Lara Oyesanya talks to us about why she chose a career in-house
Lara, thank you for taking some time to speak to us; firstly – why did you decide in-house was the right path for you?
My first in-house role was at British Railways Board where I also trained. The legal department was managed as a full service practice with its own case management systems and direct access to the bar. We had around 100 lawyers as fee earners who time recorded to manage the legal P&L. I was also exposed to and managed a huge variety of cases supporting the 93 businesses and 25 train operating companies that made up British Rail prior to privatisation in 1996.
There was a memorably varied range of issues arising from the huge property portfolio within British Rail Property Board such as the restoration of St Pancras Station buildings and the granting of the various shop leases at Liverpool Street Station. It’s also remarkable to see the construction of Crossrail having been part of the team that got the initial consultation started following Parliament’s approval. There were also a lot of landmark cases in employment, personal injury and commercial disputes, which are to date cited as case law precedents. The exposure and experience in such a fertile environment for resolving various legal issues in a pragmatic manner were the building blocks for my in-house career. The nine years I spent at British Rail were quite enriching for me professionally and sealed my career as an in-house lawyer.
What do you most enjoy about your role?
Working alongside business colleagues utilizing my legal skills to resolve business challenges with pragmatic solutions and along the way having a huge sense of accomplishment. I enjoy the combination of legal and commercial work that is inherent to being an in house lawyer for a business.
On the flip side, what is the most challenging aspect?
It’s quite challenging as a lawyer to fully understand the dynamics of business and feel competent to be able to work alongside business colleagues in providing a legal opinion but also earning their respect as a legal professional who also understands business. Limited resources for in-house legal services are an ongoing challenge and puts pressure on us to demonstrate that our legal input is good value for money.
Banking is a dynamic field so what are your predictions for the sector in 2019?
It is and I think will continue to be with open banking requirements and more disruptors operating in the sector with new finance technology (‘fintech’) that makes banking more interesting with the prospect of higher margins. I’m not great at predictions but I’ll guess there will be some consolidations in the near future as technology and automation take over traditional methods of banking. I think it’s important for traditional banks to also integrate more financial technology into their business if they want to become more competitive. I predict that demand for fintech lawyers will increase as traditional banks try to do this.
You were recently named Outstanding Business Woman of the Year 2018 at The Forward Ladies Awards. How did that feel?
I’m still processing the feelings but the recognition is huge for me having set my career path to be that of a business lawyer. It’s not something that I thought was frankly possible and I’m grateful to Forward Ladies and its judging panel who gave me this accolade. I am also thankful to my current employer Klarna and my previous employers, such as Barclays, BAE Systems, HBOS, RAC plc and Lex for providing me with the platform to build the legal and commercial capabilities that made me eligible for this award.
You are a champion of promoting diversity in the legal community so how will you use the award as a platform moving forward?
It’s a huge privilege to be a role model and I’m acutely aware of aspiring solicitors and young lawyers who may be finding it difficult to progress in this profession for a number of reasons. I’ll use the award to remind them of the possibilities and do all I can to provide guidance when called upon to do so. I’m also actively engaged in speaking at events catered to Black and Minority Ethnic (‘BAME’) and providing career advice to lawyers who attend these events. Through doing this I hope to contribute to the development of BAME lawyer professional networks.
Who has inspired you most in business?
I’m a big fan of Richard Branson because of his down to earth approach to business and his compassion. I can always relate to his business quotes as they’re more often than not quite simple and pragmatic. He tends to put people at the centre of his business ventures which I consider to be an important aspect of business / corporate life. He also doesn’t take himself too seriously and it takes a special skill to have that kind of balance as a leader.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
To learn as much as I possibly can and to keep on learning. I’ve found this quite useful in navigating my career working in different sectors and learning different areas of law and business.
Do you have a motto in business that you follow?
Always be respectful to everyone you come across you never know when your paths will cross again as well as never limiting one’s options.
Finally, how do you switch off outside of work?
Relating to my five children who are now young adults working as doctors, solicitors and a management consultant as well as my baby granddaughter who finds me mimicking her croaky laughs hilarious!