Ever thought what it might be like to move in-house?
Kerry, firstly – can you tell us a bit about your career to date?
Full of a variety of disciplines and industries! I trained at Berg Legal (then Berg & Co) and spent the first three years of my career there as a commercial litigator. I then got the opportunity to move in-house where I’ve remained for the last 19 years. My first in-house role was in the world of asset finance with Lex Vehicle Leasing, an RAC subsidiary, then I went into software, IP and IT between 2008 and 2014 with IRIS Software Group and Advanced Computer Software Group. Finally I moved to Assurant in 2014 to head up its European Legal Team.
What made you switch from private practice to an in-house role?
It wasn’t a conscious decision; it was more an opportunity that headed my way. I was approached by a head-hunter and whilst I was happy in my existing role in private practice, I was more excited about the opportunity to learn more and gain new business and commercial skills as against being a litigator for the rest of my life.
Would you ever go back?
Very unlikely. I am now a business person with specialist legal skills and after such a long time in industry I don’t feel I could fit back into the role of private practice adviser anymore. I enjoyed my time in private practice but my career has moved on a lot since then, I’ve effectively ‘grown up’ in-house and my skills and outlook are more suited to being in industry.
You’re now European Legal Director at Assurant. What does the business do?
It is a global provider of housing and lifestyle risk management solutions such as insurance and extended warranties with a focus on products that help protect the things that matter most to consumers such as smartphones, gadgets and home appliances. It has a global footprint with operations in 16 countries throughout Europe, North America, Canada, Latin America, Asia and Assurant Inc, a Fortune 500 company and member of the S&P500, has traded on the New York Stock Exchange (AIZ) since 2004.
What does your role entail?
The European business is headquartered in Crewe, UK and has offices in France, Italy, Germany and Spain. In a nutshell, my role is to manage legal risk across the existing European businesses and any new territories either by provision of internal legal support and advice and/or management of the same from external providers. It is also to manage the internal European legal team to achieve the same goal.
What are the main challenges of working across different territories?
Within Europe, the differing laws, differing cultures and language! Outside of Europe, the perception that Europe is one jurisdiction and there is a one size fits all European legal system.
How is the legal team structured?
Assurant globally has an International legal team, which the European legal team is part of. The European legal team consists of five internal staff – three lawyers in the UK including me and two in-house counsel in France. We are able to cover a large proportion of work internally but specialist and overflow work is outsourced. Italy, Germany and Spain are supported by external lawyers with whom we have close relationships which are a key factor to our success in managing those relationships, processes, quality of work and of course, the costs.
What’s next for Assurant?
To continue to grow and be a leading provider of housing and lifestyle risk management solutions with a proven record of outperformance.
On a more personal note, what is the best thing about your job?
Most definitely the people and the variety of work. I have had the pleasure to work with some very talented, smart and fun people, both lawyers and business people and have learnt an enormous amount from them. I also love the fact that every day is completely different in terms of work, country, culture, language and people. It makes for an exciting roller-coaster!
What has been the greatest achievement in your professional life to date?
My last two roles have been at executive and director levels and my existing role required me to come in with nothing, inherit nothing and create a cost effective legal structure (balancing internal heads and external support) to provide support across all Assurant European footprint countries. Whilst achieving these has given me a huge amount of job satisfaction, I also get a great sense of achievement from watching those colleagues whom I have helped and mentored over the years grow and develop their careers to become the best they can.
What would you have been if you weren’t a lawyer?
I own an ex-racehorse so would have loved to have owned a livery yard and look after other peoples3 horses alongside my own all day long. Incredibly dirty and smelly but very rewarding!