Developing a confident and engaged legal team—an interview with Monica Risam

Developing a confident and engaged legal team—an interview with Monica Risam

Shortlisted for In-house Lawyer of the Year at The Lawyer's 2016 awards, Monica Risam, GC & Company Secretary at Aviva UK Life, embodies the impact that strong leadership, drive and commitment to your team has on a business.  Sophie Gould talks to Monica about the importance of training and support in building a confident team, encouraging leadership and raising the profile of lawyers.

Tell us a bit about your background and career to date

I was in private practice for four and a half years before moving in-house. I spent seven years at GE Capital in various roles and then joined Aviva in 2011 as general counsel for Europe. Within a year of joining, the company was restructured and I became general counsel for Aviva Group.

In 2015, I became General Counsel and Company Secretary for Aviva UK Life which comprises 65% of the Aviva Group. It was a significant move for me and demanded a new skill set. I had just led the integration work stream for the legal function following a major acquisition. Suddenly I had a whole new team, including a lot of lawyers who had joined from the company we acquired.

When I started at Aviva there had never been a general counsel for Europe so my mission was to bring the function together and make sure we delivered for the business. When I took over, we weren't always getting the best value for the business. Panel review was a perfect example, with people only using law firms that they knew and not doing so in a joined up way. We consolidated the panel and this has generated several million pounds of savings by leveraging a smaller panel and making the most of those relationships.

I've got a great team that understands insurance and I've learned a lot. There are 60 or so people in my team. We have cells that are aligned to the business;

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About the author:

Sophie is Head of Learning & Development at F-LEX Legal - an award winning legal tech startup helping law firms and organisations manage a flexible work force and supporting lawyers to make smarter life/work choices. 

As part of her portfolio career Sophie runs various learning and development and networking forums for in-house lawyers and mentors junior lawyers.  These include Flying Solo for small and solo legal teams and Aspire for junior in-house lawyers which she runs for LexisNexis UK.  She also works with schools and organisations to promote social mobility within the legal profession, working with The Social Mobility Business Partnership and Aspiring Solicitors. 

She trained as a lawyer in the City and worked as an in-house lawyer for 10 years including as Head of Legal for Virgin Radio and Ginger Media Group.  

Outside of work she is happily married with three sons and enjoys morning walks along the beach with her two dogs.