Monthly spotlight on an in-house legal team with NatWest

Spotlight on the legal team at the NatWest group, based in Edinburgh.

*The banking group was formerly called the Royal Bank of Scotland, but in 2020 the name changed to the NatWest Group

Introducing the team...

1. The head of the legal team 

Kenny Robertson, Head of Outsourcing, Technology and IP team at Natwest Group

  • Kenny has been at the bank 15 years
  • Prior to joining the bank, he was an in-house lawyer at a software company in Glasgow called Graham Technology
  • Before that Kenny was in private practice at McClure Naismith
  • He says he started off as an IP lawyer and that then merged into doing outsourcing and wider supply agreements and innovation
  • Kenny chairs the Law Society of Scotland's wellbeing steering group

2. Other key players in the legal team

Leigh Kirkpatrick, Managing Legal Counsel, Outsourcing, Technology & IP

  • Leigh was the first hire Kenny made
  • Leigh has been at the bank for nine years
  • Before joining the bank Leigh worked in private practice at Brodies LLP

Neil Campbell, Managing Legal Counsel

  • Neil has been with the bank for 15 years
  • Before joining the bank Neil worked at AGL Energy
  • Prior to that he worked in private practice at King & Wood

Mark Cruickshank, Managing IP Legal Counsel

  • At the bank for five years
  • Prior to that in private practice at Brodies LLP and
  • Maclay Murray & Spens LLP (now Dentons)

3. Size of the legal team

12 

Tell us a bit more about your team does?

Most of the team works in Edinburgh and then there is also one team member in Poland. The team focuses on outsourcing agreements, technology transactions and IP.

“We do the bank’s big outsourcing agreements with third party suppliers, so big, difficult, sweaty agreements, a lot of the bank's innovation work such as the use of AI or blockchain,” Kenny says. “A lot of the open banking, developing API economy work goes through my team and IP.”

What are the highlights for the team?

“The bank has shifted in its DNA and its objectives over the last few years, which has been really good for us because a lot of the innovation work is coming to my team. So we are dealing frequently with the bank’s scouts, as we call them, in Silicon Valley, in India, and in the Far East. We are able to support the partnerships we're developing with cutting edge suppliers and emerging technology.

You really get into the sharper end of how new technology is being deployed to impact customer journeys and customer experience. That's really invigorating.”

Adapting to working remotely during the pandemic

“The social side has been important,” says Kenny. As a leader he says he wished that he had looked a little more “under the bonnet” with regards to how people’s personal circumstances may have affected their performance. He says he would have done more one to one catch ups in-person such as going for walks in the park, rather than over Zoom as “some people need more face-time than others”.

“But overall, the team's held it together pretty well during the last 18 months.” 

How will the team be working going forward, and why?

The team is now at an “inflection point” says Kenny. Where the team works in Edinburgh is opening up.

“So, we'll be back in the office soon. The thinking when we're in the building is not really going to be sitting at our office at our desk, fighting emails, but using that time together for collaboration projects, we've got a list as long as your arm of content to talk about, from ideation sessions on building out social inclusion to optimising relationships with law firms.”

How do you stay connected, and what tools do you use?

“Mainly through Zoom. And we use Microsoft Teams as well.”

During the pandemic the team has also been doing 5 o'clock calls where the team can connect socially and on Fridays these calls have been particularly sociable and valuable for team members, says Kenny. The Friday calls replaced a visit to the pub after work and was an opportunity to connect beyond work.

Tell us a little bit more about external resourcing...

“We don’t outsource that much. We mainly use traditional incumbent firms, UK firms. The ALSP is a very interesting area for us.

We speak frequently to Wavelength Simmons, to Obelisk, to Radiant UnitedLex we know quite well. Some of the Big Four we are talking to you as well.

The value we get is from the innovative mindsets they bring. I think it is really interesting the different perspectives they have. With Wavelength Simmons right now we're looking creatively at the customer journey, and an interactive session and playbooks we're coming up with - it is really embryonic but it's going to be really interesting in terms of how that comes through. I get a lot of value from

Dana Dennis Smith, at Obelisk, and Peter Lee at Wavelength. They have really interesting points of view and they bring a lot to us in terms of how we might go forward when we have big projects.”

The team is also looking into how they might work with one of the Big Four firms and what legal work they could outsource to them.

Shine a spotlight on an interesting legal project 

“Open banking is probably a good example.

Going right back to the beginning with deployment of API's. Three or four years ago we were asking what is an API? So we knew this was coming and when we started we needed to get on top of the technology.

We got to a position where we could say I know what you are talking about and run that as part of the CMA9 banks. We didn’t use externals on that at all.

Neil did a really good job, really good with stakeholder relationships, with great feedback. And it is a really good example of customer facing work, of projects that are absolutely at the forefront of what we do as a bank and the customer experience; 10 years ago the team wouldn’t have been doing this type of work.” 

What's an innovation you have embraced as a team?

“The most prevalent things we do weekly are what we call Learning Labs. It is on a subject that is of interest. We hold an annual ideation session to gather in and curate suggestions for the full year. So, stuff that people are interested in. How do I improve my empathy? How do I improve my emotional intelligence? How do we make sure we are a high performing team? We focus on individual thought leaders.

The chair rotates, on a Thursday the chair sends the subject out for the following week. We submit our ideas to the chair, and we vote on a Monday (at a meeting which doubles up as a capacity meeting and an opportunity to share success stories from the past week).We get five big actions for the week, we deliver the actions and learn something during the week. On a Friday at 9 o'clock we share what we learned that week. We are, as part of the bank’s purpose, a learning organisation and that has been a really useful way to keep momentum up of leaning into learning. Some of the things we learn really do go far. The concept of psychological safety is something we learned in a Learning Lab and that has paid great dividends.”

What is one of the biggest challenges the team has had to face?

“The financial crisis, I was here in 2008. So, we went from the biggest bank in the world by balance sheet to a very big fall. I'm driving to work every day when the bank is receiving heavy criticism and keeping the dressing room together was not easy. There is a sense of pride in getting over that and keeping the team together then trying to come out the other side of it. We are working in a disruptive environment, we work in a bank that is very much forward looking to build a digital bank. and the quality of work we've is incredible, out of that. There's been so many projects we've worked on, like once in a career type projects. So, yes, existential crises and banking crises. But from a purely professional perspective, there've been some amazing experiences we've had, and that's amazing projects we've got to work on.”

Does your team have a motto or some advise for working together as a winning in-house legal team?

“Our vision - we talk about being a progressive and market leading in-house legal team. I want us to be the stand-out team in the country. The working culture we’ve put in place to try to support that has paid huge dividends for us across the board. If I was to give one bit of advice to a new team head, it would be the investment that you put in on team culture - what it is and what you want it to be. Recruitment comes into this as well. But it is having a team commitment to making it a great place to work. The best thing I have done here.”

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You can watch a video interview with Kenny on building a legal team in a changing world here. And you may also be interested in the box set about in-house insights with the Natwest Group

If you are a legal professional interested in joining the Crafty Counsel community - we hold regular community meet-ups aimed at in-house legal professionals. Crafty Counsel also has two meet-ups open to all legal professionals (Crafty Innovates is all about legal innovation and Crafty Reads is a monthly book club). You can apply to join here!

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