At healthcare group Bupa, chief legal officer Paul Newton was the recipient of The Legal 500 UK in-house award for Healthcare.
B U S I N E S S T H I N K I N G
EDITOR AND FEATURES WRITER
GC: Did you always want to be a lawyer?
No, actually, the first job I ever wanted to do was be a fish farmer! Don’t ask me why! I’m a keen fisherman and have been since I was a child, and I couldn’t think of anything better than to be a fish farmer. But that’s going a long way back, when I was at school.
GC: What put you on to the law?
I studied theology as a degree, but not with a view to going into the church. It was always the case that I would be looking around for a suitable profession to go into and it just seemed that the law suited me, in terms of what I thought my strengths and weaknesses were.
GC: You went in-house fairly early in your career. What made you go in that direction?
I have to say that I thought it was the worst decision I had made at the time, although on reflection it’s probably one of my better decisions. At that time, working in-house was very different to what it is today. I was attracted to Bupa as an organisation and I thought I’d let my heart overrule my head. In-house lawyers weren’t as central to organisations then as they are now, and at first I felt that really I should have stayed in private practice. I was persuaded to give it a go for six months and have never looked back – I couldn’t think of a better job. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my 27 years working at Bupa.
GC: What is the best thing about working for Bupa?
I think the most important thing is that it’s a purpose-driven organisation. We don’t have shareholders and that frees us up to really focus on the customer. Our purpose is to enable people to live longer, healthier, happier lives and I can’t think of a better thing to be doing than that. But it’s not just about the ethos, it’s about the fact that Bupa has a huge ambition to impact the world. I have the opportunity to work with some very bright and gifted people who share a similar ethos and sense of purpose. And Bupa’s growing; when I joined, it was very much a UK health insurance business with a couple of hospitals. It’s now grown into a leading international healthcare organisation - where most of the business now is outside the UK.
GC: What’s your favourite part of your day?
Talent management and leadership development, because I think that’s really at the heart of what general counsel is there to do, along with helping the business manage legal risks. It’s creating an environment for people to be able to really deliver extraordinary outcomes for the business. We have talent boards, we do a lot around talent development and leadership development. I’m a firm believer that in-house lawyers should see ourselves as leaders first and lawyers second. Leadership is really what organisations are looking for from their in-house lawyers. They are obviously not just looking for good lawyers, they’re not even just looking for business partners. They are looking for leaders, and that for me is the key to in-house lawyers having a seat at the table and being seen as equal partners in delivering the success of the organisation.
GC: You must have seen huge changes as in-house lawyers have evolved from not being seen as business partners to having a seat on the board. Is that something that you have personally invested in and pushed for over the years at Bupa? Or do you think it’s something that has organically happened as the market has changed?
It’s not something I’ve pushed for, because I’ve always just focused on trying to do the best I can, and on helping the other lawyers at Bupa do the same. But I think what I have realised is that what in-house lawyers strive for, which is to be at the top table, is all about bringing leadership. Their business acumen, their legal skills look after themselves.
GC: Is there a moment of your career so far that you’d pick out as the highlight?
Not really. I say that because actually at every point in my career I’ve felt that I couldn’t have been doing anything better or more fulfilling, so I’m not somebody who looks back and thinks: ‘I was particularly proud of that’. I just enjoy the moment. And I’m enjoying it and am as fulfilled now as I ever have been in the past.
GC: What legal issues are you gearing up to tackle in the near future?
The world is becoming much more regulated. Legal and regulatory risks are increasing, and consequently it requires more of us as lawyers to make sure we’re managing those risks, within our risk appetite, in a way that really helps the business achieve its outcomes. So I guess it’s just about the role becoming ever more challenging.
GC: What are the qualities of your ideal private practice lawyer?
I think it’s the firms who understand what we’re trying to achieve in terms of the business outcomes, and who are able to bring something other than their legal skills that will help us succeed. So when we’re selecting lawyers for example, a key question we will ask is: what is it that you’re able to bring that will cause us to succeed? Because ‘value add’ can mean anything from free seminars, free secondments etc. But from a business perspective it’s the outcome that matters. So I think it’s just a different lens through which to look at how you appraise outside counsel.
GC: How do you like to spend your free time?
Fly fishing. I’m a very committed Christian, so I spend a lot of time working with my church, and I’m a Chelsea season ticket holder.
GC: What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery. I like Umberto Eco - his storylines are quite convoluted and weird, but yes, I do.
GC: Do you have a favourite film at all?
GC: If you decided not to practice law anymore, what would you do instead?Good question. Gosh, there are so many things. I think if I wasn’t a lawyer and I had the freedom to do whatever I liked, I’d like to do something more practical really, more with my hands.
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