Every week at Crafty Counsel we focus on getting to know more about one of the members of our in-house legal community. This week we speak to Ben Miller-Bridgland, Senior In-House Counsel at Moneybox, a mobile savings and investments app company based in London.
Ben did an accelerated Legal Practice Course at BPP Law School after studying Jurisprudence at Oxford. He secured a training contract at global law firm Hogan Lovells, where a secondment at Numis, an investment bank, set him onto the in-house track to Moneybox, one of the UK’s top-rated start-ups, as their first full-time legal hire.
Ben thoroughly enjoyed working in the corporate department at Hogan Lovells for almost six years, where he had a fintech focus, working with companies such as Monzo. During his time as an associate, he was seconded to an investment bank, Numis. He subsequently moved to Numis full-time, as Associate Director and Legal Counsel.
At Numis, as well as advising on public and private transactional matters, he spent time on broader “General Counsel office” matters including day-to-day commercial agreements, which allowed him to step into an earlier-stage scale-up like Moneybox in a more general legal role “as a slightly bigger fish in a smaller pond”.
“There’s a lot more flexibility than in previous roles, with a more modern take on the way you interact with the business. There’s a genuine push to embrace tech and iterate operational processes to gain efficiencies,” says Ben.
Favourite part of your job at Moneybox?
Ben fundamentally believes in Moneybox‘s mission to democratise financial services. For Ben, the “excellent culture” at the company is an added bonus.
He says the company’s COO and Acting General Counsel Karen Kerrigan, who set up the company’s legal function and shared some of her career highlights in a podcast interview on The Crafty Show, is an amazing mentor and coach. He shares that Karen’s legal expertise and oversight of the legal function was a big part of what made working at Moneybox and jumping to a scale-up attractive for him when he first joined the company in June 2021. He explains that understanding the reporting line of a Legal Team in a start-up / scale-up should be at the top of the agenda when applying for a role.
Ben says when he joined as the first legal counsel the job was predominantly reactionary. As he has built a team, there has been the capacity for wider strategic thinking, which was another drawcard for him.
He particularly enjoys this part of his role that requires him to make risk-based decisions on behalf of the business. For Ben that makes the job more “interesting”, “impactful” and “empowering”.
Educating others in the business about how to most effectively work with Legal, working to solidify the function as a business enabler and not a blocker, is the biggest win for Ben.
Ben, for example, enjoys training his business colleagues on how to interpret the legal and commercial elements of contracts. “Imparting some knowledge on people in the business each time you work with them is definitely a big personal win, which not only empowers colleagues but also streamlines the legal review process next time around,” he says.
A cool thing Ben has seen in legal recently?
For Ben, the increased use of employer of record services is very exciting. “There’s been a real explosion in the use of employers of record to hire overseas talent, particularly in the start-up / scale-up community,” he says. An employer of record will be the legal employer of an individual in an overseas location and will therefore take care of all compliance elements of their employment, including payroll and taxes.
“There’s an increasingly globalised talent pool because it’s extremely difficult to find tech talent. Companies have to look further afield but finding an effective way to hire overseas has always been a real headache” explains Ben.
“As an employee of one of these employers of record, you get the same benefits as if you’re employed by them directly – you’re part of a hub,” he says.
Ben explains how employer of record services generally work. He says companies will have “an umbrella agreement with an employer of record, who then hires people in overseas jurisdictions, and then provide those individuals to us on a contracting basis”. Ben says that although it is not “a perfect solution” and not a route that his team will use to hire all overseas talent in the long term, he says it is “a really interesting one” and a space that he is keen to monitor.
Apart from adapting to using Google Suite for business and he says, “wasting a decade’s worth of learning Word shortcuts”, Ben says deciding what sits in Legal and what doesn’t is one of the biggest challenges of his role.
Since the Moneybox legal team is still in its infancy, the rest of the business is still feeling out what ought to be sent to Legal and what does not necessarily have to be something the legal department has to oversee or be part of. Ben explains “that there is a tendency in many businesses to rush to the legal department for most things, “if there are words on a page,” he says people tend to think “that must be for Legal”. “Sometimes it’s quite tricky to set those boundaries and allocate whose responsibility is whose, but it’s all part of empowering the business,” he says.
He explains that while instant messaging tools, such as Slack, provide numerous benefits, it’s easy to loop in departments, such as Legal, without stopping to think whether it’s appropriate. Tools such as these also tend to lead colleagues to expect an instant response, which isn’t always possible on technical queries.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Ben would tell his younger self to spend less time trying to tick arbitrary boxes and to trust his instincts more. His advice would be to “follow your gut” and go for what feels right on an instinctual level, whether on a macro career level or with respect to day-to-day micro-decisions.
When it comes to a lawyer’s career path through private practice, Ben says Big Law can knock a trainee lawyer’s confidence and trust in their own ability “you spend your life doing well at school, doing well at Uni, doing well on the LPC and then you go into work and you instantly become a shadow of yourself, spending your time second-guessing “house style” or your “supervisor’s style” he explains.
Ben advises you to “own your own style” and seek out supervisors and managers who allow you to do so. He says allowing one’s own style and personality to shine through can be “an incredible tool in contractual negotiations.” He says a uniform approach to, for example, marking up documents and commenting is often encouraged at city law firms, but he thinks developing one’s own unique style can be a strength in negotiations. Ben explains that having a less adversarial tone and mode of communication can serve lawyers well.
“The amount of times someone sends me a contract with overly aggressive comments, like ‘wholly unacceptable’ – it definitely puts your back up. And counter-intuitively, they’re less likely to obtain that position than if they were polite and provide a well thought out explanation. You can be a very effective lawyer without being an aggressive one.”Ben Miller-Bridgland
When it comes to “big decisions like when to move in-house” it works to trust your instincts and go with what feels right. “If it feels right to go and the job offer that is on the table in front of you, or the opportunity is there to apply, feels right, then go for it,” he says. Ultimately, he says that from his perspective “life and your career are too short to define happiness and fulfilment with endpoints/goals – you have to be in a role where you enjoy the journey too”.