canada. I'll be interested to hear more about that and what that what that entailed in his in his education and upbringing. And one of his hobbies is playing it tells me badly and heavy metal on the electric guitar. And is also a quicker so some really interesting stuff and keen to keen to find out more about that and chat about that later, Randal. But on each episode, as you know, we talk about lessons that you've learned via your life and your career. And so tell me, what's your what's your first lesson? If you could share that with us, please?


Randal Barker  (3:07)  

Yeah, I mean, I think my first lesson really goes back to the outset, when I was still trying to decide whether to go into law at all. And my dad actually been a lawyer and didn't really enjoy it, and subsequently became an academic. And his advice to me was to become a lawyer. And I think, you know, what that told me is that you really need to focus on what you want to achieve in your career and how it fits in with your larger life. And I think, you know, for me, the first lesson learned is that law is a great Canvas for an international career. I, you know, I come from a reasonably international family. And the thing that really, I was really interested in law and really attracted by it intellectually, and I thought I could, you know, make a difference. And also the sort of social justice element of it appealed to me as well, which ties in with the Quaker connection. But one of the things that really troubled me about it was it seemed very local and very gymnastic. And this was, you know, 25 years ago when I was going through going through law school, so I'm thinking about law school. So, you know, I really made the decision then that I wanted to go to law school, but I wanted to do some law on my own terms. And for me, that meant having a legal career, but on an international stage. So I was very deliberate about going to an international law school I decided to come back from the US to Canada for law school, I went to McGill and McGill is known for its comparative law curriculum common in civil law, you do coursework in English and French you get degrees in both common law system and a civil law system. It also equips you to do the bar exams in the US as well as Canada. So I thought that would be a good platform for law school and law in North America to graduate degrees. So you know, I sort of went into on that basis but very much, you know, thinking okay, I want to do on my own terms, you know, for me, the International driver is really, really important. And what I found subsequently is that, you know, if it's absolutely panned out, and I've had a very international career, I've worked in Asia, works in North America works in Australia works and really been based in London for the past 20 odd years. So, you know, I think that's the first lesson, figure out what you want out of your life. And, you know, if you want to go into law, great, but do it on your own terms, because, you know, we all spend a lot of time at the office, we're all spending, we spend a lot of time at work, and it needs to fit in with your sort of larger life values.


Scott Brown  (5:37)  

Now, you guys a great principle to have as well in setting those goals and where you want to get to and working, working, how to get there. What law did you touched on your dad was a lawyer, what did what was his practice?


Randal Barker  (5:49)  

I mean, it was general it was General solicitor, so he certainly he's actually English, he says, although he hasn't lived in the UK for a long, long time at this point. But, you know, he decided pretty early on that he just didn't want to do it. He was just not interested in it. And, you know, I think it goes back to the back to the same thing, which is, you know, figure out what you want, and what interests you. And then, you know, take it, take it from there. And I guess, you know, one of the benefits of law as a graduate degree in North America is that you tend to, you know, because you're making a substantial commitment, post undergraduate degree, it does require some thought about, Do I really want to do this, and I really committed to this, I mean, of course, a lot of people will sort of go through the system and pop up the other end. But I do think it's important to make deliberate choices. And there are a lot of people who sort of go dead, go on autopilot, and they end up not being all that satisfied with what they've achieved where they are. I always, you know, really enjoyed my legal career. I mean, any career has its ups and downs, good days, bad days, can be long. But I've always I've always worked in legal role across sectors across industries, private practice in house, various geographies, and I, you know, it's been a very fulfilling career. So I've been very clear about what you want out of it when you go in, it's important.


Scott Brown  (7:15)  

And how did you first international move come around?


Randal Barker  (7:20)  

Yeah, it's interesting, actually. So after I graduated from law school, my first legal job was at a law firm, a firm that is now part of Norton rose Fulbright, from whole western topper in Vancouver, and I article, bear qualified there, you know, happily, in practice, Vancouver is a fantastic city, really, it's skiing, you know, really good hiking and other activities outside of work. And then one day, I was asked by one of the senior partners, if I'd be interested in going out to comment to Tokyo for a couple of years, be suffering, I had a very strong relationship with one of the leading Japanese law firms. And initially, I said, Now, you know, not interested done or anything, but, you know, I thought about it a bit more. And talked to my wife over the weekend. And we thought, actually, you know, we're kind of at the stage in our lives, where, you know, we could do a couple of years in Tokyo and see where it goes. So did decide to do it. And that was a completely different experience had never really been to Asia, before, I had never lived in Asia, Japan is a fascinating culture, you know, the quality of work was high, it was post bubble. But there was a lot of foreign investment going into Japan. So really enjoyed, you know, the first, you know, my, my first real foray outside of sort of Western culture, and then at the end of the two years, thought, Okay, well, we'll extend our international travels by year to come to London, this next move, so I joined levels and the thought had been at that point, you know, do have a couple of years and go back to North America. But life does move on. And here I am, years later, but there is an element of serendipity in these things, you know, you can plan your, your life, your career. But, you know, once you're on a path, you know, opportunities present themselves


Scott Brown  (9:10) 

as tests, knowing when to take them in, grab them with both hands as well. Maybe not the obvious choice at certain points. But yeah, exploring those opportunities, I think and travels an amazing thing to do, I think, sort of opening yourself up to different cultures and different perspectives. And I guess playing out what you said around the very localised view of law. I often find my perception of it is great for an international career, but it is quite difficult to transfer jurisdictions, did that ever present itself as a challenge for you?


Randal Barker  (9:46)  

Yeah, I mean, it is an issue. I mean, I initially qualified in the US in Canada. And then when I you know, now, when I worked in Tokyo, that wasn't an issue. I mean, people don't get locally qualified in Japan. It's incredible. pretty difficult. So I was basically a foreign lawyer in Japan, I came to the UK joining levels, which at that point was a very traditional English law firm. You know, I needed to get locally qualified, but you know, having done the Canadian qualification, it was not particularly difficult. So I did that early on. What was more of an issue when I mean, I joined bhp in London initially supported the non-Australian mining assets on the legal side. So that was potash and diverse in Canada, copper and Chile, and then elegant in coal, and manganese and South Africa. And then also ran the competition law programme and the anti the anti-corruption, compliance lawyers reporting to me as well. But you know, fundamentally, I was London based, and then did a seafood they did role as senior executive in Europe, having the London office for time, but ultimately, I did go out to Australia and joined the iron ore business where I was general counsel, and in order to work in Australia, I had to get licenced air, which didn't involve an application to practice board. So I do have an Australian qualification as well. And I think it really depends on the jurisdiction. UK is pretty open, Canada, Australia, not so open, you need to get locally qualified, you know, and part of a part of the my ability to do that goes back to, you know, my choice of law school, which was one that was known for being international and, you know, good at preparing people for international careers, including prerequisites for local qualifications. And part of it is just luck, actually, as well. I mean, one of the critical bits for getting licenced in Australia is Do you understand the Tormes system for land title? And most people doubt, but British Columbia is the only jurisdiction in Canada, that actually is on the tauren system. So the fact that I was licenced there, you know, did help with that. So, you know, the, but the bottom line is licencing is an issue, you've got to deal with it front, you know, head on. And, you know, it does make for richer career along the way.


Scott Brown  (12:11)  

Yeah, I think really good for people to hear and know that it's a potential, a potential career path and just not be not be closed, closed off to it.


Scott Brown  (12:26)  

Moving on to lesson to you, can you share that with us, please? 


Randal Barker  (12:30)  

Yeah, I mean, this is, I guess, I spent, you know, 25 years doing a practising law, you know, 10 year first 10 years and law firms in the last, you know, 15 or so and house and, you know, so I have a decent perspective. And obviously, you know, in my in house career, I've worked with a lot of external lawyers, I think, you know, so I do have a perspective on both sides of the house. And I think one of the things when you're in a law firm, you always think, Okay, well, I'm just advising on a transaction. I did m&a, cross border, m&a, international equity, capital markets, and you're going from transaction to transaction transactions, and suddenly you think it'd be great to be in house, I'd actually be able to see things through, see what happens, I'd be involved in earliest stage, you know, I'd be more involved in the strategic decision making, you know, I wouldn't just be an advisor. And that is all true. You know, one of the real benefits of being in house is that you're embedded in the business, you do have more of that strategic interface, you have more general management exposure. You know, the downside is that you are actually, you know, exposed to, you know, the business, which means that when things go wrong, you know, you've got to own the issue, you know, so there have been a couple examples, you know, in my career where, you know, I've had to, you know, fix illegal ATMs. You know, if there are compliance, things that require investigation, you've got to see that through, you know, they're just very, any career you have your ups and downs. You know, it's great to be in a business, it's great to have that, you know, interface with the business team. But the challenge is, you know, things don't always go smoothly. And, you know, you on the issue, and you've got thrown, you've got to resolve it. You can't just say, well, this is my advice. You know, it's up to you, you do what you want. I mean, clearly, as a lawyer and a company, you are still a lawyer, your duty is still with the company, not to the individuals and a certain point, you are just advising but you know, you're also going to general management hat, you've also you don't have to see it through duties to the company, not just to, you know, a client on a transactional basis. So I think yeah, need to be aware of, you know, the grass is always greener. People always talk about, you know, and law firms great, great in house and, you know, be part of a business. Now, one of the challenges is, you know, you take the rough with it with a smooth I guess.


Scott Brown  (15:00)  

Yeah. And there's I guess there's always grey areas where you're, you're incentivized or you want the company, you want to push it as far as it can legally go. But there's then you have to have the ethical standpoint as well or know where they know where to draw the line. And advice, advise accordingly, managing a team and leading the function, how do you how do you encourage your lawyers and your team to own the issue and have that as a as a value?


Randal Barker  (15:31)  

Well, I think just before we go into that, I think what you say about, you know, values and ethics is really, really super important. And I think my third lesson learned is, it sounds quite pompous, but the GC role is lawyer statesman, my first in house role was at GE Capital. And you know, the very influential GC when I first joined the somebody called Ben Heineman, who had been, he had a US Supreme Court appellate career, very high profile, private practising lawyer in private practice lawyer in the US, he joined GE as, as general counsel, and one of the things he really focused on is the lawyer, the in house lawyer is not just there to advise on the law, they're also there to drive the values in the ethics, you know, and basically, the point he was making was that, you know, if you want something done, you can go and get a law firm to do it, you can get an opinion, but in terms of being the sort of guiding star of the organisation, and, you know, in particular, making sure that, you know, values and ethics are, you know, aren't here to, you know, the law, the in house lawyer plays a critical role. Now, I think, in any company, any company that I've worked in any good company, you know, it's not just the responsibility of the in house lawyer, I mean, this goes back to everybody in the company, he goes back to, you know, the entire executive team, it's like health and safety, everybody owns compliance, everybody owns the company values. But I think it's, it's a really important point to make that when there is a crisis, it's not just about advising on the wall. It's also what are your company values? What are your company ethics? You know, what, how, you know? How do you and making sure that those honoured in the, in the in the most absolute way, and that reputation Lee, you know, you're mindful of, you know, of reputational risk as well as legal risk? So I think anyway, so I just think it's, you know, that's my third lesson CISI role is lawyer statesman, going back to your question, Scott about how do you incentivize your team and manage your team? I think it goes back to, you know, being an authentic leader, you know, and being clear about, you know, what you're trying to achieve, as a company, how you want to achieve that. It's not just what you want to achieve, it's how you want to achieve it. And I think, you know, one of the things I've always really push for, it's obviously, you want high performance. You know, as lawyers, you want to be very attuned to legal and reputational risk. But I think I also really want to be in a collegial environment where people support each other. You know, because the whole is stronger than the, you know, the one.


Scott Brown  (18:34)  

Yeah, absolutely. Everyone pulling in everyone pulling in the same direction, just a little a little respite from the lessons. And just to touch on some of the facts earlier, Randal that I'd mentioned. I was really keen. I think when I reached out to you about the podcast, after reading your post on LinkedIn, I think it was around late sources, 10th year anniversary, and you mentioned your own values, and some details around your upbringing. So you went to an outbound school and Outward Bound school? What does that involve? What does it what does that entail?


Randal Barker  (19:12)  

Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, on the, the website in the profile, I mean, I think one of the really good things about light source is it is a very authentic company, and very values led and, you know, traditionally, whenever you have profiles that people sites, where you went to school, you know, what you what you did before, what you're responsible for what your role is, right? And we initially had that light source, but then we thought, but a year or so ago, we're a values led company, we should shift our profiles to something that is values LED. And so for me, one of the things that I really connect with at Lightsource is the with Lightsource. BP is the environmental side of it. I mean, renewable energy, you know, is the way of the future I think as we come out of COVID, it's more and more focused on climate change, I think companies like Lightsource BP in the renewable space, you know, are able to make a really positive difference. And that, you know, core connection for me is, is important. Where that comes from is, you know, I went to school in Canada, that is quote, unquote, Outward Bound. But that means is a lot about outside activities. You know, we didn't actually have a gym, so you did everything outside for sports. And you know, what that meant was, you know, we did a lot of camping trips, I spend a lot of time in golf and park doing canoe tripping, we also did tall ship sailing in the Great Lakes, you know, which will involve and the Great Lakes have big lakes, like see, like oceans, you can stay off for days without seeing any lab. So, you know, we would do these week, you know, few week long up to a month expeditions sailing around the Great Lakes, which is spectacular. You know, the canoe tripping would be you know, we two weeks at a time and then there were a lot of other outdoor activities like you know, white-water kayaking, a lot of cross country skiing. So I you know, I really connected with the environment, Natural Environment Canada at that, at that time. And then the other you know, the other connection for me is quite rare. It's just the inhabitants of deep connection with, you know, the core testimony of, of actual climate change, you know, and yeah, making sustainability.


Scott Brown  (21:33)

The upbringing sounds like something from a movie with all the focus on the outdoors. It sounds like schooling in Canada says great. On the Quaker, sorry, Aranda. Is there a term for being a Quaker or Quakerism? has asked me to explain some of that, because I'm not sure it's something that's that familiar to people in that may be listening?


Randal Barker  (21:56)  

Yeah, I mean, Quaker is, is basically a religious society that started up in the 1600s, in the north of England. And the principle of it is that we each have our own connect direct connection with the spirit of with God, whatever, however, you know, Brandon's, there isn't somebody who's interfacing with you in between. So it's, it's basically sort of self-run religion. The services are sitting in silence, if you're moved to offer minister to speak, you do so. But it's basically about this direct connection, and not being told what to think. I mean, Quakers have always been deeply interested in social justice, prison reform, you know, the peace, you know, peace testimony. So conscientious objectors during various conflicts, environments with sustainability, you know, same sex marriage. So, you know, very focused on equality, sustainability as values. I think, if you were to characterise it as a religion, you notice it's not my, my job really here to Yeah. But I think it is probably, you know, it's very humanistic. Yeah. Much comes down to you as an individual, and what is your connection with whatever spirit you believe in? And yeah, talk, but Angkor Wat will leave, but people are in common things, common beliefs, or common views in common? Strange, but fundamentally, you know, there is alignment around sustainability about equality, social justice. So a lot of the themes that a lot of people care about in the world.


Scott Brown  (23:38)  

Yes, I'm very, very forward thinking. Is there any in terms of back to the schooling and those outdoor activities? Do you carry forward any of those hobbies? Are those regular hobbies you partake in?


Randal Barker  (23:54)

At a certain level, I mean, it's kind of difficult. Living in central London to do very much tall ship sailing or canoe tripping. But I, you know, I do I do a lot of cycling. And, you know, it's interesting, I did go through a phase where I, you know, did a lot of GM stuff. But actually, as I've gotten older, I've just been more and more time outside. So I, you know, I try and go around Regent's Park on my bike in the morning. And, you know, I think it's, I think it's, I think connection with the natural world, you know, to the extent you can connect with it, even in central London is in the parks is really important. 


Scott Brown  (24:30)  

Yeah, yeah. And how long have you been, how long have you been jamming Heavy Metal music?


Randal Barker  (24:38)

quite a long time, actually. My I started doing guitar lessons. But 20 plus years ago, my son, who's now 21, you know, wanted to learn and, you know, so we started, he was keen to learn, I thought, Okay, well, this is something we can do together. And so we started together and we both kept going. I mean, he's kind of at the point of recording He's not a staff, he's able to play Jimi Hendrix. Whereas I have progressed that much. But it's something I really enjoy and still a point of connection with him. So, you know, and it's just a completely different thing, you know, to my normal sort of life. And anyway, that's fine.


Scott Brown  (25:19)

Cool. Sounds good. Just keen to ask if Is there anything you would go back and change in your career as it's been to date?


Randal Barker  (25:27)

No, I don't think so. I don't think so. I mean, I think I think at a certain level, you can't second guess things, right. Because the whole, we're on a continuum. Everything is changing. It's like a kaleidoscope. And so, you know, you make the best decision, you can at the time you weigh that date as best you can. And then you jump. And I think, you know, any decision at a certain level, it's a leap of faith, some workout, some don't, you know, I think compared to, you know, some of my peers, I've probably had a bit more of a diverse career, geographically sector wise, different types of companies than any, and I think, you know, there's a huge benefit in that, in terms of diversity of experience. And, you know, I, I'm a very curious person, and that is, has worked for me? Well, I do think that, you know, sometimes that does put you at a bit more risk in terms of, you know, the route that I've gone down is probably less of a stable career route, then, you know, many people you don't have happy would want to have so that, you know, that, as with everything in life, you know, sometimes, you know, the choices work, well, sometimes they don't work well. But I think whatever the nature of the experience, we can all learn something, you know, you definitely learn something from the experience. And it all goes into the mix. Goes back to the point at the beginning, which is, you know, what do you want out of your career, what are your values, and, you know, aligning yourself with that. And although I've had a very, very career, you know, the one consistency has been, I've always done law. And I've always really enjoyed that. It's been a really, really good base for a rich and varied career, and I just, you know, encourage people to connect with whatever it is in them that, you know, they value and honour, and enrol forward on that basis.


Scott Brown  (27:18)

Yeah. Perfect. Would you would you encourage your kids to go into law?


Randal Barker  (27:23)

Well, yes, I would, I would. I mean, I think I'm probably sounding a bit hesitant. I mean, two of my kids are in university and are doing law one is doing finance. The other is an art, you don't architecture students on in a negative connection with what they want to do. Viet the third is finishing high school, she has no inclination of wanting to law. But you know, for me, it's been great. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anybody who is interested in it. Not, you know, it's a good career. It's a stable career. You know, it's a professional career. It's more about if you are interested in it, I think it's a great career, but figure out what you're interested in first.


Scott Brown  (28:01)  

And finally, what does the future hold for? For you? Lightsource BP? And, and kind of opportunities ahead?


Randal Barker  (28:10)

I mean, look, I think, you know, you said it in the introduction, you know, we aspire to be a global leader in the solar space, and, you know, well on that path, and, you know, really focused on, you know, adding value adding scale, and I think it's, you know, it's a great time to be in renewable energy. So, um, you know, I think, you know, more of the same and more growth. Yeah, more sustainability for the world.


Scott Brown  (28:34)

Yeah, that sounds exciting. To be a part of that this time, in particular. Thank you. Thank you very much, Randal. That's all we've got time for in our chat today. But thank you for sitting down and sharing your lessons with me. It's been a been a pleasure finding out more and getting to know you a little bit better.


Randal Barker  (28:50)

Thank you, Scott. I really enjoyed the conversation. I think this is, this is a great thing to do. 


Scott Brown  (28:59)  

Let me know if there's a subject or someone you'd like to hear more about on Lessons I Learned in Law, please get in touch. You can contact us at hello@heriotbrown.com, or connect or drop me a message on LinkedIn, I’m practically living on there. And if you've enjoyed the podcast and lessons learned and more, please rate and review on your chosen platform. And if you'd like to learn more about Heriot Brown, head over to heriotbrown.com. But until next time, I'm Scott Brown. Thank you for listening!