Sarah Binder, Pizza Hut general counsel

Restaurant chain Pizza Hut may be a well-known brand in the U.K. but as with most companies, its legal team operates quietly in the background with little fanfare.

Yet that’s not how it works internally, according to Sarah Binder, general counsel at Pizza Hut U.K. & Europe, who is passionate about the brand an in-house lawyer creates in order to become known as a company’s trusted adviser.

Binder will be taking part in a discussion on the topic at a UK event for law networking group Women, Influence & Power in Law (WIPL) later this month. Here, she speaks with Legal Week about the internal status of in-house departments.

Why is building a strong brand within a legal team so important?

“Lawyers never talk about brands in the context of them as a function, so the topic has a unique pivot, as in-house functions do in fact have brands.

“Collaboration becomes 100% easier once your brand is set. It’s really the difference between complete success and complete failure. It’s about having a brand that is perceived as being passionately interested in the business, pragmatic and accessible. If you don’t have that, you won’t succeed as you won’t understand your business and your advice won’t be as good.”

What have you learnt from building Pizza Hut’s internal brand?

“First impressions are very important, as is engaging with stakeholders and being seen as accessible. You don’t want to come across as passing judgement or being too ‘lawyery’ – you have to be open to new ideas and willing to listen.

“You want to be known as a contributor who goes beyond beyond just ‘signing off the contract’. There’s a well-known concept of ‘legal signing off’ – the words in-house lawyers never want to hear! This is because the GC role has now spread well beyond pure law, as in-house lawyers are now also strategic thinkers in the business.”

Is having a recognised internal brand just as important as the external brand?

“I’m not sure how much time in-house lawyers consider their external brand – it’s not something we spend a huge time thinking about from all angles. For an external brand, it’s important to demonstrate that you take innovation on board as well as legal matters.”

How are legal teams falling behind when building their brands?

“Legal teams in-house have to challenge the stereotype (which is rapidly disappearing but does still exist) around law functions being there to ‘sign off’ or being seen as ‘blockers to the commercial teams’. There is still a risk in some organisations for that to be the template and in building an in-house brand you must ensure you challenge and overcome that assumption.

“This is so that you can be seen as true business partners that, for example, will be called on by the marketing team when working on an advertising campaign.”

What are some other challenges facing legal teams?

“A first point is the increasing regulatory environment. We’re progressing in the direction of increasing compliance requirements with increasing material consequences. With GDPR, there’s the additional risk of higher fines for example.

“The digital environment also poses challenges because of the vast amounts of information lawyers must manage. Finding a solution that works for you is important as the right solution can be incredibly valuable and save you money – but you must do your homework to get to that point.

“Another issue is that the evolution of the GC role provides an additional component to your day job. There’s not only the legal advice aspect, but also the commercial and regulatory perspective. It’s a fantastic broadening of the role, but it requires a balance between the legal analysis and the strategic partnership elements.”

Women, Influence & Power in Law UK will take place on November 19-21, 2019. A significant event in the U.S., the event is now launching in London. The women-only space will see top in-house and private practice lawyers come together to discuss the biggest issues in today’s legal market. For more information and to buy tickets see here.