At Crafty Counsel, we’re all about getting to know our in-house legal community better. This week, we spoke with Victoria Marr, Senior Legal Counsel at Natwest and member of Enterprise & Government — our group for in-house legal professionals working in large organisations or government.

[Did you know we have different groups within our Community for in-house legal professionals which have regularly scheduled virtual meet-ups and in-person events? Learn more about the Crafty Counsel Community.]

Entrepreneurship on maternity leave

Prior to joining the Outsourcing, Technology and Intellectual Property (IP) team at NatWest, Vicky’s career was firmly rooted in litigation. However, a lightbulb moment during her maternity leave led her to embark on a new venture that not only changed her professional path, but also made a meaningful impact on her local community.

During her maternity leave, Vicky co-founded a business named “pa-rent.” The idea began with an everyday situation: the accumulation of unused baby equipment. Vicky and her business partner saw the opportunity to reduce consumption and waste by promoting the sharing of under-utilised items that are only needed for a short time. They envisioned an online platform that would allow people to borrow various items within their local communities.

The concept was powerful in its simplicity – why let useful items gather dust when they could be put to good use by others? pa-rent’s goal was to connect people who owned items they rarely used but wanted to keep, with those who needed the items for a short period.  It covered everything from baby gear to carpet cleaners.

“We wanted to create something that was genuinely going to bring value to people and that had community at the heart of it.”

The launch and early success

In December 2021, pa-rent made its debut, and the response was extraordinary. Rentals started rolling in on the very first day of the platform’s launch. However, creating a two-sided marketplace was not without its challenges. Unlike traditional retail businesses where products are readily available for purchase, pa-rent needed to attract both item lenders and borrowers to its platform simultaneously.

To overcome this challenge, Vicky and her team adopted a grassroots approach. They began locally and used community-oriented marketing strategies. Community Facebook pages and similar platforms helped spread the word, and gradually, their reach expanded.

The result? pa-rent quickly gained traction, attracting over a thousand active users who embraced the platform’s offerings. It was evident that they had tapped into a demand for a sharing economy model that extended beyond baby equipment, encompassing everything from karaoke machines to carpet cleaners.

“We started by getting our community involved. Sharing items with strangers was a relatively new concept and we knew we had to build trust in the platform. One of the ways we did that was to start locally and put our faces to it. We were lucky to have received such great support from friends, family, colleagues and the local community.”

The decision to partner with RentMy

As pa-rent gained momentum, Vicky found it challenging to balance her growing business with her responsibilities as a mother and lawyer. Realising the need to take their venture to the next level, Vicky and her business partner explored a partnership with a company called RentMy, which shared their vision of community-focused sharing.

“We realised that to take it to the next level, we needed a partner. RentMy shared our values and our community-driven approach but was further along  the journey in terms of investment and technology development.”

RentMy turned out to be an ideal partner. They had invested heavily in their tech stack and the necessary insurances, complementing pa-rent’s emphasis on building a trusted community. In early 2023, RentMy acquired pa-rent, allowing Vicky to continue her interest in the project while juggling her other commitments.

Reflections and future prospects

“Lawyers often don’t consider themselves to be creative or innovative, but creating pa-rent taught me that we can use our problem-solving skills to drive change and that is something we can do in our roles as lawyers too.”

Vicky’s journey is a prime example of how creative thinking and problem-solving skills can make a significant impact.

Today, Vicky manages her role in the Outsourcing, Technology and IP team at NatWest alongside her responsibilities as a mother of two. pa-rent now forms part of the RentMy family, which continues to grow and bring to life the vision of a community-driven sharing platform.

One cool thing you have seen in legal recently?

Vicky points out a transformation she’s been witnessing in the legal profession. Lawyers, she notes, are beginning to see the value in human skills in addition to technical ones. This is opening up discussion about sensitive but important  topics like mental health.

This shift is breaking the stereotype that lawyers are immune to the struggles and emotions that everyone else experiences. Lawyers are becoming more relatable and easier to approach, making the legal profession feel less intimidating and more accessible, although there is still a lot of work to do.

She speculates that the COVID-19 pandemic has played a role in this transformation. With lockdowns and remote work, legal professionals were thrust into unfamiliar working conditions, forcing them to adapt and find new ways to operate. This adaptability and willingness to embrace change will be key factors for the future success of lawyers against the backdrop of rapid change being brought about by emerging technology like generative A.I.

While the journey ahead may not be entirely mapped out, Vicky is convinced that this is just the beginning of significant change in the legal field.

Advice to her younger self

During her time in-house, in private practice, and running her own start-up business, Vicky has learned that it’s perfectly okay not to know everything. In fact, asking questions and being open to learning from others can lead to some of the most valuable insights.

She encourages her younger self to embrace humility and curiosity, both of which can be powerful tools for self-improvement.