Up for the challenge. Metro Bank's Sally-Ann James
Sally-Ann James was recently named Banking's InHouse Individual of the Year by the Legal 500. Sally-Ann James was Metro Bank's first lawyer, joining the company in 2012 and four years later she guided the challenger bank to a listing on the London Stock Exchange.
Sally-Ann's career began in general practice before making the leap to corporate when she joined Manches & Co in the late 80's. She then spent nearly 20 years with the Co-opertative Bank and Co-operative Financial Services business before joining her current employer.
Tell us about Metro Bank PLC?
I am the General Counsel at Metro Bank PLC and have just had my 5 year anniversary. Metro Bank PLC first opened its doors on the high street in July 2010 and was the first bank to receive a banking licence in over 100 years. We now have 48 stores, nearly 1m customer accounts and 2500 colleagues.
Tell us about your role as General Counsel?
I joined Metro Bank as the first lawyer and now have a team of 5.
I see the GC role not only as lawyer but also business advisor. Yes, we manage and deal with legal risk but it is also important to have a broad, deep knowledge of our business and its strategy. This makes you a more effective lawyer because when you bring that extra dimension you are much more likely to be involved in all the important conversations at the earliest possible stage for you to add most value. I also think it is really critical to success to identify your clients and build effective relationships with them.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I really enjoy the fact that my role is so varied. I also enjoy the fact I can offer opportunities to other lawyers and those new to the profession and watch them flourish. Ultimately, I want to be able to offer Training Contracts; I had no background in the law when I started my journey and would probably struggle to get a Training Contract or opportunity today, I want to be able to give that to someone.
What are the main challenges of your role?
In-house, one of the main challenges is resource and the next one is, priorities. I often think about it as, in private practice, as a lawyer, you are core business, and in-house, you are not, you are a cost and therefore it is important you can show the value you add, to avoid being at the back of the queue.
Why the law and why In House?
Well one was a complete accident and the other the result of a great deal of planning.
You can see from my grey hair that I might have a few years under my belt and grew up watching Crown Court on TV. So, as a young girl I dreamed of and planned for being a lawyer. After my degree I followed a very traditional route but in the early 90s I needed to move from Oxford to Manchester. I was a Corporate Transactional lawyer and there was not much call for those at that time and, having practised as a criminal lawyer early on in my career, I was even considering applying for the CPS! Luckily for me, and quite by chance, I saw an advertisement in the Law Society Gazette for a solicitor, which turned out to be at The Co-operative Bank. That happy accident was one of the best things that ever happened in my career, so far.
Have you always worked in House? Where did you train and work before you joined Metro Bank PLC?
No, as you can see from my previous responses. I trained at a firm called Becke Phipps (now Hewitsons) in Northampton, near where I grew up. On qualification I began my career as a matrimonial and criminal lawyer. My idealism lasted 3 years and then I managed to change discipline by persuading Manches to give me a chance as a corporate lawyer.
What is the best piece of advice you can give to an ambitious Solicitor at the start of their legal career?
Remember, you will always be part of a team and many a promising career can be derailed by the relentless pursuit of personal goals. Also, be prepared to adapt, what you thought you wanted may not turn out as you thought but if you adapt, you can use your skills to pursue many other opportunities.
Who has been the biggest influence on your career and why?
Probably my first team, so first management responsibility, at The Co-operative Bank, they taught me to consider how my actions might land and how fantastic it is to see the colleagues you lead succeed.
So far what has been your career highlight?
The obvious thing is the listing. Metro Bank PLC was admitted to the main market of the London Stock Exchange on 10th March 2016 and I was obviously integral to the team who delivered the listing and was at the Stock Exchange for the count down. I had worked on listings in private practice but nothing beats working from the inside and seeing the fruits of your hard work realised, publically.
The less obvious thing would be falling in-house by accident and falling in love with being a lawyer again.
What has been your greatest achievement so far in life?
The young girl who watched Crown Court would definitely say, becoming a lawyer. No-one in my family had ever done A-levels, let alone a degree and professional qualification. I was lucky they were very supportive.
From a personal point of view, I am a 7 year survivor of breast cancer and nothing much can beat that!
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I love to travel and in the last 7 years I have been to France, Spain, Italy, the US, Austria, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Ethiopia, Kenya and Indonesia. The list of places I want to see is still long though!
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