Lessons I Learned in Law

Matt Wilson on maintaining calm amidst the chaos

October 19, 2023 Heriot Brown Season 5 Episode 10
Lessons I Learned in Law
Matt Wilson on maintaining calm amidst the chaos
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Lessons I Learned in Law, Scott Brown speaks to Matt Wilson, General Counsel at TV Production company Fremantle. Fremantle produces over 12,000 hours of original programming every year across drama, entertainment, documentaries and film. Matt started his career with four years at Baker & McKenzie and has also worked at Arsenal Football Club (he is a huge Arsenal fan), as well as Telefónica and Uber.

Matt shares some of the lessons he’s learned in law including:

·      If you’re giving advice that you want to rely on or evidence in the future, make sure you write it down!

·       Never assume and always be curious. This applies when offering advice in a professional capacity but also in understanding people, maintaining relationships and managing teams. 

·      This, too, shall pass! A positive mindset is required when it comes to crisis management and response, and remind yourself that everything works out in the end. 

Matt explains the power of Personality Insights when it comes to understanding people and getting the most from your team.  When recruiting, Matt looks for people who are good at the things that he’s not so good at, to ensure diverse perspectives and a comprehensive skillset across the team.

Matt is well travelled and explains how a legal career can offer fantastic opportunities for travel, if that’s something you wish to do. Drawing on his own intriguing experiences living abroad, Matt showcases the monumental value of diversity and its role in enriching our teams.


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 (0:01)  
Hi, welcome back to Lessons I Learned in Law with me, Scott Brown. I'm founder and managing director of Heriot Brown In-House Legal Recruitment. We specialise in placing lawyers in fulfilling careers in in-house legal teams. But each episode of the podcast, I get the chance to sit down with a top legal mind, who shares their three lessons that they've learned from their career in law or lessons that they've applied to their career in law. With any luck, you'll leave the podcast having listened and you're inspired, armed with more knowledge that you've got to help you along your own career path. My guest today I'm delighted to be joined by Matt Wilson. Hey, Matt. 

Matt Wilson (0:45)  
Hi, there, Scott. How are you?

Scott Brown (0:46) 
I'm good. Thank you, thanks for joining me. Matt is General Counsel at Fremantle, where he's joined recently, I'm excited to hear more about that new position. Prior to being at Fremantle, Matt held the role as general counsel for EMEA and APAC at Uber, which took on the jurisdictions in Europe. He also held positions in-house at Arsenal and at Telefonica, really interesting across a variety of sectors. We'll find out more about all that during our conversation. But Matt, if you don't mind, we'll jump into lesson one.

Matt Wilson (1:19)  
Sure thing, let's go for it. First lesson that I've certainly learned over the years is that if you're giving advice that you want to be able to rely on, or be able to evidence in the future, make sure you write it down or record in some way. And that really comes from especially the way that professions gone, the in-house professions gone. In the past decade or so, we give so much advice, and are involved in so much of the decision making within our companies all the time, when you have been somewhere for a while. And I think actually, it's probably also the more senior that you get, you have very strong trusted relationships with the board with the rest of senior management, that the advice you give is often verbal, and decisions can be taken on poof. And that's part and parcel of the jobs that we all do, that we're giving advice all the time legal and non legal, and guiding the businesses that we work for, and helping the people that we work with. And that's generally fine. However, things go wrong, that things go wrong in every company, around the world, they go wrong in in all different walks of life. And that's part of life. And it can often happen in very unexpected ways. So things that you would never give to thoughts to come back. And you get asked, Oh, what about this, what was the advice around that, and, and so and ensuring as much as you can, that the advice that you've given and the decisions that have been taken on the basis of that advice is recorded. So is really important. And that not only to protect the companies that we work for, but it protects you as well. Just an example of that. Many years ago, I gave some verbal advice. And the advice was spot on the business that acted on the advice. And that was three years later that we had a regulatory inquiries and investigation in a particular jurisdiction. And that incident that was around that the advice concerned and that the business said, acted on that the advice, we hadn't written it down anywhere. And we were being asked questions about it. And the easiest thing in the world would have been say, well, here's a chain of emails that show what the advice was, and what the business did about it. And it all was fine in the end, but it caused some unnecessary stress. And so as uncomfortable as it can sometimes be to write the advice down and make sure you were dotting I's and crossing T's getting into the habit of doing that in some way, shape, or form is a really good discipline to have. And the technology that we now have access to enables us to do that. And in ways that are far easier, or far better than existed maybe 10 years ago, where you'd have a big pile of notebooks at home somewhere or in the office of all of the coloured daily notes. I now use Microsoft one docs, other people use, you know, rolling G dots and things like that, and great to be able to use those things as evidence will show yet when the notes are created, and so on and so forth. So that would be my first one. So if in doubt, write it down.

Scott Brown (4:26)  
Good lesson clearly from lived experience in that. What was the heart rate like? At that point?

Matt Wilson (4:32)  
Oh! Variable, I would say

Scott Brown (4:36)  
Was that the the light bulb moment for writing stuff down? 

Matt Wilson (4:39)  
I think it's something that you always know and you're always told, but you get into positions I think, in especially in-house, where you just get comfortable with your environment. You get comfortable and you trust the people that you work with and you're moving very quickly and pace is important. And it's good to have a reminder that one week Think quickly, maintaining the discipline that's important, especially as lawyers is still crucial. 

Scott Brown (5:07)  
I can imagine in tech, yes. It's very "need that information now", "need the answer now!", "let's move it forward" 

Matt Wilson (5:12)  
In tech in particular. Yeah, yeah. So much is done on Teams calls and on Zoom calls. And a lot of the time those things aren't recorded. But of course, now with the the advances in technology with AI coming in as well, it's going to be easier to transcript those calls in the future, to produce summaries of them and so on, so forth. Whereas before, that would have taken a lot of additional work. So for lawyers, I think this is something that will become easier as time goes on.

Scott Brown (5:40) 
Yeah, keep your guard up at all times. Do you think there's any other function within a business that has to do that as well? Or is it is it something you feel is unique? 

Matt Wilson (5:48)  
Absolutely. You know, finance, HR, all of the support functions, I think, important, the board as well, anyone in a senior decision making capacity, having those decisions, and the reasons for them, being able to evidence them is generally a, I think a good thing from a corporate responsibility, view and accountability point of view. So if I'm the CEO, or CFO, the decisions you take are always based on the facts that you have available to you, at the time. And context for those decisions is everything. It's really easy five years down the line for someone's turn. So what is the CEO make me that decision, being able to show why that decision was made is important, I think it can be used.

Scott Brown (6:46)  
We'll move on to lesson two.

Matt Wilson (6:48)  
Never assume, and always be curious. So what's said to me the other day, that assumption makes it ask of you and me, I think that is a good way of looking at it. Not everyone will see or understand things the same way as you do. And in the roles that we have, as in House lawyers, having curiosity and maintaining the colour of the courage to keep pulling important threads, where facts are often uncertain, is really important. It can change perspectives. And it can actually change the advice that you give in a very material way. That kind of, don't assume always be curious piece, I think equally applies when we're dealing with people. And when we're managing relationships. And they're artists, we don't know what's going on in each other's lives most of the time, and taking that time to understand each other to get to know the people that you work with the people in your team. What motivates them, what their difficulties are personal and professional is just a vital part of being able to lead and manage any tips to get to get things done. I have one exception to the Never assume. And that is do assume good intent. Right? So that's thought that's the one caveat I'd made to the to the piece of advice, but assume good intent until you're proven otherwise, not everyone will see things the same way. That's okay. That's that's how we learn. It's how we harness things like diversity of thought is how we make better decisions by challenging each other, and assuming good intent until you're proven otherwise. But otherwise, don't assume. 

Scott Brown (8:29)  
Yeah. I've just started with a coach, the initiation of the process is um, about insight discovery profiling.

Matt Wilson (8:34)  
Yeah, we do that with all of our all of our teams here actually.

Scott Brown (8:37)  
Yeah, I've never done one before. Absolutely crazy, how accurate some of the statements are, how have you used those?

Matt Wilson (8:43)  
Yeah, to get to know each other better as people and figuring out who has kind of majority blue, yellow, red, green, where you are on the wheel, what your dominant colour traits are what what causes stress for people to index on, it was fantastic. We had all of our global heads of legal together, we've done the same Uber and I've done the same here, and created the colour wheel where you see where everyone is, who's similar to you, who's different, who your opposites are. And it really helps in just adjusting how we all approach each other and work with each other. Yeah, how we communicate with each other?

Scott Brown (9:19)  
Yeah, well, for the next couple of months, I think we're gonna we're gonna invest in that as well and look at the math as a team because it is just your blind spots are crazy. And it's your perception of yourself that looks at the start. That's the starting point of it, how you perceive yourself in your working context, and how that's perceived by others. 

Matt Wilson (9:36)  
Like say what your what your blind spots are, what your weaknesses are, as with any team, it helps you as a leader to think about what you need in the team as well. So I've always tried to recruit for the things that I'm not good at. So I make sure I have people that are good at things that are not great at and we have that true diversity in the tea. What insights helps with is identifying Well, wait a minute, we don't have as many people Over, find being yellow and inspirational, as easy as we have, for example, red or blue, where they're a bit green in terms of colours, that can be really helpful when thinking about you're going out to recruit, and you're looking for different personality types to round out a diversity of characters that you have have in the team.

Scott Brown (10:20)  
Have you used it as part of the selection process? Or is it then understanding what someone that's coming in?

Matt Wilson (10:27)  
Not up to this point.

Scott Brown (10:28)  
Yeah, that's definitely opened my eyes to it. I was sceptical when I was the 25 questions, it felt a little bit. where's this going? It feels like it's gonna be a bit random. I'm answering these truthfully, or three up to what I think my my job should be. So really interesting. The curiosity and assumption plays into a big part of that. We're talking before we hit record, but you've spent time in Amsterdam. How was that?

Matt Wilson (10:52)  
Fabulous. We're lucky enough when I was at Uber to have the opportunity to we started I started off for two years in in London, and then was asked middle of 2017 whether I take on the emir, and then April rolls, and that would involve a move to Amsterdam with my wife and our three daughters. And so we packed up the car, Christmas 2017 Going into 2018 spent New Year's Eve on a little D bus hotel on the Belgian border, and rolled into the Netherlands The next morning on New Year's Day 2018. And we were there for we were there for four years, we had a fantastic time. The Netherlands is just a wonderful country. It's brilliantly organised. It's a real melting pot for people from all over the world. Amsterdam is a remarkably easy place for expats to settle and live and work. It's great for kids, anywhere where you can cycle for 10 minutes and be wherever you need to be, is a pretty special place. And so we had a brilliant time in those four years, including through Yeah, we were there through COVID the ability to a lunch when the kids were at home to just get on the bike and go for go for a cycle. The restrictions weren't quite as bad in the Netherlands as they were here in the UK, in terms of wages go up, you can see. So it was fabulous.

Scott Brown (12:12) 
Good adventure?

Matt Wilson (12:18)  
Great family adventure

Scott Brown (12:19)  
Yeah. Career in law, did you think that there would be opportunities to travel? Or do you think that our as a profession, do you think there's many opportunities to go and work and live elsewhere?

Matt Wilson (12:28)  
I think I think as with a lot of things in life, the opportunities are there. If you seek them out, you have to be proactive about it. From a personal point of view, you have to have a bit of a sense of adventure, a bit of a sense of curiosity, and then pick the places where you work accordingly. So Telefonica was just as good from international travel point of view. And the team I was in was a very international team. When I left Telefonica, we have people in Latin America and in the States, as people in the team in Spain, as well as the UK and, and elsewhere. And, and was travelling all over the world at that point, gave a real taste for living abroad. And when the opportunity came up to go to Amsterdam, we jumped at it. It wasn't just about living and working somewhere else like Amsterdam. I think something that I've enjoyed a huge amount through my career is working in diverse environments, and experiencing diverse environments. So whether that is working in teams that are from all over the world, and our our team at Uber and EMEA and APAC had over 30 different nationalities based in over 20 different countries. It was just fantastic. We get on zooms and teams and we'll have meetings in person. And people will just be there for from all over the world sharing stories, sharing experiences and perspectives. And that's something I've always really enjoyed. And then allied to that ability is something that was very grateful for both Uber and Telefonica in particular, I still have that here at Fremantle, the ability to travel as part of your job. If you'd have told me 10 years old, growing up in northwest London, that as part of my job in the future, I would travel to places like Nigeria, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Pakistan, India, Hong Kong, as well as all of the wonderful countries we have have here in Europe, I wouldn't have believed you to begin by, absolutely be in your hand off. And I just feel very privileged and fortunate that that's how the career has has panned out

Scott Brown (14:44)  
Lesson three?

Matt Wilson (14:46)  
Okay, lesson three. So let's put it under the heading of this too shall pass. Part of any lawyers job and in particular, I think this this rings true for in House lawyers and General Counsel is dealing with crises. I've had my fair share of those in my career, I think like any in house lawyer does, and your ability to stay calm under pressure and think clearly under pressure will define not just how you deal with the crisis at hand, but also what other people's opinion of you might be, and how you affect others as well. Because how you how you act and how we act as, as lawyers and as people, affects everyone around us, that could be our colleagues more wind up the business, as well as our teams. This too shall pass. Everything worked itself out in the end, and short of issues actually being a matter of life and death. And, sure, there are some lawyers that deal with matters of life and death. And I, I recently met the general counsel for the British Army, that's a that's a different kettle of fish. But in most of our jobs, we won't be dealing with issues of life and death. And so we retaining some perspective, in the middle of a crises, I think, is always important knowing in the knowledge that give it a passage of time, that crises will will fade into the rearview mirror, one way or another, whether that is a business issue, a regulatory issue, litigation, people related issues, they all work themselves out. And the best that any of us can do is stay calm, make the best decisions that we can, make sure you're authentic to yourself, be aware of your own red lines, and make sure that whatever you you do, and however you act and whatever decisions you make, and the advice that you give, you're able to look yourself in the mirror the next day. The other thing I want to say on this is when you're in those situations, and actually just every single day, every interaction that you have, with another person matters. Even more. So in our in our roles as lawyers, the position that we have in organisations I've always thought of as a real privilege. And it's privileged because we see, and we're involved as a team, in pretty much everything that businesses do. I think we all need to be very careful how we use that privilege, because as I say, how we act and what we say, and our demeanour, it affects everyone around us. So every interaction that we have with people really does matter, he can give them a good date and give them a bad day, depending on how they come across us and how we act with them. Yeah, we have the ability to give others a platform for their voices and their ideas and to lift them up. But we also have the ability to give people a bad day. And now that doesn't mean that we still have to be transparent, honest, authentic, and all of those things that they're almost good, saying, but doing it in a thoughtful, empathetic way where you're putting yourself in the shoes of the person that you're interacting with is so important. I'm sure we all come across situations that are difficult, that hard, stressful, but making sure that teams are cognizant that, you know, we will generally you will get through those situations, you'll do that by working together. And you'll do it by working together in a way that is structured and thoughtful and transparent.

Scott Brown (18:11)
And surrounding yourself by good people I assume and have us back to that good intent. And have everyone that's working there and the right ethics. 

Matt Wilson (18:20)  
If there was a fourth one, yeah. Recruit well would be the other one. And like, like you think you've hit the nail on the head, surrounding yourself with good, good people that you trust. And actually, I've always had a mantra of recruit people that are better than you aren't. So I've always tried to recruit people that either are or have the potential to be better than I am at my job. If you do that, I don't think you can go too far wrong.

Scott Brown (18:41)
Great. Well, I'm conscious of time. We'll we'll wrap up there. But thank you very much for sharing those lessons with us, Matt. It's been great. 

Matt Wilson (18:48)
My pleasure, Scott. It's been great chatting.

Scott Brown (18:54)
If you've enjoyed Matt's lessons, then please check out the back catalogue of lessons that we've got on Lessons I Learned in Law, and why not subscribe? And thank you for listening. I've been Scott Brown and we'll see you next time.