A finance alumnus reveals what a big bank needs from its legal advisers.
As head of relationship management at Barclays, Chris Grant is responsible for ensuring that relations between the bank and its external legal counsel run smoothly.
Before starting at Barclays in 2005 (the first of two stints with the bank), Chris spent four years at Freshfields working alongside professional support lawyers in the banking and finance team.
Tell us about your time at the firm.
I’d done my legal practice course in London so a career in law was almost inevitable. But rather than joining Freshfields as a trainee as one might expect, I came in as a paralegal.
Banking and finance wasn’t top of the list to be honest – I was more interested in things like media and entertainment law, and medical negligence. But I couldn’t resist the lure of a big firm.
I did all kinds of things at Freshfields – producing newsletters, looking after precedent collections and compering the quiz we used to run. I had interactions with clients too, doing work for the Bank of England and even pitching to Barclays.
Everyone I worked with, which included then head of the finance practice Simon Hall, Michael Raffan, Simeon Rudin and Elaine Graham, was really helpful and happy to get stuck into the work, regardless of ‘rank’. This even extended to some of the community initiatives I was involved in – the team once went to Romania to build a house. David Trott was like a builder’s apprentice, handing me hammer and nails!
What did you do after you left Freshfields?
At university, I’d studied business and law, so there was a part of me that was interested in the operational/commercial side of things. Barclays Capital had just appointed its first chief operating officer (COO) and I took the opportunity to help him run the function.
I really enjoyed recruiting people, planning budgets and managing projects, so the role was a good fit for me. So much so that I became COO myself, this time of Barclays Wealth, where I ended up working with Freshfields alumnae Susan Draper and Rhian Bliss.
Your current position sees you working with yet more Freshfields people.
That’s right. The main focus of my role is to manage the relationship between the bank’s legal teams and its panel of law firms, on which Freshfields sits.
Although it’s been some time since I left Freshfields, having experience of working in a big law firm really helps. Equally, I understand the commercial pressures that the bank faces.
So what is Barclays seeking from panel firms like Freshfields?
Barclays is scrutinising more than ever how it uses external legal services. So my colleagues and I have to show that, when instructing externally, we’re sending the right work to the right place at the right price. The firms we use need to understand this and help us to put the right commercial arrangements in place and control costs.
When it comes to legal expertise, we take it as a given that our panel firms are market leaders. Instead we look at service delivery and the firms that can offer innovative, value-driven solutions, particularly ones that use emerging technologies such as AI.
We also expect panel firms to collaborate more with each other and, perhaps most importantly, come to us with ideas – no matter how ‘out there’ they might be.