The many hats interview: Craig Chaplin

The many hats interview: Craig Chaplin

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Today's 'many hats' interview is with the charming Craig Chaplin from DWF.

So far as we are aware he doesn't wear, or indeed own, a mortarboard, bowler hat, top hat or policeman's hat. The above symbols are not - repeat not - an indication of Craig's wardrobe. They are merely symbolic and represent the varied and multifacted work of his work as a commercial lawyer and so on and so forth. But you knew that already, didn't you?

I wish that I hadn't mentioned it now. It also seems so obvious.

Anyhow, we like Craig here at Comet because he exercises the all-important 'so-what' test; eg 'why does this matter'? He shies away from 'bureaucracy, antagonism and problems' which is never a bad thing. If truth be told, it is a very good thing.

So here are his considered opinions on commercial law and the realities of practising it:

How did you end up being a commercial lawyer?

I was originally an IP specialist who migrated to doing lots of IT contracts. I spent a lot of time helping commercial lawyers draft the specialist parts of their contracts and outsourcing arrangements. Eventually I realised that all significant commercial contracts involve the use and management of both IP and IT and decided to be the lead rather than the support on such matters. Now I have the best of all worlds as head of Commercial and IP at DWF together with being the head of our TMT Sector Group.

What type of projects are you working on at the moment?

An eclectic mix of telecoms contracts, business transformation projects, the setting up of an online marketplace and some really interesting tech related stuff in the retail sector. I am also working with a couple of start-ups who have invented some truly amazing products as well as supporting brands such as Umbro and Tangle Teezer with brand related matters. Then there are the telematics and mobile data clients.Put it this way…….. I’m not bored.

Is there a common problem you come across time and again in commercial law?

The main problem is getting any client to understand that you are there to help rather than hinder! Once they understand that we are there to help them achieve their objectives rather than slow up a process with bureaucracy, antagonism  and problems (with no solutions) we find that they collaborate well with us to get to the end goal.

What tips do you have for making legal advice more digestible for business?

Talk to the client in their own language and understand their goals at the outset. Be prepared to have a conversation about the subject matter because the commercial solution is rarely as clear cut as the legal answer.

What advice would you give to someone entering the commercial law arena?

You can learn as much from clients as they can from you so listen as much as you talk. Exercise the “so-what?” test all the time.

Describe a memorable moment of your career

Being made partner at the age of 30 is an achievement I am particularly proud of.

Is the profession doing enough to make lawyers truly commercial?

Things have got a lot better in recent years although I still feel that lawyers in the very large firms are not being nurtured enough by their partners and are being left to their own devices. There is nothing more frustrating on a deal to negotiate against someone who just doesn’t get it and are not being supported.

What could we be doing better to train lawyers working at the sharp end of business and commerce?

Industry secondments are very powerful at giving young lawyers confidence and context. At DWF we try and ensure that our junior talent is exposed to life at the coalface in house. For me that is the ultimate win/win/win for law firm, client and individual.

Where do you stand on the Consumer Rights Bill?

For me, any piece of legislation which seeks to simplify laws which protect the public should be commended. This particular bill is wide ranging and not without its difficulties but in the main I am happy with the direction it is heading.

In the wake of recent press on the pay-day lenders, do you think current consumer credit regulation is doing enough?

As a Newcastle United fan (sponsored by Wonga) I’ll exercise my right of silence here.

Is there a recent development in commercial law that concerns you?

The hotly debated proposed changes in data protection laws will be a challenge for all businesses. Whilst I do believe that most of these changes are necessary, I think lots of big businesses will struggle to implement them in a cost effective way. There are over 500 changes proposed, many attracting some chunky fines and some permeating through every department in an organization. If companies cannot get themselves organised quickly they could suffer.  I expect to see a more generous timetable being allowed to achieve the requirements of the act. If we do not get that then there could be some interesting names in the press.

Who in the law do you most admire?

The lawyer whom I respect the most is David Gray whom I worked with many moons ago when he was head of corporate at Eversheds Leeds prior to climbing the ladder to managing partner nationally. He epitomized grace and class under pressure. I am delighted that he is now working with DWF in a strategic capacity.

What do you do to switch off from the day job?

I have 3 kids under 10 and some nice bikes to play with! 

What would you like to see change most as a commercial lawyer

I have a dream that commercial lawyers acting on opposing sides collaborate to achieve the best solution for their clients in a non-adversarial way. Old school posturing to either win an argument or inflate fees is dead in the water already.

What have you encountered in your advisory capacity recently which you feel  others could benefit from?

Two things spring to mind immediately:

  1.  the general  ignorance surrounding a decision to use open source and the impact this could have on a company’s evaluations, and
  2. the fact that not many businesses truly understand where in the world their customer’s data is housed. Both topics require far greater focus in businesses of all shapes and sizes.

Thanks for your time today Craig!

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