Tricia Grace

Tricia Grace

Corporate Services Director at IMServ

In this in-depth interview, we chat to Tricia Grace about her new role at IMServ, why she chose a career in-house, how she took a revolutionary approach to the legal function at Cordant and much more

Tricia, can you please quickly summarise your education and career path to date?

I joined the legal profession fairly late in life, having worked in a range of jobs (and latterly, in the pub trade). Deciding to change career was the best career decision I could have made, although it required a lot of tenacity.  I worked my way through a series of admin temp jobs until I could join Norton Rose as a legal secretary. That gave me enough experience to be able to join the in-house legal team of Mitchells and Butlers plc as a legal assistant while studying for my CILEX qualification during the evenings and weekends. Once I completed my academic training, which took about four years, my boss advised me that to become the best lawyer I could be, I should join a good private practice firm in order to become a more technical lawyer. So, I moved to the Commercial department of Shoosmiths, and was lucky enough to work closely with a really wide range of highly skilled commercial lawyers. I came to a crossroads where I needed to decide whether I wanted to push forward with a goal of becoming a partner, or whether I wanted to push towards a Head of Legal role. I chose to move in-house again, as I particularly enjoyed working within a business. I was a commercial lawyer with the Impellam Group, before moving on to do some work as a contractor.

You recently stepped down as General Counsel at Cordant. What prompted the move?

I thrive on challenge, and enjoy being thrown in the deep end! I joined Cordant about five years ago as a contractor to help with some contract review work, and was delighted when they asked me to join them permanently as Head of Legal soon after that. I was tasked with reducing the company’s legal risk profile, which was challenging as they were a near-billion turnover staffing and FM business, but had not had a legal function before. During my time with Cordant, I was able to significantly reduce the company’s legal risk profile, and introduce transparency for the Board and other stakeholders by developing a full service legal and legal compliance function (expanding from contract reviews in one division to commercial legal support, employment litigation, disputes, and ad hoc support, as well as supporting the company secretary, managing the company’s insurance, and heading the GDPR implementation project). I was privileged to have been supported by some amazing lawyers and legal professionals during that period.

You took quite a revolutionary approach to the legal team there. Can you tell us a bit about that?

The first key decision was that the team did not need to be based in an office.  As someone who had been contracting on a flexible basis already, I could see that we didn’t need to have the team in the office.  Presenteeism is one of my pet peeves in the legal sector, and just doesn’t fit with the business world.

The team is a virtual team, and everyone works from home, with the option to go and work in a local office if they want to. Working from home for us was not necessarily all about flexible working - it was more of a distributed working team. To support a virtual team, and to ensure that we still delivered a consistent service to the business, I set up a virtual office. The team would jump on a video call with everyone else for three half days a week. This allowed juniors to listen in on calls that senior lawyers were having, gave everyone the chance to have a bit of banter, and really helped cement the team’s relationships. We agreed etiquette rules around things like speaking more slowly, and when to mute yourself (things you take for granted in a “real world” office). We even swapped noisy keyboards for quiet ones! 

I also created an internal team website to help everyone be as self-sufficient as possible. I developed a legal contract playbook to help the junior lawyers work on contracts as much as possible. We invested in LawGeex’s AI software, to help speed through contract reviews, and to enable supervision and collaboration between the team and the wider business. We also held regular video training sessions on legal topics, some of which we recorded and shared with the business. Finally, we held quarterly legal training days to focus on core skills and sharing knowledge. 

I am incredibly proud of the fact that the team grabbed the technology available to us (via the Google platform) and constantly pushed to deliver a better service to more of our customers. 

What’s your new role at IMServ?

I am the Corporate Services Director at IMServ, which is a really broad role that is allowing me to get more involved in additional areas such as managing health and safety, compliance, business services, fleet management and data reporting, while still managing the legal and contract work and relationships within the business. As a member of the IMServ Executive Team, I am really excited about focussing on the strategic development of the company.

How has it been so far?

Absolutely fantastic! There’s a lot of industry regulation to get to grips with, and the company is a data-driven business with a huge focus on technology, which is a really exciting place to be working.

What first attracted you to law as a career?

I love the critical thinking and problem solving aspects of the law. The law as a principle is something most people take for granted, but access to justice is crucial for all of us in our personal lives and having great and passionate lawyers and legal professionals can genuinely make a significant impact on people’s lives. In business, lawyers get to apply a vast range of skills and knowledge to help shape the company’s future. The best lawyers make non-lawyers feel like the law is a good thing, and that it (and lawyers generally) make a positive difference.

You started in-house, and then moved to private practice before switching back to in-house?  Why do you prefer in-house?

I love being part of a business, and seeing the outcome of my advice.  In my new role, I am excited about taking on different types of work and business area, and I know that my legal career and experience to date will really help me deliver in my new role.

What was the biggest surprise?

How adaptable you have to be as an in-house lawyer. That means trying not to be too dogmatic in your approach, being prepared to push the boundaries on things like technology or how you work. As the world of work evolves, it also means being prepared to work more collaboratively with non-legal colleagues. Giving my business colleagues the tools to do some work that might have previously been the domain of “the lawyer” is a key focus for a lot of in-house lawyers.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of working in-house?

It is not for everyone. In-house lawyers now work as many (or more) hours than private practice colleagues as the challenge is always to do more with less. Be bold, be brave and have a sense of humour. The relationships you build and the experience you get mean the world really is yours for the taking!

What four words best sum you up as a lawyer?

Pragmatic. Resilient. Determined. Cheerful.

Do you have a motto that you live by in business?

It’s not my motto but I have adopted it and live by it: It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Finally, who has been your biggest career inspiration and why?

It’s difficult to limit this to one person (although Lady Hale and Ruth Ginsberg are strong candidates!).  I’ve had so many bosses and colleagues who believed in me, and who showed me what kind of a career I could have. However my last boss, Ken Steers (Group HR Director at Cordant Group plc) taught me to embrace change, to always look to do more and be more. He believed in me and supported me, and I would not be where I am today were it not for his consistent support, guidance and mentoring.