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Q&A: Julia Chain – RPC Perform’s director on the future of the GC, phone warrants and parties with Richard Branson

Julia Chain (pictured) talks to Matthew Field on her in-house career, setting up RPC’s general counsel (GC) consulting practice and dealing with Richard Branson.

What do you see as the major changes for today’s GCs?

Over the last ten years the role of general counsel in the UK and Europe become more like that of the US. Now it’s definitely more of a c-suite role. GCs are the third pillar of the profession with barristers and partners in a way. Years ago it was a reactive and not very exciting job. Now it is very serious and well regarded.

The in-house job is a multi-tasking role; you have to be a jack of all trades and you often don’t have a peer group of lawyers in your firm so it can be quite lonely. On top of this is the ongoing mantra of getting ‘more for less’.

What is RPC Perform going to do for GCs?

At RPC Perform, we provide a whole range of services the GC needs apart from legal advice: so strategy, operations, technology consulting, soft skills and leadership development. The team is now in place. We have Jonathan Middleburgh, a dual-qualified barrister and occupational psychologist; Pranav Chopra, a management consultant and qualified accountant; Andrew Dey who was head of legal operations at Barclays and was in charge of legal technology for the bank as well as former RBS legal sourcing manger Varun Srikumar. We now have to bed down and on growing the client base by focusing on what the clients need.

What has the reaction from clients been?

It’s been a solid six months, justifying the proof of concept for us. We have been pretty busy since day one with clients being drawn from both my own contacts and also existing clients of RPC. Recent deals include advising a global logistics company in reorganising its European legal team, helping coach senior leadership in major public utility company and advising a FTSE company on its technology procurement.

How was your move to T-Mobile?

On the day I arrived it was a little company called One 2 One, which was bought by Deutsche Telekom in 1999 and rebranded as T-Mobile in 2002. Early on we did the joint venture with Virgin to create Virgin Mobile. On the Virgin side it was Richard Branson and we used to have meetings in his house in Notting Hill. The whole thing ended in some very expensive litigation but it was an exciting experience.

We set up a call centre in Wiltshire for Virgin Mobile and had a launch party for the operators, mainly young twenty/thirty somethings. Branson walked in to the party and it was like a rock star entering the room. You could see how successful he was because by the end of the evening they would probably have walked across the M25 for him.

As GC at a telecoms company you also had to deal with signing off warrants from the Home Secretary if the police needed to listen in on phone calls. Sometimes you would get a call at midnight for these warrants that came to me personally.

What has it been like coming back into a law firm?

I loved working as a GC and as a consultant. But I started my career at a law firm and I think my heart has always been there. It’s a bit like coming home, it’s a really comfortable environment.

RPC is so innovative – a real 21st century law firm. They took a decision a long time ago that the traditional law firm model is quite prescriptive. We found we fit into the RPC community and we work very well together.