In this episode of Lessons I Learned in Law Scott Brown speaks to Anna Butler, Group General Counsel at Long Harbour Ltd, an investment and asset management firm with £3.6 billion assets under management.
Anna trained at US law firm Mayer Brown and after six years there, moved to city law firm RPC. She moved in house to head up the capital redevelopment program at UCL and since then has had a number of leadership roles in different sectors.
Anna shares some of the lessons she learned in law including:
· Law is a people business. It is crucial to build relationships both inside and outside your law firm or business.
· Be open to opportunities. There is no set career path to General Counsel.
· Work in a business that you believe in and are passionate about. The more invested you are, the better you can deliver.
Anna also reveals how tv show LA Law was the inspiration for her career in the legal profession!
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Scott Brown (0:00)
Hi, I'm Scott Brown, and welcome back to Lessons I Learned in Law, the podcast brought to you by Heriot Brown In-House Legal Recruitment. We are specialists in placing lawyers in fulfilling careers in house. And this is your place to hear all about some of those careers and what a career path for an in house lawyer looks like. On each episode, I'm really fortunate to be joined by a leading mind from the legal profession. And they share with me the top three lessons that they've learned from their career to date. As an ex lawyer, I myself spent a good number of years not really knowing what I was looking for, and working in private practice, and all that having access to these conversations at that point in time, technology wasn't quite what it is today with a video real helping hand for me. So hopefully you take something from it. My guest today, I'm delighted to be joined by a familiar face is Anna Butler. Welcome to Lessons I Learned in Law.
Anna Butler (0:58)
Thank you very much, Scott, thank you for having me.
Scott Brown (1:02)
And a trained at US law firm Mayor Brown. And after six years, she moved on to another city practice at RPC. She then moved in house to head up the capital redevelopment programme at UCL. And since then she's had a number of leadership roles in different sectors. She's now taking a recent recently new position. And so we'll be keen to hear more about that she's group General Counsel at long harbour limited, which is an investment and asset management firm with 3.6 billion assets under management. How's it going?
Anna Butler (1:36)
It's going really well, thank you, Scott fun. They're just about entering my third month. And so far, so good.
Scott Brown (1:43)
I'm really happy, good feet under the table. Fantastic. So we'll learn more about Anna's and his background during the conversation. But and if you don't mind, we'll jump or jump straight into Lesson number one.
Anna Butler (1:55)
Thank you, Scott. Yes, my first lesson is it is a people business. It's absolutely key to build relationships, both inside and outside your law firm when you're in private practice. And then inside and outside your company, when you actually move in house, and stay in touch with people, all sorts of different levels. I learned this very, very early on. And I remember my first trainee supervisor saying to me, pick up the phone, that is the best way to build a relationship with someone. And as a as a new trainee. That was a bit scary. The idea of phoning a client, you know, what happens if they asked me a question, I didn't know what to say. And she said, you know, if they ask you something you don't know, just say, Oh, dear, there are technical issues. I'm terribly sorry, I'll call you back. And then you can ask the question someone who knows, phone them back and deal with it. And you know, I've always found speaking to people on the phone, meeting them in person, you're just able to make that connection, build some links. And it makes everything so much easier, and so much more enjoyable, as well. When I remember when I was quite junior lawyer, I was a real estate lawyer, it was the boom times awful lot of work going on. And there was one client in particular, I just found really, frankly, quite rude. And he was frustrated because I wasn't turning his work around quickly enough. I talked to the partner, I just find it really challenging working with this particular client, what can I do? And he said, take him out for lunch, go meet him have a chat to get to know him understand what makes them tick. And I did. And it I can't tell you how much that changed our relationship. I suddenly wasn't a faceless lawyer at the end of a an email saying I'm terribly sorry, I haven't done it today, I will send it to you tomorrow. I was a person we had some shared interests. And it's much harder as well to be rude to someone when you've met them. And you understand, you know, they're doing their best and they're working on other projects for the same client. And so I think just building relationships with people is really important.
Scott Brown (4:13)
A great lesson across other across other industries as well as law but it's a you were encouraged as a junior lawyer to go out and build build those relationships.
Anna Butler (4:22)
Yeah, absolutely. And that was both kind of formal networking sessions and events organised by the firm, and you know, whether it would be a group of us, but also we were actively encouraged, you know, to meet people for a coffee and you know, suggest going out for lunch and just pick up the phone and have a chat with them. It doesn't have to always relate to work. And I think that was very valuable advice.
Scott Brown (4:48)
Yeah. I'm always impressed when I look at a lot of events, legal, a lot of events that legal illegal events and impressed the way she she networks and and works the room. How has it changed in being an in house lawyer? And what do you get from building those relationships with, I guess, peers and other other in House lawyers?
Anna Butler (5:10)
Oh, it's just, it's just so valuable because often when you move in house, you know, I moved from a very large department in a very large firm, to a relatively small legal team when I first moved in house, and I was the only real estate lawyer. So it was absolutely critical to talk to other real estate lawyers or other project lawyers, who I could just bounce ideas off and say, What do you think about that? Or how would you approach that? And, you know, they'd asked me questions as well. And, you know, it applies to headhunters as well, because earlier this year, I was looking for a new job. And I do remember, someone phoned me up and said, I've got this great opportunity. How about it? And I said, you do know, I know, the the outgoing head of legal, don't you? And the head has just like, Oh, my goodness, I'm so sorry. Forget it. Forget to forget I mentioned it, because we all talk we know which are the good companies to work for. And that particular company was one that I wouldn't have touched with a bargepole. There's a great value in knowing what's going on in different companies.
Scott Brown (6:18)
Yeah. You never know, who knows this. Six Degrees, six degrees of connection, I think, are invaluable in circumstances like that. But yeah, moving in house, I guess. Did you think that networking and building those relationships was that? Was that something you thought that your front of mind? Because I think it's obviously for partners in law firms, it seems obvious that that that needs to be that needs to be something to win the business. But how did you? Did you shift your your mindset moving, making that switch as well?
Anna Butler (6:47)
Well, I think I think the focus kind of changed slightly, because when I was in private practice, it was about building relationships with clients and ultimately hoping that they would then ask me to do some work. When I moved in house, it was about how can I build relationships and build my understanding both of the sector I was working in, but also in terms of the knowledge that in House lawyers had, because it is different being an in house lawyer to being in private practice. And so learning what they were focused on what was important to them, how I could add most value. And there are some excellent programmes actually run by particular law firms. I remember, there was one in particular I joined, it used to be run by DLA, I don't know if it's still running, it might have stopped during COVID, which was called when, what in House lawyers need. And they did a series of seminars, and there was always networking afterwards. And it was a great opportunity just to meet people have a chat, see what people were working on, see what problems they're experiencing, see what approaches they were having to law firms see what fees they might be paying, see what value added services they were getting. And have that open conversation and everyone is so giving, you know, you know, everyone I've ever talked to has been very happy to, you know, discuss their experiences in the same way as I am when people ask me questions, you know, it's all about helping each other out. And just sharing the knowledge that we have
Scott Brown (8:19)
grit, it jeans more recently, with everything being online, or a lot, a lot more online interactions compared to prepare to face to face have you as a different approach to building the building relationship?
Anna Butler (8:32)
Well, I think it's interesting, because during 2020, the lawyer did their GC Summit, and it was entirely virtual. And I have to admit, I had rather low hopes, but Anabella, who's now obviously with you at Heriot Brown was heavily involved, and they had a really good programme or platform. And they had breakout rooms, which worked like proper breakout rooms, and I actually met some people, GCS and different companies who I really formed a very good relationship with. And you know, we now have a WhatsApp group. So it's, it's interesting, it was different, but it worked really well. And, you know, this year, that very same GC summit was in person. And in fact, I think neither of those GCS could make it. But I met other people. So, you know, different but still, though, there are still opportunities to be heard, I think, and, you know, during the actual lockdown, I think everyone, every lawyer was so busy. It was, you know, helpful just to be able to call up the people and say, crikey, how are you dealing with this? What are you thinking about that? Have some support during what was quite a challenging time for us all, I think.
Scott Brown (9:45)
Yeah. Just going back to your point when you were a junior lawyer and going out and networking with people with clients face to face and encouraged to go out in that context. You're now in the other you're the boots on the other foot you're buying legal services over I find services from providers. How often I guess how often are you interacting with the junior members of the team in that context versus the more senior, I guess, Ring Ring makers or people that are account account managing?
Anna Butler (10:15)
Well, that's actually a really interesting question. Because I went to an event this week, and I was talking to a couple of partners at a law firm. And I won't name the law firm, the comment was made, oh, no, you know, these aren't here. And so, you know, not all law firms give the opportunity to all lawyers to go to those kind of events. And I think that's why it's important to actually do your own thing as well, you know, and it might just be staying in touch with other friends who you met at law school, or it might be your trainee, friends who, you know, head off to other places. Lots of commercial and corporate lawyers, obviously ended up going in house. So just staying in touch with people generally, even if you're not invited to formal events.
Scott Brown (11:02)
It's maybe not for everyone as well, I think not every not every lawyer associate wants to be that point of contact and wants to be more subject matter focus. But I guess putting putting their hand up as well. And really pushing to go to events and meet with new with people is a good thing, although it leads into ease into time, which might be spent out of the out of the workplace, but But yeah, for all you've said, in terms of helping their current health and careers in the future, it's interested you in good stead in building these relationships.
Good lesson, Lesson two, if you could share that.
Anna Butler (11:45)
Yeah. So my second lesson in law is be open to opportunities. There is no set career path to GC. When I look at my career, you know, I was a real estate lawyer. That's where I qualified. And not many real estate lawyers end up going in house, there aren't that many opportunities, although there are a lot more opportunities now than there were when I was a junior lawyer. And I think it's just worth remembering. You learn from every opportunity and every experience. And, for example, when I saw the job advert for the job at UCL, it was actually a job both for estates and procurement. Now, I knew nothing about procurement, I had no experience in procurement. And when I looked at the job spec, I could have quite easily thought, That's not for me, I know nothing about procurement. But instead, I thought, well, I know a lot about real estate. And actually, I can learn about procurement. And that sounds quite interesting. And this is an in house role, which I'm really fascinated by and a business or to be part of. And so I went for it. And as it turns out, I didn't have to do any procurement work, because the estate's work was actually huge. And there wasn't any time for me to do procurement. So it's just a lesson to think about job specs when you see them. And to focus on the things that you can do rather than than the things that you can't do. Because it probably won't matter. And if you've got the right attitude, it definitely doesn't matter. Because we're all bright, and we can learn something new.
Scott Brown (13:26)
Yeah, looking for what you would have thought you can do not what you can't do. I think that's you sort of taking the words out of my mouth there, he gets all sort of water. I think it is quite a British British trade to look at that and see if I can do I can do eight out of 10 of those things. But the two that I can't do, those are the those are the things that people hang their hat on rather than rather than backing backing themselves. So nothing. That's That's great. And I guess switching from property, and then making that I look at as a career change when you move in house from private practice is, is quite a bit of a shift moving moving from private practice. They've heard, did you think you wanted to be a general counsel at that point in time?
Anna Butler (14:08)
I think yes. You know, I think ultimately, I did want to get to the top of the tree. And if I'd stayed in private practice, it would have been partnership and gay in house it is to be a general counsel. But I was quite relaxed about the timeframe. And I think that's the other thing to remember, because lots of in house legal departments are quite a flat structure. You might have a GC and then possibly a deputy GC, but maybe not. And then a lot of legal counsel who are all legal counsel, and they might have a range of different experience. But actually, it's not like being in a law firm where you're a trainee and Q Jia qualified for you, you know, junior lawyer, Senior Associate, maybe legal director. And I think if you just focus on the fact that you're doing really interesting, challenging work, rather than what is by job title? That's actually quite helpful. And, you know, I went from being a senior legal counsel to being a head of legal for the UK and then head of legal for Western Europe and then to group general counsel. And, you know, each each roll contains different things, and you learn different things as you go along. And it doesn't it doesn't have to be a straight line, basically.
Scott Brown (15:30)
Yeah. Good advice. When did you in terms of in private practice and qualifying into property? Was that a conscious decision? Or was that something that had been I guess circumstantial as to receipts, you had been in training contract,
Anna Butler (15:44)
it was a very conscious decision. I mean, real estate had actually been my first seat, and I absolutely loved it. I then went on to litigation, which was, let's say, not my, not my favourite thing, and continues to be nowadays, something that I'm, I'm not so keen on, I'm much more keen on working together with a shared goal and fighting each other. And I didn't OPCs and corporate. And I loved the fact that real estate was tangible. I was working for big clients, or big projects where I could walk around the site and see the changes that were made on the development. And I had a real passion for it. And what's interesting is, as I became more senior, and my job expanded, especially when I was in house, you know, I was doing joint ventures, and they were property focused, but it was actually more commercial. And there was a lot more kind of corporate elements to it. And so when you move in house, you have so many more opportunities to diversify. And really, everything's there for the taking. And, you know, people talk about factoring, and something will land on your desk. And when you get to a leadership role, it literally could be some HR matter. It could be an m&a deal. It might be a litigation matter. You know, there are so many different areas. And that makes it really interesting, I think,
Scott Brown (17:07)
great. When did you know you wanted to be a lawyer? What What inspired you to become become a lawyer?
Anna Butler (17:15)
This is today Well, I will admit, it was la law. When I was a teenager, I used to love LA law, which was like the US glossy version. And then this life, which was also in the TV as I'm dating myself now. But this life was a an English TV programme, which followed trainee solicitors and pupils, which I think was it was quite gritty. I think it was quite realistic. So yes, there you go. It was it was TV that made me think, oh, that might be for me.
Scott Brown (17:50)
Yeah, always, always creating creating Instagram and the tick talking. And there's probably no but yes, both probably available on UK gold. Doing reruns on you. People want to check them out?
Anna Butler (18:10)
I can recommend them.
Scott Brown (18:12)
Yeah. What would you done? What would you have done if you hadn't been? Become a lawyer?
Anna Butler (18:16)
Oh, there's there's a question. As a child, I wanted to be a Blue Peter presenter. So they go like I would have done something very creative. Yeah, I was always always building things up, I
Scott Brown (18:30)
think a big user of like legal, like precedent documents, then here's one, here's one I made earlier.
Anna Butler (18:41)
I don't use that as much as I said, Yeah.
Scott Brown (18:51)
Moving to the chair, sure. Your your third lesson?
Anna Butler (18:55)
Yeah. So my third lesson in law is work in a business that you have a passion for. I think it's really interesting to work in any business, but working somewhere where you actually really believe in it, you believe in the product that you believe in the strategy. You believe in the way that the business works. I think it makes it so much easier, and so much more enjoyable. So when I was applying for jobs earlier this year, you know, I was asking the CEOs and CEOs who was being interviewed by knew what is your strategy? Where do you see yourselves in 510 years time, because I wanted to know that I was actually going to be invested in that because it has to be something that I'm going to be part of, I need to be able to deliver it. And I think when you're actually passionate about what you're working in, you can add more value as well because the more we know about the business, the more value we can bring. And that's what What sets us apart from the external lawyers as well? Because we are actually within the business?
Scott Brown (20:06)
Yeah. When you were asking those questions, what was the main thing you were looking for?
Anna Butler (20:11)
I mean, I really was trying to keep an open mind. But I wanted to understand that well, first they had a strategy that it was well thought through and, and that I could understand it, and also that I believed in it. So you know, if I thought that that was genuinely something that would work, and that I wanted to be part of, then, you know, I was really interested, you know, I spent a year as head of legal for Western Europe, KFC. And it was a new sector for me, and, you know, fascinating to work across 14 jurisdictions in Europe. It was, you know, a business, which fundamentally fried chicken is not really my thing. And that's not going to come as any surprise to anyone I worked with. And I was very open with my boss when I have my interview. And, ultimately, you know, I think that if I had stayed a long time, that probably would have held me back, I think it's much easier to fully commit and invest yourself and do well for the business, when you really believe in it. And it's something that is kind of true, true to you and your values.
Scott Brown (21:29)
So much of it comes down to the for you comes down to the the job of general counsel and the scope that you have in that role, versus what the underlying what the business is selling or what their what their actual business line is.
Anna Butler (21:43)
Well, I think there are lots of different parts to a job. And it's important that the majority of the different elements are in line with what you're expecting when you want to get out of a job. So for example, with KFC, it was an amazing opportunity for me to work in 14 jurisdictions had a big team. It was an iconic brand big US company. And the only thing that I wasn't quite sure about was the fact it was selling fried chicken. And so I you know, I went ahead and learned an awful lot from that job. I think it's when I reflect back now, and think about what I was really doing and the purpose of the business. And actually, I think it's really important to believe in the product, or believe in the service if you're in a service business, because it's about being invested. And I think the more invested you are in the business, the better you can deliver the better advice you can provide your stakeholders, the you know, the more you can be that you know, trusted adviser to the board, because you're all trying to get exactly the same thing. So So for me, the product or the service is very important.
Scott Brown (23:00)
Yeah, it sounds like you're late, you're constantly learning. But what makes you tick, then what's more important to you as an individual as well along along the way, and ties in almost to the point on be like being open about your last lesson on your second lesson and being open to opportunities? And I guess not sure, yeah, not shutting the door. And Anna and I grabbed an opportunity last year to speak at our birds night. And absolutely nailed it on the clients. Reply for the last is an English version of that was fantastic.
Anna Butler (23:36)
Thank you. I mean, one of my favourite phrases is a it's a Richard Branson phrase. And that is when you're given an opportunity, say yes, and then work out how to do it. And yes, when you asked me to do that speech, I very much said yes. And then worked out how I was going to write it and deliver it was a great experience.
Scott Brown (23:59)
Good approach to take definitely. So I've been asking on the series closing questions so find finally what lesson that you've learned in law do you wish that you hadn't hadn't learned? If you could use the the red pen out of men and black and erase erase that memory or that lesson? What would it be?
Anna Butler (24:21)
So it's a difficult one because obviously we learn from we learn from everything, but I do remember being told don't rock the boat. You know, if you want to make a change, really think about make sure your timing is right and don't rock the boat. And there was a situation I was in a few years ago when I wanted to make a particular change. And I knew it would be a bit tricky for a period but I thought in the long run it was the right thing to do. But I was told don't rock the boat by someone you know outside the business who is you know, very kindly giving me advice. I didn't rock the boat. And I didn't make the change that I wanted to make. But my gut feel had been right, I should have, I should have been bold and made that change because instead of something being a bit painful for a short period of time, it was difficult for a prolonged period. And so I think the better lesson is, have the courage of your convictions, believe in your gut feel, and that will be the right decision.
Scott Brown (25:31)
Yeah, that's a good one to close on. Yeah, absolutely. Well, well, thank you for taking the time and enjoying joining me today. I know it's been a pleasure chatting and
Anna Butler (25:43)
thank you, Scott has been an absolute pleasure. Always good to talk to you.
Scott Brown (25:52)
Fantastic insights. Thanks again, Anna Butler, who's group General Counsel at Long Harbour good luck in that new position and getting your feet under the table there. It sounds like a fantastic opportunity. Greta Van also there to join and make do she's really scrappy. If you didn't notice, check out the video Graham on LinkedIn. I think she actually borrowed her her daughter's Fisher Price headphones by the looks of it. What that's That's commitment to recording the podcast, love to see it. But if you enjoyed that conversation that I had with Anna, then why not check out some of the earlier episodes and seasons gone by going back to series one, I was joined by Rachael Carolan Who's clo of health tech company thriver. Rachel spoke a lot around shaping your position and looking beyond the traditional General Counsel role. So for those that are looking to go above and beyond potentially position themselves for a move out of legal at some point in their career, then I suggest you check that one out. That you can search for that episode with Rachael on Apple podcasts, or Spotify or all those other listening platforms or head over simply to heriotbrown.com/podcast where they're all in the same spot all the links nicely formatted by our team. There remember to be a good a good listener and also hit the subscribe button so that you don't miss out on future episodes and you get them straight to your straight to your phones. That really helps us out. If you've got any feedback, we're always loving to hear I'd love to hear that good or bad, or you'd like to appear on the podcast or you would like to suggest someone that you'd like me to have a chat with then drop me a line Scott@heriotbrown.com Or come and connect with me on LinkedIn. I'm always open. Thank you for listening, and we'll see you again soon.