Aligning legal risk to the risk appetite of the business – Sophie Carter, Global Head of Legal and Company Secretary, Christie’s

Aligning legal risk to the risk appetite of the business – Sophie Carter, Global Head of Legal and Company Secretary, Christie’s


“As a legal department, yes we have to look at strategic direction…but we also have to bear in mind those fundamentals…reputation and client trust.”

The raft of high-profile corporate failures coupled with increased ethical and regulatory breaches that carry weightier consequences continues to persist. In parallel, what expected of the legal departments increases exponentially.

More and more, the legal function has moved away from being a business backstop that is seen as overly conservative or a “non-business-minded” cost centre operating reactively to legal requests. Instead, in-house counsel increasingly take a far more proactive stance, work to add value to their organisations, are prepared to challenge at the highest level and actively shape how their business carries out its objectives. 

In this TED-style presentation, Sophie Carter, Global Head of Legal and Company Secretary at Christie’s speaks on risk and strategy and what those really mean to her business, the importance of alignment between legal and the business and the foundations needed to achieve this.

Legal are active influencers of risk appetite

According to Sophie, the role of the legal department is not a passive one of “this is what the business wants, this is how we align”. Rather, when it comes to the risk appetite of the business, it is more of a discussion and it is essential that in-house counsel actively influence the risk appetite. 

Using the unique challenges faced by Christie’s, Sophie highlights why this active influencing role is so critical. Christie’s operates in a highly competitive market which means bringing increasingly complex new products to market – quickly. Further, the speed at which her and her team need to negotiate a client contract and understand all the risks involved is incredibly fast-paced - and increasing. 

Moreover, there is the delicate balance of a sophisticated nigh net worth customer base alongside managing unique works of art to be sold. 

"The only way we can operate is for the legal team to be completely integrated with the business – at a macro-level and a deal by deal basis.”

Legal must work collaboratively with the business to constantly understand, review, assess and agree solutions around business, political, reputation and business risk as examples – often needing to influence business colleagues about the levels of acceptable risk. 

Really know your business

Sophie is passionate to reiterate that in-house legal teams must understand their company’s beyond just the strategic direction of the organisation in terms of three-year and longer -term plans.

It is about fundamentally understanding the drivers of one’s business and what the key strategic elements of the business are. Both of which are not necessarily thought about all the time.

Again, Sophie uses her own organisation as an example. For Christie’s it is about brand reputation and trust. And each legal decision in her legal department must be driven by these factors.

This presentation was part of our inaugural #CraftyLexis Masterclass, in collaboration with Crafty Counsel. The event attracted GCs from across several industries. It explored how in-house counsel can demonstrate, articulate and deliver value within their organisations in effective and innovative ways through a mixture of punchy, TED-style presentations and facilitated interactive workshops which encouraged peer discussion, learning and sharing of best practice.

Additional recommended reading

Understanding your organisation's culture - this Practice Note provides an introduction to organisational culture and ways to go about finding out more about your organisation’s culture

Strategic alignment of the in-house team—checklist - an overview of four tests which can be applied to create an alignment strategy for an in-house legal team to enable it to do the right work at the right time and in the right way for the business

Identifying and evaluating risk across the business - this Practice Note provides guidance on identifying and evaluating risk across your business. It explains the concept of risk appetite and how to establish your organisation’s appetite to risk, provides suggestions on how to gather risk information from relevant stakeholders and other available information, outlines how to identify risks from the information you have gathered, and offers guidance on risk evaluation

Risk appetite statement - this Precedent Risk appetite statement can be used to formulate and record an organisation’s position on risk. It sets out the overall approach to risk as well as the organisation’s appetite for different categories of risk, ie strategic, operational, reputational, legal, regulatory, financial, people and technological

Risk questionnaire - this Precedent Risk questionnaire is intended to create a framework for eliciting information about the risks presented by each department within your business. You could send it to the head of each department for completion or use it to structure an interview

Risk audit - this Precedent Risk audit can be used to collate and consider risk information that is available across your business

Stay ahead

At LexisNexis, we’re working to support in-house counsel accelerate the evolution of their role to genuine business leaders. Our vision is to provide events that challenge, educate and inspire. Most importantly, we aimed to provide practical takeaways that you can implement to deliver a positive impact back in your organisation.

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About the author:

Louisa leads marketing for the in-house legal community at LexisNexis. She joined the dedicated in-house team at LexisNexis four years ago and has a passion for driving and facilitating initiatives which are customer-focused at their heart. Her vision is to support in-house counsel succeed in their fast-evolving role based on deep insight, data analysis and best practice gathered across the in-house community.

Prior to her in-house focused role, Louisa led the marketing for the bar and mid-market private practice sectors as well as product marketing lead for LexisPSL - LexisNexis' cloud based, practical guidance and legal research software solution.

She brings 20 years' marketing experience both client and agency side, specialising in B2B marketing in the Legal, TMT (Telco, Media and Technology) and Financial Services industries. In both South Africa, Europe and the UK.

Louisa is also an active member on the LexisNexis Gender Equality Matters (GEM) steering committee and is involved with the Families at LexisNexis Group which brings together, supports and lobbies for change those with an interest in balancing the challenges of work and family.