An interview with Manu Kanwar, Yahoo - How mentoring can benefit your team

Manu Kanwar, senior legal director at Yahoo!, explains why he was keen to become involved in the PRIME initiative that aims to improve access to the legal profession for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

What is the background to this?

Eight in-house legal teams have signed up with PRIME initiative since September 2012 when the work placement scheme was extended from its base among law firms to cover the client side of the business. Yahoo! was one of those.

Why and when did you decide to join the initiative?

I reached out to David Morley (senior partner of Allen & Overy and chair of PRIME) when PRIME was first announced, towards the end of 2011. I had discussed doing something similar with other general counsels and wanted to understand if we could help promote PRIME (which was at that time mainly a private practice initiative) or share lessons for an in-house version. It was immediately obvious that a great deal of time and effort had been put into PRIME. Allen & Overy was very keen to have an in-house voice and involvement. Since then, we’ve been helping to develop and promote PRIME across the in-house community. We hosted a meeting of 15–20 general counsel at Yahoo!’s offices last year to explore and agree what in-house participation should look like and things have grown from there.

In terms of Yahoo!’s programme, Bird & Bird is our main adviser in the UK and we participated in its programme last October.

Was it difficult to set-up?

Not really. Thankfully, Bird & Bird did most of the hard work! It identified the school to work with, conducted the application and interview process and ran the main scheme for four-and-a-half days. We hosted its students here for one afternoon, so really concentrated on making those hours as valuable as possible.

What did you do with the students? And how did it go?

We had eight students and we ran exercises and presentations by legal and business colleagues and there was a negotiation exercise at the end. By the end of the day, you could see a big difference in attitude and aptitude. At the start, the students were excited by the David Beckham posters around the place and by the fact that most people were wearing jeans. It presented working/professional life in a different light and wasn’t just about the law, but about its context within our business. Some of the students even went away thinking about a career in journalism or technology generally. With the negotiation exercise, the children really got into it. One of the girls on the winning team was the one I’d been most worried about at the start as she’d been pretty reserved. However, she demonstrated great confidence and a real grasp of the issues we wanted them to understand.

How did you manage the additional burden on your team?

We spread the load, which wasn’t difficult as everyone wanted to get involved. Most of the legal team in the UK (around 10–12 people) took part—giving presentations, Q&A, discussions over lunch, preparing the negotiation exercise and/or helping to run it. We also had various executives coming to present on their areas.

What benefits have you experienced from participating in the scheme?

There was a definite feeling that we were adding value and that what we were doing had a direct impact on the children. You could see from the beginning to the end of the afternoon that there had been an impact. The primary focus was the children but our team definitely gained additional insights on life from their perspectives. We felt there were additional benefits—it was almost a team-building exercise for us.

Would you encourage other legal departments to join?

Absolutely. As we’ve been promoting the cause across in-house teams generally, we’ve emphasised:

  • the real value that everyone can add, and
  • that participants can do as little or as much as they feel able

If you are a sole in-house lawyer, time and resources are very scarce. So you could go to do a one-hour presentation, perhaps, at a law firm’s premises. There are other organisations who might have 200–300 lawyers and could host their own programmes. Other teams or companies could do anything in between.

What will you do now?

We’ll participate again in Bird & Bird’s programme later this year. The same children stay on the scheme. So, as the programme progresses, we’ll develop relationships with more of them. We’ll also have the opportunity to mentor some of them. We’re also exploring participation in Latham & Watkins’ programme and perhaps even developing a deeper and longer multi-company in-house experience with ITV and Lloyds Banking next year.

Interviewed by Neasa MacErlean.

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