A day in the life of our Head of Legal
By Ahmed BadrJul 20165 min read
I’m the Head of Legal at GoCardless. My role is really varied so there’s no such thing as a typical or predictable day for me - I get involved in all kinds of tasks from designing a new contract management system through to reviewing foreign law advice on our international expansion.
Starting the day strong (and a little bit bruised)
I love to exercise and try to fit it in each morning - I think it’s a key part of my day and helps me feel energised. For the past three months I’ve been taking part in CrossFit at CrossFit CityRoad - it’s great but a real challenge; I’m using muscles I didn’t even think I had, and the ones I have seem useless!
After my workout, I’ll head into the office where I’ll make breakfast before checking my emails. There’s a pretty amazing selection of breakfast foods, with (literally) dozens of choices of granola. I try not to succumb to granola temptation, and typically have scrambled eggs on a bagel.
I receive a regular stream of email updates on the latest legal news and will read those over breakfast. Payments law is a relatively niche area, and not one in which I had experience before joining GoCardless, so I’m enjoying sharpening my regulatory skills.
After breakfast I look at my priorities for the week, which are set in a stand-up with the operations team every Monday. I’ll prepare a schedule for the day thinking about how to achieve those weekly goals while fitting them in around my various meetings.
Keeping ahead of hot topics
In terms of what I'm working on, there's always long-term proactive thinking about how the legal landscape is changing and what we need to do to put GoCardless in the best possible position. One super-hot topic right now is data protection.
Following the Snowden revelations, people's concerns have really intensified over who could access their data and what they might do with it. There have been a number of knock-on effects, such as the European Court of Justice finding EU-US Safe Harbor ineffective, making it far harder to transfer data out of Europe to the US. At GoCardless, we’re striving to set a great example when it comes to customer data - we think a good benchmark is treating that data as if it was our own personal data.
It’s such an important issue and takes a lot of work to get right - immediate internal work, but also trying to predict what will happen in the future. With data protection law and technology constantly changing we need to make sure we are ahead of the game.
Another area of focus is payments regulation, which is also changing rapidly, as regulators and the legislative process rush to keep up with the pace of financial innovation. The UK & the EU are forward-thinking and progressive in terms of allowing innovative structures such as ours in order to prosper, but they don’t always get things right off the bat. As a result, there’s a lot of lobbying to be done,and a lot of fresh thinking around how the services we provide fit within regulations that don’t necessarily contemplate our particular offering.
Finally, Brexit brings its own unique set of challenges. I can say that we’re committed to ensuring that we continue to serve our European customers without interruption. That might mean becoming regulated in another EU member state - a challenge we’re well equipped to rise to.
It’s all about collaboration
On top of those on-going projects, day-to-day I normally have multiple meetings with the guys and girls in the sales team to help them close deals. The open-plan structure of the office makes it really easy to chat with those from other departments - whether that’s sales, marketing or the engineering team. There are sofas and seating areas dotted around if we fancy getting away from our desks, and little booths if you need to get your head down and focus.
As Head of Legal it’s crucial that I know what’s going on and have a good overview of the business, so having sofa meetings and grabbing one too many coffees (there are many coffee options available!) with different departments is a vital part of my role. Only by knowing what’s going on can I be effective in planning and negotiating.
I’ll sometimes hop on a conference call with a merchant who’s looking to use us - it’s then that I’m grateful that we have put in the hard work around customer data protection, as there’s nearly always intense discussion on the point and having a strong story really helps alleviate any concern.
Often my colleagues from other departments come over for a chat. For example, the marketing team might need some legal advice on a new promotional idea, or perhaps I’ll be asked to chime in on a funky collaboration that the partnerships team have come up with. It’s never boring!
The longer commercial negotiations, for example where we want to partner with another payment provider or financial institution, tend to be the most complicated ones as there are so many moving parts, and at least two regulated entities with their own legal concerns. Throw different countries in the mix, and you have a good amount of complexity to work through.
Having this high level of daily interaction at work is really important for me - I really love working with super-smart people, and there’s a lot of them at GoCardless. That being said, there’s a fair amount of teaching to be done when you’re an in-house lawyer.
The law isn’t always crystal clear, meaning that you need to simplify complex issues and relate abstract ideas to the business issues in hand, rather than firing off an email attaching a 10-page advice note that draws a purely legal conclusion.
Growth and… we’re hiring!
I also spend a lot of time planning for future needs, and expanding the team. GoCardless is going through an exciting growth phase at the moment, and we have a lot of great people to find to help us continue that growth - the legal team is no different! If you like what you hear, why not take a look at our careers page.