Once a month at Crafty Counsel we focus on getting to know more about an in-house legal team. This month we feature the team at Trainline and speak to James Hanratty, the company’s General Counsel.

James told us more about the company’s ways of working, the team’s big wins and scaling up a legal team efficiently in the face of a challenging recruitment market.

Trainline is an international technology platform that sells train tickets and rail cards. It allows users to access live train times and information and helps users by showing live affordable rail and coach deals.

Background of General Counsel, James Hanratty

James joined the legal team at Trainline while he was on secondment to the company from Travers Smith. He left his job in private practice 13 years ago and has been at the technology platform ever since. James has covered “pretty much every legal issue there is” and he has supported the business through different phases of ownership and then an IPO. All the experience has helped James in leading the legal team as the company’s General Counsel.

He lives in York with his wife and three children. James loves sport, but laments that he watches it more than playing it himself due to his busy schedule. James was somewhat of a pioneer of the hybrid working model. Before the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, James worked from home in the north of England a couple of days a week and spent a few days at the Trainline head office in London. The company  has more offices in Edinburgh, Paris, Milan and Barcelona. 

Does James fly or take the train?

“Of course,” he takes the train. “I spend more time on the East Coast Main Line than is probably sensible, but it does allow me at least to absolutely understand what it means to be a customer,” he says.

An interesting fact about James – he studied American law in Texas

While at the University of Nottingham James took American Law as part of his undergraduate degree in law. He was one of six students selected as part of an exchange programme to study American law at the University of Texas.  He still has friends from his time in Texas and says he learned about things that wouldn’t be covered in English law, for example, capital punishment.

Some key members of the legal team

The Trainline legal team is split into different branches. These are smaller teams that focus on different parts of the business. The idea behind this is for the scope of these branches to be narrow enough, so the team members can become experts in the area they serve, whilst remaining broad enough to ensure variety and growth opportunities. James says the team do regular branch reviews to assess how they are working and so that nothing becomes “stale”. Each branch is led by a senior member of the team.

Samantha Bristow, Group Head of Legal – Consumer

Samantha leads the consumer branch, which looks after all legal issues relating to brand, marketing, product and engagement across all markets.  “All the things that consumers would touch and feel about Trainline and all the legal issues relating to that, as well as IP,” James says.

Key facts about Samantha:

  • Samantha joined the Trainline legal team in November 2011.
  • She initially studied Politics and Parliamentary studies at the University of Leeds (which included an internship in Congress with Sherrod Brown and in Parliament with David Willets MP) before completing the GDL and LPC at BPP.
  • She was seconded to Google whilst in private practice and worked for Google as a Legal Counsel through Lawyers on Demand (LOD).
  • Samantha was an associate with the law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner for nearly 4 and a half years between March 2007 and May 2010.

Kate McGregor Head of Legal – Trainline Partner Solutions & Operations

This branch looks after the Trainline Partner Solutions (TPS) team, which provides tools containing multi-jurisdiction rail content to businesses, travel sellers and rail carriers, as well as handling supply relationships with the rail carrier partners whose content Trainline sells. In addition, the branch also supports our various back-end Operations teams, including those responsible for payments, fraud prevention and customer services.

Key facts about Kate:

  • Kate joined the Trainline team in March 2018 as the first Edinburgh-based lawyer.
  • She graduated with an Honours degree in Scots Law from the University of Glasgow in 2009, which included an Erasmus Mundus exchange to Tilburg University in The Netherlands.
  • She trained and qualified as a solicitor at CMS and worked there as an associate until she joined Trainline.
  • While at CMS Kate was seconded to the legal teams of Nestle and the NatWest Group.
  •  Prior to joining CMS Kate worked in-house as a paralegal at global biotechnology research company Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Usmaan Amin, Head of UK Regulatory Affairs & Tech

This branch was formed largely in response to reforms within the UK rail industry. The Williams Shapps Plan for Rail is a “once in a generation reform of how rail works in the UK, moving away from the franchise model into a different form of structure and importantly the introduction of a single brand for UK, the UK train companies under the form of Great British Railways” explains James. Usmaan leads the part of the team that focuses on the legal and regulatory implications of these changes and all related matters relating to the UK rail industry, as well as looking after the tech team of 300+ people

Key facts about Usmaan:

  • Joined Trainline in July 2018.
  • Usmaan trained at Magic Circle firm Slaughter and May.
  • He was seconded to Ocado during his training contract,
  • Before joining Trainline, Usmaan worked as a lawyer at Aspect Capital between October 2016 and June 2018
  • Before he started training at Slaughter and May he interned at the firm and also completed an internship at Norton Rose Fulbright
  • He obtained a place in a competitive gap year programme at Pricewaterhousecoopers (PWC), where he worked as a part of the Assurance stream

How many people are in the legal team?

The in-house team consists of 18 legal professionals, which includes paralegals and a Trainline trainee. In addition to that, the company has two people who work in CoSec roles. The legal team is spread across London, Edinburgh, and parts of Europe with two lawyers in Paris and one in Milan. There were a mere two people in the legal team when James first joined the company.

How did the team adapt to working remotely during the pandemic?

As Trainline’s legal team members work in several different locations, the company already had a “Zoom first culture” before the pandemic, within the business and the legal team. James says the pandemic made remote working easier for the team in some ways because those who weren’t in the head office could sometimes feel like they were “a bit of an afterthought”, but that changed when the pandemic forced everyone to work remotely.

“There was something incredibly democratic about the pandemic. Everyone was on the end of a Zoom call. Everyone was equal. And I think in many ways it brought the team together in a way that it was a little bit more difficult to do beforehand” James explains.

How will the team be working going forward and why?

Trainline is following a remote-first, or flexible-first, policy. James says it means that people should have “absolute flexibility as to where they work and when”. There are weekly company days in London, Edinburgh, and Paris when team members are expected to get together.

How do the team stay connected with each other?

The Trainline legal team has a wiki, a core knowledge-sharing portal.  They use Slack channels for the legal team and regularly use Zoom. James says the team will start meeting up quarterly.  He says that he is “super focused on making sure that we have a regular point in the calendar, thinking about a quarterly, where everyone in the team across all of our locations gets together in one place and we spend good times together”.

What external resources does the team use?

The legal team does not have a formal panel of external law firms. But they do have a group of advisors they go to, firms they have built relationships with. These include Baker McKenzie and Bird & Bird for general commercial support and IP.  Trainline uses White & Case to assist with specialist matters such as competition law. Dentons help with specific rail expertise and Travers Smith are long-term advisers on various strategic matters. The company uses specialist international firms in different markets. The Trainline team have started using alternative legal service providers from time to time and for that, they usually go with Rebel Legal.

View Crafty Counsel’s (A)LSP Circuit Board – a guide to the alternative legal service provider marketplace.

Big wins?

The Trainline team were shortlisted in this year’s Lawyer awards and has won a number of awards in the past, which James says “is obviously always nice to see”. James says for a relatively small team in the business, the legal team members are often earmarked for internal awards, and this reflects something else he is proud of, which is how the legal team is perceived by the business. He says the legal team at Trainline are seen as legal enablers and not “overly technical or obstructive”.  The Trainline legal team is seen as “part of the solution” and “business enablers” and not merely as a “compliance function”.             

Biggest challenge?

One of the challenges the team faced was growing the legal function as the company scaled up quickly. James says this can be particularly demanding in a challenging recruitment market.

Trainline sells tickets across 45 countries globally and the “multi-jurisdictional element” adds to the challenge of expanding the legal function efficiently. James says when he first joined Trainline the legal team “had the “luxury” of just having the UK market”.  He says that has changed as the team expands globally. “We’re dealing with customers and railways in multiple jurisdictions. So, the ongoing challenge is making sure that we have our arms, in a proportionate way, around the risks and the issues that emerge across each of those markets as we grow ”. James says it is an ongoing process and says although it is “definitely a challenge”, it is also “exciting” to build out the team.

Do you or your team have a favourite expression or motto?

James says the legal team tries to“mirror the values of the company more broadly”. Trainline has recently been through a period of refining its culture and values and there are four pillars underpinning the company’s value statement.

  • Think Big
  • Own It
  • Do Good
  • Travel Together

When it comes to thinking big, James says the legal team supports Trainline as it builds the future of rail by for example ensuring the legal team is on top of rail reforms aligned with broader sustainability goals. The team  “solve problems that have never been solved before, as rail increasingly becomes digital and increased competition within rail across markets”, James explains.

On the second pillar, James says the legal team is fully integrated with the business and “not just at the end of an email or a Slack channel”. He says that by being integrated with project teams the legal team “own the problems” and solves them. The legal team uses OKRs, which James explains as the team’s “contract with the business. This is what we say, we’re going to do this year and you can hold us to account for doing that”. He says being data-driven and reporting on and so demonstrating how the team solves problems is a clear way in which the team “owns it”.

 When it comes to “do good”, James says by working in the rail industry and “getting people off the roads and out of the sky” Trainline helps in the global fight against climate change by reducing carbon emissions. James says “we have members of the legal team who are core members of the broader sustainability team within Trainline”. James says the diversity of “knowledge and backgrounds” is vital to “properly serve an international business.”

James says he learned at Travers Smith that people should take their work seriously but shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. He says he likes to think he abides by that principle, and the rest of the Trainline legal team does too.