Team Overview: Melissa Anastasiou from Spark

Team Overview: Melissa Anastasiou from Spark

We talk with the Spark General Counsel Melissa Anastasiou about their evolving legal function in an agile environment and what it takes to be a Spark lawyer.

Can you describe the evolution of the Spark legal team’s operating model? (Please explain how this model was developed and how it has evolved over time?

Prior to moving to ‘Agile at Scale’ Spark Legal operated a two tier service model with low value ‘legal’ work carried out by the business and higher value, more complex ‘legal’ work undertaken by the legal team. There were slightly different engagement thresholds for different business areas and relative to the strategic importance of certain work.  

The model has evolved over time and has been recently influenced by how the Spark business operates under Agile. It is now designed around three broad service-level types being ‘full service’, ‘targeted service’ and ‘self-service’. As an example, on a full service matter a lawyer will be ‘dedicated’ or provide an end to end service (similar to traditional in-house engagements) but during a ‘targeted service’ engagement we will only advise on a discrete part of a matter. Matters in the ‘self-service’ category are undertaken by the business with using tools developed by the legal team.  

Obviously, there is no rocket science in this model and these will be familiar concepts. However, there is some art to the science of determining how to categorise work types within service levels. We make this allocation with reference to the practice area type and company strategic priorities as defined on a quarterly basis through the Agile ‘Quarterly Business Review’ or ‘QBR’ process. As with any business, this is an ever evolving picture and of course, our model is only as effective as it is: (i) understood by our business; and (ii) the business has the skills and capabilities to work with it. So, like any business, over time we have had to adapt as our client base has changed.

How has the move to a Spark-wide agile methodology been felt in the legal team and what advice do you have for other in-house lawyers whose organisations are moving in this direction? 

Fundamentally, Spark’s transition to Agile was focused on achieving three key objectives: better customer outcomes, faster to market and improved employee engagement. Our business and operating structure has changed to a much flatter model with more clearly defined team goals and increased decision-making ability for teams. The way in which Agile operates has also meant clearer business alignment resulting in increased opportunities for the team to work even more closely with our stakeholders. A greater focus on outcomes has also moved the team further from an advisory to business enablement role. Overall, this transition has been felt very positively by the legal team.  

Under Agile the Legal team became an “Agile Centre of Excellence” operating under a ‘flow to work’ model. For us (like any legal function) this in of itself did not represent a fundamental change because, like most in-house teams, it has always been our practice to work across teams or, flow to and from business units (and the like), in response to shifting business requirements for legal support. What is different however is the Legal COE is now more deeply embedded in the QBR planning process which has meant we have greater advance visibility of business priorities and better early engagement to inform where we should deploy and also, an enhanced ability to influence business decisions that may have adverse consequences from a cost, risk or value perspective.  

With Agile there has also come an increased cadence to our business. Spark’s business was fast paced already, but that has increased further. So, we’ve had to adapt, do a bit more on the fly, and also make sure that we help the business understand when it’s right to slow down. This has meant the team has to exercise a higher level of commercial judgement than perhaps they did before.

Agile relies on collaboration and dismantling hierarchy. Reflecting this, under Agile Spark has a new delegated authority model with significantly fewer decision-making layers. At the heart of this framework is the concept of empowerment – and provided consultation with affected parties occurs, more people are empowered to make even more decisions. With this, the Legal COE has had to play a key role in ensuring that the new model is bedded in and operating appropriately and that consultation is occurring as part of the decision making process.

From a people perspective, following the transition, the Legal COE itself also has an even flatter structure. So, there is an important mindset shift for people (and not just in the Legal COE) in terms of redefining for themselves what success looks like, professionally. It’s no longer about moving up the rungs on a ladder, as the ladder is – frankly – not very high. Instead we measure employee progression with reference to a contribution model – which gives everyone the opportunity to be rewarded for their actual contribution and provides much greater transparency of how people are remunerated and what is needed to get ahead. There is also the opportunity for any member of the “Legal Centre of Excellence” to take a leadership role and lead out on an ‘initiative’ or project supported by a squad (ie: team) and, we have seen a number of our lawyers take up Agile business roles, and absolutely thrive in these.

So, although it’s early days, we are already seeing great signs of success - our employee engagement score is the highest it has ever been, there are new opportunities for our people and the model places us naturally at the heart of the business planning process which, ultimately, makes our job easier and more fulfilling as we can be even more sure to focus on what’s really important to our customers. 

What is your thinking behind the hybrid roles that you have introduced where lawyers take on additional/different accountabilities?

In 2017, we combined the commercial functions in Spark’s Enterprise and Wholesale divisions with the Legal COE. This was initially done with a view to delivering on cost out targets to eliminate the inefficiency of having a separate lawyer and commercial manager engaged in the one commercial process, with obvious overlap and apparently unavoidable confusion about role scope and accountabilities. With the blending of functions within the one role we have seen a huge improvement in efficiency. These blended roles have meant our people are now even more accountable for commercial outcomes. The commercial process runs more smoothly now it is streamlined, commercial outcomes have improved and this has also provided great opportunities for personal and career development, all resulting in higher employee engagement.

What are the skills and attributes you look for when recruiting new lawyers for Spark?

Curiosity. Willingness and aptitude to continually learn. Energy. Enthusiasm. Street smarts. Passion for customer service. A keen interest in our business, innovation and all things digital. Flexibility and an open mind. Deep legal expertise and a track record of excellence legal service delivery. Ability to lead by influence. A fully inclusive and supportive team player. And of course, a great sense of humour and willingness not to take one’s self too seriously.

Are you rolling out or planning to roll out any new technologies or systems to support the work of the legal team?

We are continuously looking at technology and the role it plays in our service delivery. A key consideration for any new technology investment is what business challenge is it assisting us with and what additional value does it bring to the organisation. Scale and complexity is also a consideration. Our business is complex and much of the work that we do is too and as such doesn’t lend itself as well to technical solutions as lower value high volume work might. To that end, we are reasonably selective of the type of technology we deploy.

How do you see the role of the modern in-house lawyer evolving?

Two key things here. Firstly, and my personal view, the in-house lawyer will become more and more of a generalist in terms of functional expertise and rely on advisors more and more for deep subject matter expertise. Secondly, as lawyers we are trained to be constantly learning as our respective practice areas evolve. Obviously, we will need to draw more and more on these skills as the world evolves and changes around us – and are perfectly positioned to do so.