In conjunction with Aspiring Solicitors, Barclays – the British multinational bank opened its doors to a selection of graduates for a weeklong legal internship at their Canary Wharf offices in London.
Considering their recent structure overhaul, I was keen to see how the bank was evolving in the wake of significant legislative change surrounding financial markets. With 48 million customers worldwide, Barclays is moving forward from their recent time in the media spotlight with new values of respect, integrity, service, excellence and stewardship.
The structural changes have included the consolidation of some areas and the general reduction of size to create a simpler architecture, with the legal counsel acting as the gatekeepers to legal risk, stakeholder management and business strategy.
Panel presentations allowed various lawyers the opportunity to share their journey into the legal profession, many of which were slightly unconventional and therefore gave food for thought about the endless possibilities in the legal world. What became quickly apparent was the synergy between business strategy and law, meaning that the in-house lawyers acted in a dual role of both legal and business advisory.
The negotiation and advocacy workshops drew out the personalities of my colleagues and I, as we discovered the roles in team collaboration that we naturally take. Whilst advocacy is not a keen interest of mine (I am pursuing a career as a solicitor, not a Barrister) the negotiation exercise proved rewarding. The arts of tactical diplomacy and team collaboration were the key skills we practiced under the supportive supervision of an in-house lawyer. My negotiation team won, and admittedly my previous experience in the role of being a negotiation competition judge may have given us an advantage, as I was aware we were not to make any concrete commitments to the proposal presented in the exercise as we are acting on behalf of a client. Another crucial point to remember in a negotiation exercise is never to draw assumptions from the information you are presented with; you can only work with what your client has told you.
Commercial awareness, or commercial interest, depending on your preference of term; was a significant topic we covered through presentations and group discussions. My group defined commercial awareness as:
“An interest and appreciation for the relationships and implications of actions between your clients stakeholders within a political, economic and legislative sphere.”
On the second to last day of the internship I was fortunate to shadow a lawyer working within investment banking. Through discussions with the lawyer I shadowed I learnt of the wider implications of the market crash and how the tightening grip of UK legislation is a response to this. We appear to be moving toward the American approach of having highly restrictive legislation, forcing banks to adopt strategies with lower associated risks. One such aspect is the holding back of some capital to act as a buffer against market instability, with the objective of protecting against the issues faced in 2008 by the investment bank Lehman Brothers, for example. This is arguably a far more sustainable approach to conducting business. Furthermore, these legislative changes are mechanisms by which the reputation of financial institutions can be safeguarded and the publics trust left in tact.
The pertinence of the experience in a time of such significant paradigmatic shifts within the legal sphere meant that I left feeling that I had gained an insight into the very real implications of the evolving business environment. The message I have for others following my visit is that building in sustainable attributes to your business model is non-negotiable; risk has to managed effectively and reputations maintained in order to thrive in a hyper-competitive environment.
Also published in Global Young Executive magazine