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July 13 2020

5 ways to empower junior lawyers

Industry Insights

Louise Anderson

Louise Anderson

5 ways to empower junior lawyers

Joanne Theodoulou is the General Counsel and Company Secretary for Simply Business, the largest online business insurance provider in the UK.  An accomplished leader of legal teams, Joanne has a wealth of experience spanning city firms, start-ups, charities and global companies, and a passion for inclusion and mental health. Sophie Gould, head of learning and development at F-LEX, asks Joanne to share her wisdom and advice. In part one of this interview Joanne explains how she gives junior lawyers a voice to discuss risks and problems.

1)    Give junior lawyers a flavour of everything going on

When working in-house, where the scope of work is very broad, you have to be more deliberate about how you bring people into things and how you let them have that exposure, even if it's not something you’ve asked specifically for their help with.

2)    Hackathons give everyone an opportunity to come up with solutions

At Simply Business, everyone is encouraged to come up with initiatives and contribute all the time. The best ideas don’t necessarily come from the most senior people. We host a two day hackathon every year where teams design and build prototypes to make something better either at work or for their home life. Many of the transformational changes Simply Business has adopted have been initiated by junior people. They've come from people on the ground experiencing a problem, who sort of popped up and said, actually, I think we should tackle this. So it's really there in the culture. It doesn't matter whose idea it is. And for that to work, people do need to feel empowered and to feel it's okay to say something, even if it sounds stupid or their first idea might be rejected.

3)    Co-create team principles

One of the first things I did for my legal team was to agree on our “ways of working”, setting out in a living document the principles we hold ourselves to as well the ground rules of the team. The idea was to make it very clear that the team is a safe place to try things, test ideas and to make mistakes. This can instil a huge amount of trust, and the confidence to go out and do that more widely.

4)    Inclusive team leadership

When teams have closed environments and very strict hierarchies, avenues for ideas and contributions from those at junior levels can be limited. Unless you give everyone a voice and encourage everybody to participate, to listen and to open up their minds to new and different ways of doing things, all the effort on the diversity part is wasted.

5)    Encourage authenticity

I believe leaders should lead by example by being open, sharing personal stories and talking honestly about things that they’re dealing with. There is no point getting people through the door if they cannot be themselves once they get there and do not operate in a way that is comfortable for them.