Continuous Professional Development represents a mandatory and annual part of the lawyerly role. Some of us do it with enthusiasm; some with reluctance; some believe in its purpose and some see it as a necessary part of a form-filling, box-ticking process. Over 3 days in September I was offered the opportunity to attend a CPD course that offered something a bit different, unique even: LBCambridge. This course would not concentrate on one single area of law but instead would focus on the role of the in-house lawyer. For two and a half days the focus would be on us…just us and this blog is written by me…just me.
Despite the appalling turn in the weather the welcome at Queens’ College was warm. Ferried by taxi from the car park or train station we were efficiently checked in to our accommodation and handed our name badge and ‘LBCompliment’ bag which was filled with chocolate goodies. As somebody who pays attention to the quality of biscuits and coffee at events (it’s all about the customer experience) this was a good indication of things to come.
As the course kicked off on the Sunday evening it was straight from dorms to supper in the Old Kitchens and the first chance to meet delegates. After hearing the story of travels to the event (Italy, South Africa, Sweden, and the frozen north) I was starting to feel that my 50 minute trip didn’t show enough dedication. People had come a long way to be here. From the get-go the room was full of chatter, a continuous theme of this event.
Straight from dinner it was time to learn and, wow, what a venue. The Old Hall is truly stunning but, no time to look, it was time to learn and Paul Gilbert opened the evening session which was focused on our homework: an in-house case study that many around my table related to. Each table was asked to discuss and identify a learning objective which would be addressed by Paul the following day. To enable the discussion we were introduced to the role of the ‘Wise Owls’; individuals with a wide range of sound commercial and in-house experience from all walks of business life, who were there to help guide and prompt discussion. The theme moulded by our group was ‘how to improve the dialogue with the business and in so doing embed legal within the business’. Catchy I know but it had meaning to all of us sat around the table.
For the second part of the evening and to demonstrate the inclusive nature of the course Paul welcomed Nick Hardie (an experienced Financial Director) to the stage for a Q&A session on financial context for legal services. Themes raised here were pulled through into a delegate’s discussion and we were given the chance to grill Nick more closely as he spent time with each group. The session in the Old Hall closed with Paul’s invitation to join the team for a drink at the local pub. There may have been a small rush…
The evening before we had heard talk of ‘input’ and ‘output’ and my day started with bacon sandwich input. Not bad. With an 8:15am start the theme for the morning was ‘strategic and operational imperatives’ kicked off by Paul’s presentation on the 6 learning objectives identified the night before. Somebody had been up long past ‘time’ being called in the pub putting a presentation together. A blend of interactive sessions with the Wise Owls surrounded an interview with Tom Kilroy who was able to offer insight into both the General Counsel and CEO roles. One of the sessions focused on the delegate’s interpretation of the in-house role. Our table pushed forward with thoughts on a strap-line and I think it’s fair to say that the marketing teams of our respective companies may be missing a trick; there was definitely some untapped talent at the table.
The afternoon sessions concentrated on resource management themes including morale, creativity under pressure, outsourcing and coping with difficult choices. The group sessions were broken for a presentation by Colonel Bob Stewart who told the story of his work in the early 1990’s as UN Commander in Bosnia. It was a story simply told with the aid of over 100 photographs giving a graphic illustration of a world so different from that which the majority of us occupy. Colonel Bob spoke frankly about his challenges and the principles he maintained during difficult times. This session generated what quickly became known as ‘the Bob effect’; a slightly overwhelming sense of perspective. For the moment the chatter and good humour dipped a little; it would be hard not to be affected by the imagery and the impact of the decision making process in such an environment. To get us back on ‘chatter course’ the Wise Owls (including Colonel Bob) worked with us to pull out development themes from his presentation focusing on subjects such as clarity of communication and the delivery of succinct messages. The afternoon session finished on an upbeat note after a lively resourcing debate enabled through the contribution of the sponsors and Paul closed with an invitation to pre-dinner drinks and timings for the formal dinner in the Old Hall.
The whole event is well structured but informal yet the chatter over drinks lends a further dimension giving plenty of time for one-to-one sessions with the Wise Owls or the chance to seek out people working within other groups. We moved on to dinner in the Old Hall and I was lucky enough to be sat between Colonel Bob and Tom Kilroy and had a very entertaining evening; the opportunities to learn from others simply did not stop.
A day of work on the boardroom perspective, soft skills and personal development kicked off with a Q&A session with David Amos who has oodles of boardroom experience and plenty of firmly held views to share on the expectations and role of the trusted adviser. Themes raised in this session were pulled through to the personal development session where Wise Owls challenged us on our approach. Are we taking control of our development? If not what can we do? What do we take from our learning objectives set on day one and how do we apply them? How does legal get closer to the business? Is it us or them?
After a short break to refuel we were introduced to the work of Charles Grimes; time to focus on those soft skills that we lawyers may (at our peril) often under value. We were up and down in our chairs, using colour cards, sharing views on personal characteristics and choosing a single statement that best represented ourselves. I’ve read some of Carl Gustav Jung’s work on psychological types but this session was a full-on living and breathing example of those traits in action. We were asked not just to focus on ourselves but the personality traits of those who are opposite to us. We were introduced to our personal profiles and given a short while to read and absorb. I’m not ready to share mine with the wider world but with my feet firmly set in the red camp it was very interesting to learn what I might be like to work with. Obviously I’d like to believe that I’m a ‘one-stop fun-fest’ of direction and results but after 20 minutes with my opposite in the green camp I’m seeing things from a different point of view. Oh.
We worked in our colour groups which gave me a chance to see some of my personality traits in others. As I expressed shock at an example of extreme behaviour the Wise Owl just looked at me and raised her eyebrows. Point taken. The tasks we were set were short and sharp and gave plenty of scope for interpretation. I don’t want to give the game away but cricket selectors DO NOT consider the yellow team. The after match party would be awesome but frankly their throwing needs work!
LBCambridge isn’t designed to deliver one ‘eureka’ moment when you can stop and declare that you have simply “got it”; it’s more subtle than that. I found it to be a series of “oh’s” (dawning realisation) and a slight shaking of the head at the simplicity of some solutions and ideas. My education came as much from the delegates as it did from the Wise Owls through the sharing of experiences. It was also the opportunity to see, through the eyes of others, the skills and knowledge that I may already possess and the ones that may need some ‘TLC’.
I was really anticipating LBCambridge and was generally thrilled to be a part of it but I didn’t expect to enjoy it quite as much as I did. The LBCambridge team have worked tirelessly to produce a supremely well organised event which is focused but driven by the learning objectives of the participants. Paul and his team closed the event with a short photo montage of the delegates across the course; concentration, thoughtfulness, excitement, happiness and reflection are a few observations of the closing piece. This was not a course for passive participation.
This was not just CPD.
This was LBCambridge CPD.