The employed spectrum (1)

In the first of a new series highlighting the wide array of employed opportunities for barristers, Counsel asks Richard Hill why he left the self-employed Bar and what he found…

Employed barristers now represent a community which is just under 20% of the Bar as a whole. The publication of the Snapshot Report: The Experiences of Employed Barristers at the Bar in November 2016 showed that while the employed Bar had some of the highest levels of engagement and satisfaction with the work they do, many employed barristers believed that opportunities at the employed Bar were not sufficiently publicised to those entering the profession. In the first of a series of articles, Counsel looks at the array of opportunities and pathways open to those considering a move to the employed
Bar, as well as the skills required.

Richard Hill

General Counsel, Global Litigation, Shell

How did pupillage prepare you for an international career beyond the Inns of Court?

I am one of three members of Shell’s legal leadership team that started our legal careers at the Bar (along with the Legal Director and another General Counsel). I was lucky: my first pupil master, Martin Spencer at Hailsham Chambers, was very generous with his time (and money: he used to pay for my train fares) and really taught me how to cross-examine, as well as role-modelling meticulous preparation and clarity of written work. Pupillage provides an excellent legal training if one has good pupil masters. In large law firms, trainee lawyers can be remote from the real decisions on big cases, whereas pupils work closely with leading practitioners and are quickly immersed into the centre of the action. I moved to another set of chambers after pupillage, but quickly decided that I wanted to explore life beyond the Inns of Court. There were mixed feelings at the time about the prospects at the common law Bar as solicitors were starting to exercise their rights of audience, while the City law firms were booming. More importantly, I wanted to explore options for an international career.

Explain the pull to a global law firm?

Baker & McKenzie’s global approach appealed to me, and I had a fantastic time there for seven years. It had a training programme through which associates on partnership track were sometimes offered the chance to spend a year in another office. Many London litigators went to Sydney, but I made the case for New York, which was a first. My motivation was partly to go somewhere that would be useful for my wife, who was starting her career as an opera singer, but my time in New York had a major impact on my career and transitioned me from an English litigator into the world of international arbitration. I was also lucky to have two great mentors in New York, Arthur Rovine and Lawrence Newman, both of whom had been at the heart of the international arbitration world for decades. This proved an ideal area of law for an internationally minded solicitor-advocate, being a field in which solicitors routinely undertake advocacy. I returned to London at the end of 2001 but shuttled back and forth to New York over the next three years.

How did your experience overseas get you on the fast track route to partnership ?

David Howell, a senior partner at Baker & McKenzie, left the firm in 2004 to set up Fulbright & Jaworski’s London litigation practice, and I was hired as their first English associate in 2005. This was largely driven by a desire to advance quickly: the route to partnership appeared more promising given Fulbright’s plans to grow as a disputes firm in London. It was exciting to be part of this new practice which developed very quickly. I became a partner at the end of 2007 and in 2008 I moved to Hong Kong to set up the firm’s Asia disputes practice, seeking to repeat something of what had been achieved in London. Again the international move helped me to develop and advance: the Hong Kong market is very different from London and there are good opportunities for young lawyers to make their name. In Hong Kong I appeared as lead advocate in major arbitration hearings, and indeed as arbitrator in some multi-billion-dollar cases, and quickly found myself ranked among the leading arbitration lawyers in Asia. These opportunities would have been much harder to find for a partner in their mid-30s in London, which has such a deep pool of senior talent (including at the Bar).

What prompted the move in-house to a global energy giant ?

My move to an in-house role was entirely reactive, like most of the best moves. I had never considered an in-house role. I had recently returned from Hong Kong to Fulbright’s London office when I received a phone call in early 2012 and was told that I had been put on a short list for a senior litigation role by the legal director of the company. I later discovered that this was Peter Rees QC, whom I did not really know, but who had come across my name. I learned that the job was at Shell, and that a new global litigation group was being established within Legal for which a senior international disputes lawyer was required to be associate general counsel leading the non-Americas litigation teams. I had just spent four years building the Asia disputes practice at Fulbright, and the opportunity to be part of establishing another team on this bigger scale quickly caught my imagination. I was also very taken with what Peter Rees and Brad Nielson (my predecessor as general counsel for global litigation) were doing in terms of establishing best practices for the management of litigation across the group.

Brad Nielson was another one of my great legal mentors, and knew how to build and embed an organisation within Shell. He retired in 2015, and after just under three years in the associate general counsel role I was asked to step up to be his successor. I was lucky to have had three years to get to know and understand the business under the mentoring of a very experienced Shell senior executive, and to take over at a time when the value of having a dedicated global litigation team had come to be understood by the rest of Shell Legal and by the business.

What skills have you transferred from the Bar, and what skills have you gained?

My current role still involves thinking about strategy on major litigation matters, but I am not able to spend a great deal of time in the weeds on the legal issues. Management of people, budget, priorities and business objectives take up much more of my time. Much of my work is about encouraging and driving great performance by others. Before deciding to study for the Bar I had a background in music, having read music at Cambridge where I was an organ scholar. I sometimes borrow the conducting metaphor: as a leader I get my name on the poster but I am the only person involved in the choir or orchestra who doesn’t make a sound; my role is all about motivating, coordinating and enhancing the performance of others, individually and as a team.

Advocacy still plays a role, though in the form of presentations to business leadership teams or company boards, or addressing my department or another part of Legal in person or via webcast. Leadership is taken very seriously in an organisation like Shell.

What have been the key differences and challenges?

While the legal issues look the same whether through a private practice or in-house lens, the priorities and approach are different. As a partner in a law firm, I wanted to turn over every stone, to do everything possible to ensure victory, eliminate all risk and maximise fees. The drivers on an in-house team are somewhat different. We have to manage budgets carefully: winning at all costs is not winning. We manage litigation as a business: this is possible but it requires a different mind-set. We now operate almost entirely through ‘AFAs’ (alternative fee arrangements) rather than hourly rates. This has significantly reduced our costs and, more importantly, has driven a much closer alignment between our objectives and interests and those of our external lawyers.

Another challenge is the complexity of an organisation like Shell which involves multiple companies making their own corporate decisions, and issues can involve many stakeholders across Legal, the business and other functions.

final word of advice…

Although I didn’t really plan my move to an in-house role, I would have no hesitation in recommending such a move to solicitors or barristers who enjoy working as part of a team and as part of a business. My main advice to young lawyers generally, based on my experience, is to take opportunities as they arise, rather than having a fixed route mapped out. While I have been a dedicated disputes lawyer for over 20 years, I have hugely enjoyed the variety of the roles I have undertaken, from barrister to solicitor to in-house lawyer, and the range of jurisdictions in which I have been lucky to live and work so far.

The young lawyers who join Shell Legal find the work fascinating and varied. They deal with different legal challenges every day, while also being involved in some of the most important disputes being heard in courts and tribunals around the world. To that extent, their experience may be closer to that of some young lawyers at the Bar.

There is also a different sense of purpose working for a group such as Shell. Both at the Bar and in my two law firms I had a sense that my work was to argue in favour of whoever happened to have hired me, rather than towards any particular objective. That is natural in an adversarial litigation system. But there is a different overarching purpose with in-house roles: while the variety of disputes and the issues involved are fascinating, Shell is in the energy business, not the litigation business, and I enjoy playing a part in its broader business strategy.

RECOGNISING ACHIEVEMENT: at the EMPLOYED BAR

  • This year sees the first Bar Council Employed Bar Awards, held at the Tower of London at a gala dinner on 30 June, to recognise the vital contribution of barristers working in-house in the public, private and third sectors. See: employedbar.com
  • Get LinkedIn: Join the Employed Barristers Network at www.linkedin.com/groups/7066001
  • Read the Bar Council’s Employed Bar Snapshot Report: bit.ly/2ggU9n2
  • See also ‘ The employed perspective’, Michael Jennings and Patrick Walker, Counsel, January 2017: bit.ly/2qxtmbo
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