At Crafty Counsel, we regularly focus on getting to know more about a member of our in-house legal community. This week we speak to Oliver Wilson, Legal Director at Bupa. 

Oliver is a member of FTSE & Friends – the Crafty Counsel Community group for in-house legal professionals working in large organisations or government.

Jumping from training at Baker McKenzie to in-house

Oliver completed his training contract at Baker McKenzie in London, which he says was a firm that, almost by accident, really suited him and his working style. He enjoyed the broad areas of law he got to experience as a trainee – property, corporate, tax, and some litigation too. What he liked the most about his six years at the firm is that it gave him the confidence to try the unknown. 

Oliver fondly remembers a trip to Macedonia to close a bank purchase deal for Dutch clients of a Macedonian bank. “I can look back at it now and say, ‘Well, all I was doing was running a signing session’. But when you’re there on your own as a third-seat trainee, having been called back into the corporate team for this specific signing because the client knows you. It just felt amazing,” Oliver says. 

He remembers going to the chairman of the bank’s hunting lodge for dinner after signing (at about midnight). “It was totally bizarre, but… I mean, what an experience”. 

After qualifying as a commercial real estate lawyer before changing departments to IT/Commercial, Oliver’s personal circumstances changed, and he sought a job that would allow him to be, first and foremost, a father. He joined O2 as Legal Counsel in the Operations team covering principally procurement and networks agreements. He also became the lead lawyer  for O2 on the smart meter implementation project. After four years at the telecoms company, he joined Bupa initially to focus on procurement contracting. He was then made legal director for its commercial, property and corporate legal teams. 

Favourite part of your current role?

“One of the things that has probably kept me at Bupa for six and a bit years now is the variation and the fact that there is constant change. I think I had this view of Bupa, before I joined, that it was probably going to be a sleepy insurer. And it couldn’t be further from the truth,” Oliver says. 

The things he appreciates most about his job are the variety in his day-to-day work and the breadth of the issues he gets to deal with. This is an important part of the culture of the legal team, ensuring, whenever possible, everyone he works with is a “Bupa lawyer”, and not pinned down to being one type of lawyer for one part of the business.

Oliver also credits his team as being the biggest win of his career. He recognises that he has influence in picking them, through the recruitment process, but he loves that they are united in a common goal that is aligned with Bupa’s priorities. 

“When I think about the type of lawyers we’ve got and the type of people in our business that we are providing support to, we’ve got this sort of shared passion for making things better for customers. And I think that’s genuine, it’s not just written on the walls!”. 

Legal innovations within Bupa

Oliver could not pick just one cool thing that he’s been seeing in legal recently. However, he says he has really enjoyed working with Bupa legal’s performance and operations team to create an innovation programme that crowdsources ideas from the entire legal team, including its privacy and company secretarial functions, into one space for future development. 

“It’s really great to see [that] there’s a huge variety of ideas and lots of them are born out of frustrations and opportunities for efficiency that, for whatever reason, haven’t been taken in the past,” the legal director says. 

The system enables members of the Bupa legal team to promote each others’ ideas. There is also a support team that helps take them to their next steps. 

The performance and operations team has also assisted by automating corporate documents. This allows the corporate legal team to speed through drafts of business transfer agreements and board minutes. “No, it doesn’t replace the human element. And yes, you have to make some amendments. But it’s phenomenal in terms of creating those first drafts. And we’ve done that solely within the legal team without external support, which I just think is great”. 

A special hobby?

Oliver believes in the importance of having an activity that helps clear the mind from the day-to-day job. For him, this is clay pigeon shooting and he really enjoys the focus required to do it right. Oliver says spending time in the countryside each weekend allows him to leave the baggage from the previous week behind. 

“You have to very quickly compartmentalise the work and stresses from the week before. I think it helps me, in some ways, deal with them as well,” Oliver says. 

He says that clay shooting helps him get perspective on whatever he was worried about, too. “You can come back from shooting and say: ‘Well, actually, all this stuff that was bothering me, didn’t bother me when I was shooting. I was able to set it aside, so actually, it shouldn’t bother me for the rest of the weekend’,” he adds. 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Learn from the lows, as well as the highs, Oliver says, and learn from the times when your confidence is knocked slightly. He says he would love to be able to convince his younger self to think of those low moments as being as instructive and helpful, and perhaps even more instructive and helpful, than times when one gets things right the first time.

Oliver adds that taking a more positive approach to the low moments also helps decrease the magnitude of the ups and downs of any role. This is particularly important in-house, where most work is subject to criticism.

“I think that if you can enjoy the lows as much as you allow yourself to enjoy the highs, or at least acknowledge that they’re really helpful and instructive, this would help a lot of — particularly — junior lawyers, and certainly my junior self, feel better about themselves and the work they are doing”.