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Engaging and Empowering Your Lawyers

An Interview with Bardugov Alexander, Head of Legal, Banca Intesa (Russia)

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Bardugov Alexander is the Head of Legal of Banca Intesa in Moscow, a role which he has held since 2013. He first joined Banca Intesa in 2004 as a Junior Legal Counsel, gradually progressing to Head of Sector for Banking Operations Legal Support in 2008, Head of Legal Support for Retail and SME in 2009, and Head of Business Legal Support in 2010.

CEELM: Let’s start with what it is that you are managing precisely. How large is your team and how is it structured?

ALEXANDER: We’re a team of 25 lawyers in total, with some working in our Moscow office and some spread across the country. Russia is rather large, and that spread was necessary to comfortably manage the time differences we need to deal with. 

We have three main areas: Business Support, Litigation, and Corporate Governance. In addition to these we also have one lawyer in charge of labor disputes. 

CEELM: I assume the last one is the smallest. Which one is the largest?

ALEXANDER: Indeed, the labor disputes “team” is the smallest –  but it does not mean that it is less important. The Business Support squad is the largest one. 

CEELM: Do they all report to you directly?

ALEXANDER: Each of these directions has a specific head and the members of each report to them first and foremost. Of course though, if there is a crisis, I may decide to take a direct reporting line. 

CEELM: What is your preferred approach? Do you prefer hiring young lawyers and grooming them or bringing experienced professionals on board?

ALEXANDER: If we can afford it time-wise we’ll bring on young lawyers and help them grow in our structure. I myself first came to the bank in 2004 as a young lawyer, and some of the most important members of my team have been working here for about ten years. There are times, though, when we need to hire a senior lawyer, such as when we identify a gap in knowledge we need for complex matters. Another resource we might feel we have a deficiency in is time – sometimes it simply takes a long time to grow a lawyer and we have a human capital gap. 

That said, our lawyers are subject to regular assessments and those that show the potential for it are promoted internally, or even offered to come and join us in the HQ if they are based elsewhere in the country. 

CEELM: You mentioned some of your lawyers have been with you for over a decade. What are the most useful tools you’ve identified in terms of retention?

ALEXANDER: Simply put, I try to create an atmosphere and workflow that allows lawyers to feel that they are a part of something big and something important. 

I also try to be constantly thinking about equity and fairness in the relationships between employer and the employees and I try to give them a balance between the work they have on their plates and their own lives. That, of course, is done while keeping in mind that sometimes we simply need to put in real effort and dedication. 

CEELM: How specifically do you foster that feeling of belonging to “something big and important”?

ALEXANDER: I do my best to task lawyers with not just routine work but also legally interesting matters that help them see they do more than just boring work. I try to expose them to projects that illustrate to them that they are at the forefront of the legal work – not just within our company, but beyond. For example, I rotate the biggest deals that land on our table between different lawyers so that each has a part in each big deal. I do this because I try to motivate them with the understanding that legal work is something that is both critical to the company’s operations and challenging in terms of both legal knowledge and creativity.

We also try to identify new skills that are not yet being tapped into within our team. For example, we tried to implement a level of automatization in our legal work for the deals of our bank, and for this project I tasked a colleague I knew had some relevant experience to step in. We ended up implementing the automatization without external input at the end of the day – a great instance of killing two birds with one stone, as she was engaged and excited to take ownership of the project and we kept costs considerably lower than they could have been. And indeed, she was very glad to have such a project and she took a great deal of care of it and was very engaged. You could see her satisfaction going through the roof, and at the end of the day we had a new automatization platform with electronic signatures set up, etc. 

CEELM: What other motivation tools have you found worked well for your team?

ALEXANDER: If I am invited to any events – especially those aimed at awarding in-house teams for excellence – I try to take a colleague with me to show him/her that our team is recognized in the market in various ways for the legal work we carry out. That’s something really useful in my mind – to use those opportunities to show the perception from outside of the team as well.

Another non-material tool I found that works wonders is our tradition of electing the best employee of the year within our company. I was thrilled when some of our lawyers had the honor of receiving this, not just because of their excitement, but also because it showed everyone on our team that we’re not just an invisible back-office function – rather, we’re an integrated part of the whole team. 

And, of course, it’s not purely non-material tools that we have at our disposal. For example, we work constantly to improve our work and make it more effective and efficient. Ideas that can help our team be more effective are always appreciated and we encourage team members to put them forward. If anyone has an idea that is implemented and is successful, that person has the right to expect a motivational bonus. 

CEELM: One of the common complaints with hiring new people for the in-house legal function – whether junior lawyers or senior lawyers coming from private practice – is their lack of business acumen. How do you overcome that?

ALEXANDER: We choose a mentor for this person. We quite rarely hire people that require a lot of additional specific legal education, but we try to give them a mentor to induct them into the working side of our business and our operations. That usually does the trick for us.

CEELM: What do you believe is the biggest challenge you are facing in terms of managing your in-house legal team?

ALEXANDER: There is a saying: “Being together is not to look at each other, but to look in one direction.” It’s about having all of your people in the legal team reach a common understanding with all the colleagues from the other functions and make them all look forward and look at specific situations with the same approach. The ideal is for that to happen instantly and naturally and not just have to push everyone each time to do so. We need to build that common ground in terms of understanding and evaluating situations. I supposed this is, in a general business-strategy sense, the biggest challenge. 

CEELM: Looking towards the future, what are the main things you believe will impact your team?

ALEXANDER: I think anyone would have a hard time predicting exactly what is going to happen. From my point of view, the main focus is on the new tools we have at our disposal. We will definitely continue to move towards digitalization of our work in general, it will greatly help us. However, I don’t believe legal work can be automated enough to replace standard legal analysis – but it can be digitalized to run much much faster. 

As such, one of our main goals is reworking our processes and work environment to “get more time.” For example, we aim to use automatization to “extract” additional time – which can then be reallocated to other projects, personal life, constant growth, etc. Why is time important? Because a lawyer needs some time to go through new information about laws, best practices, etc. If he/she is overloaded with the daily work routine, these are missed opportunities which will bring us to stagnation. By extracting time, people will be able to find time for their own growth, and that is another challenge we need to keep an eye out for in terms of managing our legal team  

This Article was originally published in Issue 6.3 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.

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