Nina Barakzai, group head of data protection & privacy at Sky and chair, corporate governance committee at Commerce & Industry Group, discusses the work of The C&I Group and how it benefits in-house lawyers...

The Commerce & Industry Group exists to support, promote, enhance the profile of, and further the interests of all lawyers working in commerce and industry. It offers a full CPD accredited training programme with courses being tailored by in-house lawyers for in-house lawyers. The C&I Group also organises free events for its seven regions: London, Thames Valley, Central, Midlands, North West, North East and Tyne Tees. These range from legal topic seminars to networking events. It also has five special interest groups: In-house Charity Lawyers, Corporate Governance, Sole/Small Team, Food & Drink (North & South) and Automotive and it has international affiliations to In-house Counsel Worldwide (ICW). The group is made up of more than 6,000 in-house legal professionals in the UK and is connected to global in-house membership worldwide via ICW.

The focus of the C&I Group is to build a sense of community amongst in-house legal professionals. Much of the work is done by volunteers, who are themselves working in-house and can mentor other members, or in turn be mentored. Membership is inclusive and includes legal executives, paralegals, barristers, solicitors, lawyers and advocates from all jurisdictions and levels of experience. The size of organisation will also vary, with in-house teams working in an environment where they might be the sole in-house counsel, to professionals working in teams of global multinational businesses, where the legal teams can number several hundred individuals.

I find benefit comes from being able to interact with others to discuss where they might obtain legal services, the types of legal challenges they face and how some of those issues might be handled. This type of advice is not always available from external counsel, as they may not have experience of dealing with an IHL’s internal clients, who may not be lawyers.

C&I Group also collaborates with regulators and professional bodies. Legal professionals may be associated with one or other professional body, all of which view the in-house legal professional as a sub-set of their main membership. This means that occasionally, the interests of the in-house community, most of whom are the clients for those professionals, may be addressed as an afterthought or even an add-on. With the C&I Group involvement, in-house professionals can be confident that their interests are being represented. The group’s members routinely speak at conferences and engage with regulators and professional bodies.

A perception, certainly held by some, was that an IHL was much more of a generalist. However, the current position for most IHLs differs widely and working in a virtual team of global colleagues, the IHL is an expert for his own business. The IHL will have a view on his organisation’s legal risk and how to mitigate those risks. Through membership, an IHL will have an informal network of colleagues in other jurisdictions on whom to call for local knowledge to help deliver practical cross jurisdictional advice for their business.

The C&I Group, through the ICW, gives a deeper perspective, helping to build areas of expertise specific to an individual professional, with themes on career development, developing transferable legal skills, identifying methods of handling risk and creating a career trajectory for legal professionals. This helps build an IHL’s involvement at higher levels, regardless of the specific jurisdictional knowledge which means the IHL becomes a more skilled professional, with a toolkit of abilities that enables them to better deliver a commercially astute legal service.

About Nina: Nina Barakzai is immediate past chair of the UK’s C&I Group, representing UK in-house counsel; she is also chair of the C&I Group’s corporate governance committee. Nina is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), was admitted as a solicitor in March 2000, is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and is an accredited mediator. She serves as trustee for a small community charity. She sat on CIMA’s Professional Standards Committee until June 2013 and continues to sit on the CIMA Research Advisory Group. Until December 2011, Nina served as a board member on the International Federation of Accountants International Ethics Standards Board. Her professional experience is in compliance, ethics, privacy, commercial and corporate transactions, cloud services, social media and consumer protection, principally in the IT/communications, media and financial services sectors.