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
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
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
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
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