Chris Newby joined the firm as a trainee in 1999 and left in July 2006.  He is now UK & EMEA General Counsel at AIG and still works closely with the firm.  With no initial plan, Chris’ career has evolved from the various opportunities presented to him and the success he has made of them.

When did you decide to be a lawyer and how did you come to join Norton Rose Fulbright?

I’m not sure I still have!  I didn’t take the traditional route as I studied biology rather than those subjects which are probably more associated with a legal career. It wasn’t until my father strongly suggested that I needed to think about my future career that I chanced upon work experience at Norton Rose Fulbright. To appease my dad I had investigated tech jobs at Accenture and roles at an investment bank but nothing had sparked my interest.

Jeremy Barton, my athletics coach at school, was a lawyer himself but had taken a role as a teacher so he could compete for Great Britain.  On retirement from athletics, Jeremy worked at Norton Rose Fulbright and he kindly arranged a day’s work experience for me although I nearly didn’t make it. I was at Durham University and only just managed to catch the first early train that would get me into Liverpool Street on time. I had never been to London before and, on arrival, was struggling to work out the quickest way to Camomile Street. I must have been looking lost as a man asked me where I wanted to get to. When I told him, he said he was going there too and to tag along. It was completely random, I had never met him before and he turned out to be a client of the firm on his way to a meeting with the aviation finance team. I literally made it by the skin of my teeth, arriving in the lobby and tailing onto the end of the group of students as they walked up the stairs.

My day at the firm went well so, in my third year of university, I joined the Christmas vacation scheme where I sat with James Bateson and the insurance team.  It was a fun week and everyone was friendly and helpful. I went on to secure a training contract with the firm and qualified into Martin Scott and Stephen Rigby’s team. At the time their team was working for a lot of IT companies but when the bubble burst much of the work dried up. One day I was sitting at my desk writing a precedent when James Bateson (who sat next door) came in and asked if I wanted to join his team.  I said yes because I wanted to be busy and that is how I ended up being an insurance lawyer.  As you can see there was no real plan – just a series of chance events.

How did you come to join AIG?

I really enjoyed working for Norton Rose Fulbright, firstly with Martin and Stephen then with James, David Whear and Bob Haken. I have such good memories – it was always a friendly team and there was a good culture.  I went on secondment to AIG for three months which ended up lasting nine. I had got married and, on return to the firm, I realised that being a corporate lawyer and newly married didn’t always go hand in hand.  By chance, I bumped into AIG’s UK General Counsel who I had worked for during my secondment and he asked what I was doing.  I told him I was thinking of moving on and he simply said come and work with me.  I joked asking if I had to have an interview (not having had one since uni) and he said no, hence my decision was made.  I knew AIG was similar to Norton Rose Fulbright in terms of its culture and people so I made the switch to a commercial lawyer in what was then a small legal team at AIG UK.

How has your career progressed?

Again, I have been lucky as the UK General Counsel wanted to move to a different function within the business so I took over his position in September 2008.  I say lucky but I was in the role a mere four weeks before the financial crisis hit with all the chaos that ensued. I worked on restructuring the business to bring the UK & Europe together and moving all of our capital from Europe to London.  After that transaction I became the UK and Europe GC then moving into the role of EMEA GC.  This was just before Brexit so I was also made COO for AIG Europe and led AIG’s Brexit strategy and restructuring.  We are now two separate entities again and I have (thank goodness) given up my COO role. I can now just focus on legal, regulatory and government affairs for the UK, Europe, Middle East and Africa.

What do you enjoy about your role at AIG?

As I said before it is very similar to NRF in terms of good culture and good people but it’s just the sheer variety of work that makes it so enjoyable. The work is complex and every day is different. In private practice, I loved the exhilaration of working flat out on a transaction and building a relationship with client for say 9-12 months, but then you would move onto something new.  At AIG, I still get that exhilaration but I am also able to have a long-lasting influence in building and structuring the business in both my GC role and as part of the Executive Committee.

How do the relationships formed during your time at Norton Rose Fulbright help in working together?

The relationships I forged during my time at the firm are still important to me. David Ferri and Jason Moss were members of my trainee intake and the friendship we built during those early days will last a lifetime. I am also fortunate to consider James Bateson a friend and a mentor as well as a working colleague. The firm has an excellent reputation, but knowing personally lawyers such as James, Bob and David as well as other partners in different areas of the firm, gives me confidence in the advice they give us.

We understand you are a keen adopter of legal tech.  Can you tell us more about that? 

One of the challenges for me as GC is the increasing scrutiny around budget, reducing external legal spend and getting better value for money.  In a legal team, there is always the mundane work that makes the cogs turn.  Legal tech allows you to liberate people from these tasks and give them better career development opportunities.  With assistance from our in-house tech team, we built a legal intake tool and did some analysis of the high volume/low value work that we could automate.  For example, NDAs in the UK are now a self-service system run by a small team of paralegals. It’s the same for procurement.  This system enables our mid-level lawyers to focus on the more strategic issues, thereby adding true value to the business. I believe this will be even more important going forward as our next generation of talent are digital natives and will expect legal tech to help with numerous tasks such as managing and forecasting legal spend and budgets.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

My father once told me be true to yourself and it has served me well on all fronts.

What do you do to relax?

I play golf.  When I went to law school we only had lectures in the morning and I lived with two guys who were both good golfers so they got me playing.  I was pretty rubbish back then but now both my children play and I still play with friends from law school and also James Bateson.  My golf is still pretty lousy but I like the walk and the chat, especially the chat.