Clare Beresford (CB): Tell me about the moment you decided to be a lawyer?
Nick Cranfield (NC): I never thought too much about what I was going to do as a career when I was a child. I have a twin sister and an older brother and one day at the dinner table our mum asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. My brother and sister came back with answers which quickly satisfied mum, but I was much less certain or satisfactory. At University I studied Politics and Economics, and once I graduated, I joined Cadbury’s sales and marketing team. I don’t think I was very career focussed even at this point. I then decided that I wanted to get further qualifications and it was whilst working as a supply teacher that after a month… I decided I want to be a lawyer.
CB: When were you most challenged as a lawyer and how did you overcome it?
NC: It was as a trainee (I trained with Eversheds in Leeds) during my seat in the litigation and disputes team. I was given a task to interview individuals employed by a client and then prepare statements. One Friday when the Partner supervising the matter was out of the office the General Counsel for the client asked if he could have the notes of the interviews. Trying to be pro-active I sent the drafts of the interviews. They did not meet the standards that the GC expected, and he raised it over the weekend with the Partner. At the time, probably quite fortunately, I didn’t have remote access to emails, so it wasn’t until Monday morning that I realised the mess I had inadvertently created. After about ten minutes of worrying, I walked over to the Partner’s desk, I explained why I had sent the notes and apologised.
What I took from it: Quickly owning the mistake and apologising was the right thing to do and was appreciated by the Partner and the client. More generally it was about always taking personal responsibility for the quality of your work. Striving to ensure that whatever you send to someone is the best you can do in the circumstances and being prepared to push back to ensure you can deliver the right quality. At its simplest what I learned was that it is sometimes ok, even necessary, to say to your client or your boss “this piece of work is not ready yet, can I have more time?”
Now as I manage and lead teams, I explain delivering quality is vitally important because it is fundamental to creating and establishing trust from colleagues and clients. Taking 30 seconds to re-read an email before you press send is important because paying attention to details and getting things right matters.
CB: Looking back on your career – not that it is over by any means - what are you most proud of?
NC: One experience that springs to mind is during my days as a trainee and NQ at Eversheds. I think it was a programme called “Eversheds Unlocked”, anyway it was a programme for local A-level students who came from disadvantaged backgrounds. The programme buddied up Eversheds staff with students for whom the prospect of going to university was a departure from their norm.
As an NQ I buddied up with a young man from Huddersfield who was bright and intelligent but no-one in his extended family had been to university before – it just wasn’t something his family had experienced. Over a few months, he came into office and we discussed how the law could be a good career for him and chatted through some of his and his family’s concerns.
Over the years I have kept track of him via social media and a few years ago he was called to the bar and is working as a barrister in London. The part I played in this young man’s success was tiny but it is a source of genuine pride that I was able to make a positive impact. Making sure that we get diversity and inclusion right in the legal profession is essential. Sometimes the challenges can feel overwhelming but if everyone makes an effort then all the small individual actions will aggregate into real change.
CB: What advice would you give to your younger self?
NC: I didn’t work very hard at school for my GCSEs and felt confident that I could get to the next stage without doing too much. When I did Economics at University I couldn’t catch up with the maths. The irony is that the subjects I didn’t like much at school I am now very interested in, for example science and maths. So, my advice would be pay a bit more attention to subjects you’re not enjoying or find more difficult.
CB: How do you deal with stress whether personal or professional?
NC: Running. This year I set myself the challenge of running at least 5K every day. It is very good for clearing the mind and thinking problems through. I do take things seriously at work but find it quite easy to switch off and compartmentalise challenges to return to them the following day. Having two young sons also helps. The boys are not bothered about what’s going with my work they just want to play and enjoy spending time with me. Having them around and having to see it from their perspective helps.
CB: Are there tools or techniques that have made you more productive?
NC: For me, the most important thing – and this can be challenging for a lot of lawyers - is to step away from the detail and be prepared to let go of control. Give the people who work for you the space to do brilliant things which also means they will make mistakes and fail from time to time. Allow that to happen and deal with the consequences rather than striving to always prevent error.
CB: What is the biggest challenge facing lawyers in the next 5 years?
NC: Recent events especially those around Black Lives Matter have made me reflect on the challenges around diversity and inclusion the legal profession faces. Personally, it has forced me to recognise the complacency in myself and some of my peers that has been something of a shock. I think there is an inclination to consider the legal profession to be intelligent, articulate and broadly liberal. However, it is obvious that significant prejudice is still experienced by many and that is unacceptable. The conclusion I have reached is that it is not enough for me to think and act in a non-racist way – I must do more. I also think that the continued use of PQE as an indicator of potential or readiness for progression is flawed. This mind-set creates a structural challenge to diversity because it favours those who can follow a more traditional career trajectory. I think we all need to be a bit braver in challenging this approach and look at how we recruit and promote, and I would particularly include law firms in this.
CB: What is one growth area/rising trend in the legal profession and why?
NC: Before I started my Legal Operations role last year, I was quite cynical about the application of technology to legal tasks and processes. I now recognise, that properly applied, the application of technology can and will be revolutionary across the legal profession. One of the main impacts will be the substantial reduction in the volume of tasks traditionally undertaken by junior lawyers both in-house and in private practice. This does raise the question of how we will develop lawyers in the future – for example how do junior lawyers learn how to review high value/high-risk contracts if they can’t cut their teeth on lower value/rick ones first?
CB: What have you learnt during this Covid-19 crisis that you will take forward in your career?
NC: Times of crisis bring out the worst and best in people. Put people under pressure and you see the people that want to rise to the challenge and those that tend to withdraw from it. And crucially individuals often surprise you and behave in ways which don’t accord with your expectations. You observe individuals, teams and organisations who can adapt and thrive quickly as circumstances alter and those who find it very difficult to change.
CB: And finally, the best location you’ve ever worked?
NC: Toyko. I lived in Shanghai for 4 years and was lucky enough to visit Tokyo regularly for work. It’s just a fantastic city.