Dura-Line Assistant General Counsel, Ciaran Price
Dura-Line Assistant GC, Ciaran Price, describes the most cosmopolitan company he has ever worked with and gives us an insight into his own personal In-house Legal Journey – from Butlins to Osborne Clarke and vacuum cleaners to online connectivity. Currently in the market for 2 new members of his remote working legal team, Ciaran also picks up the context around that.
Our interview with Ciaran is the latest in Florit Legal’s In-house Legal Journeys® series.
Who are Dura-Line and what factors made you choose to work there?
Dura-Line manufactures the products which power the growth of the Internet and connected technology – the conduit and associated infrastructure which carry the fibre-optic cables along which information travels. We are headquartered in the US but have a strong European presence and manufacturing facilities across the world. We are part of the Orbia group of companies, which combined have around 20,000 employees globally.
I wanted the challenge of building a function from the ground up, along with combining working for a global company with the freedom to work permanently from home.
Why is it a good place to work?
Dura-Line is the most cosmopolitan company I have worked with – every day I speak to colleagues in the US, Singapore, India, Poland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the list goes on. The opportunity to learn and develop experience of other cultures and legal jurisdictions is fantastic. Dura-Line is also very friendly – people are not always happy to see lawyers, but here everyone has been very welcoming and open, both personally and in terms of the function.
You’ve been there 18 months. What challenges have come your way so far and what are you working on now?
The Legal function is very new at Dura-Line, so there are opportunities for growth every day! My team and I are still introducing the business to the idea of what a legal team is for and how we can (should!) be involved in their work day-to-day. It is motivating to be building a whole function and putting in place the processes, relationships, etc. to make that function successful.
We are currently working to launch a new Contract Lifecycle Management system within EMEA, then eventually globally. It will help us to manage contracts from preparation, negotiation, review, approval, signature, storage and eventual revisit. It will mean the different business functions will have visibility and involvement in key contracts in a way they never have before at Dura-Line; it’s really helping to move the business forward.
What are the key issues facing Dura-Line’s industry?
At the moment the telecoms infrastructure market is booming – the pandemic taught everyone the same lesson all at once: a society can never be too connected. So there is a huge demand and all the manufacturers are struggling to keep pace. That brings its own challenges, but a key one for the legal team in such an environment is helping to keep the business thinking about long-term strategy, good future-proofing etc. rather than necessarily just chasing the short-term profits which might be on offer.
How are in-house lawyers perceived now, do you think?
In-house lawyers, in the UK at least, are now broadly seen as being as important to the good functioning of a business as a Finance team – ie. absolutely essential. We’ve moved from being the people who basically just looked after contracts and litigation, to being true business partners at every level of the organisation who help it achieve success. The challenge which comes with that ‘partnering’ mindset is keeping the requisite degree of independence from the business in order to not lose sight of our role as the ‘conscience’ of an organisation.
Based on your experiences, what would you like European law firms to do that they don’t currently do?
It’s a common gripe, but be more decisive and commercial in your advice. Firms in Continental Europe are particularly guilty of still sending advice that reads like something prepared in the 90s – ‘here are 15 pages of quotes from various statutes and cases, with a paragraph at the end telling you it’s ultimately your decision what to do.’
What’s most important to you when hiring in-house lawyers?
The most important are integrity and adaptability – in-house lawyers need to be able to roll with whatever the business decides it wants to do, while always bearing in mind our role to spot, manage and mitigate risks.
Very important for me is also personability – the Legal team at Dura-Line are building the reputation of the function alongside its capability, which you can only do by building relationships with people.
Why is now such a good time to join the Dura-Line, and specifically the EMEA legal function?
Both are in a state of positive growth – the market for Dura-Line’s products is exploding and the company is ambitious both for its existing range and for new product lines. The Legal function will grow 400% between the end of 2020 and the end of 2022
What originally attracted you to becoming a lawyer?
I had pretty vague notions of why I wanted to be a lawyer – I recall I wanted a secure, stable profession while also helping people. I was lucky enough to have good academics, so I decided to give the law a try after I finished my undergraduate History degree. Almost to my surprise, I’ve been enjoying myself ever since.
What’s the most thought-provoking interview question you’ve ever been asked?
‘How much of your success do you owe to luck, how much to genes and how much to hard work?’
Who’s been the biggest influence to you in your career?
My first Principal when I was a trainee and NQ in private practice – Lara Burch. She was the head of the Commercial team and a very experienced partner, who was very generous about sharing her knowledge and time with junior lawyers. I would say I still think about her advice at least once a month and try to apply it.
Sports people and top execs have coaches. Have you ever been coached in your professional life and how do you feel you benefited from it?
Yes I have been through two different coaching programmes at different organisations. I enjoyed the experience both times; I like the sporting analogy, that coaching is about making fundamental changes to your ‘game’ – your mental mindset, preparation, technique, etc. – which we result in longterm benefits.
What advice would you give to someone in a law firm looking to move in-house?
When looking for a new role in-house, try not to worry too much about the industry a particular company is in or the subject matter of what you’ll theoretically be working on day-to-day. Some of the most interesting professional experiences I’ve had (or am likely to have) were working for a company that made vacuum cleaners. Rather, look for a good role with a chance for development and progression, along with good people who will challenge and support you.
It’s probably fair to say that the time in which we learn and grow the most in our professional careers is when we’ve made the wrong call on something. Are there any particular moments that come to mind in your own professional development?
There are so many. Especially in the first three years I was in-house, I felt most weeks like I had made some career-ending mistake which the company would never recover from. But eventually you realise that everyone feels the same and that generally you are making a positive impact rather than the other way around. I do recall a particular incident regarding an obscure point of German employment law which ended up in litigation, costing us a tidy sum. But even then, once you hold your hand up, explain, apologise and people reflect on the value you’ve brought elsewhere, everyone moves past it.
What takes a lawyer from good to great when they move in-house, and how can they make the best impact?
You can’t advise a business in the best way unless you understand it. So go out and meet people, at all levels of the organisation. Go to the offices, the manufacturing facilities, the retail stores, the call centres, the distribution centres. Attend meetings of the Finance team, Health and Safety reviews, HR meetings, Sales conferences. You’ll build relationships, but also by finding out how the business works you can deliver sensible, relevant advice which actually helps people.
When should a CEO or CFO look to hire their first in-house legal counsel?
Almost no time is too early – companies often make the mistake of trying to ‘justify the cost’ of a legal function by reference to their profitability or the risk profile of their dealings. But the role of a modern in-house counsel is so broad in terms helping to guide the business to make good decisions and tread the path of compliance that they can add value immediately, in the same way a good CFO does.
Do you see a place for AI on your side of the legal profession?
A solution which truly could populate, or effectively review, low value and/or low risk contracts would be a game-changer for in-house teams. So much time is spent month-to-month working on the kind of contract which experienced legal professionals shouldn’t be spending time on; a solution which you could trust and which could free up their time would be a great tool.
As an experienced lawyer, what advice would you give a fellow legal professional looking to maintain his or her own mental health in a very busy job?
Three main things. First, try to have a structure to your day, whether working from home or in an office: make time away from your desk and phone for a cup of tea, a walk, some lunch. Log off at a manageable time and stick to it. Second, bear in mind that the demand will never slacken, so trying to reach the end of a ‘to do’ list or the bottom of an inbox will only create stress for yourself; be prepared to roll with what comes through the door. And third, always remember that (luckily) our job doesn’t generally involve life-and-death decisions; my brother is in the Fire Service and that job is real pressure. Excellence and attention to detail is important of course, but don’t let it blind you to where the job sits in the grand scheme.
How have work practices changed in the last couple of years and how did Covid impact on you?
Because we are a manufacturing business, for many of our factory workers little changed even during the depths of lockdowns, although of course there were many security measures to which they had to adapt. For my office-based peers, our remit is regional so we were already used to working remotely to keep in touch.
Before Dura-Line, I went from making 60+ flights for business in 2019 to making none at all in 2020 – it was a very strange feeling, but because of my regional remit at least I was used to dealing with my team and colleagues remotely. However, having joined Dura-Line during the Covid lockdown I have learned the limitations of technology in trying to build trust relationships – you really need to get out and meet people face to face.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I love travelling, both in the UK and abroad. I spend a lot of weekends hillwalking and road cycling, preferably with a pub lunch somewhere in the mix. And although I don’t play anymore, I still love watching rugby union.
What was your very first job?
I worked on the funfair at Butlin’s in Minehead – the only job I’ve had where my lack of ‘indoor voice’ has been a bonus.
Besides being a lawyer, if money were no object and you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you most like to try or do?
Be a skydiving instructor.
If you could spend an hour with anyone at all, who would it be?
Robert DeNiro, just so I could listen to the stories.
Do you have a hidden talent?
I can eat more than I look like I would be able to eat.
Back to the Future (all three).
My parents’ original 1970s vinyl turntable – in the words of John Denver, it introduced me to some friends of mine and brightened up some days.
I am not ashamed to say that I have eaten in a Nando’s on every continent.
Favourite holiday destination so far, and where next?
The South Island of New Zealand so far. I hope to visit Brazil and Mexico.
At the end of a hard week, what’s a treat that you look forward to?
The mandatory Friday morning bacon sandwich. Unsmoked back bacon. White bread. Butter. Brown sauce in moderation. The last word in culinary excellence.
Most annoying phrase you’ve heard at work.
‘I’m just speaking out loud’ (that’s just known as ‘speaking’).
Thanks Ciaran 🙌
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