‘Water’ great job! In-house Counsel – Claire Russell, Anglian Water Group

26 Jan, 2016

 

 This month, as part of our In-house Counsel interview series, Lawyer Monthly takes a look at the work of Claire Russell, In-House Counsel at Anglian Water Group. She tells us exclusively about her role, the challenges she faces on a daily basis and how she keeps on top of the ever changing regulation that Anglian Water is bound by.

 

Q 1 As in-house counsel at Anglian Water Group, what is a typical day like for you?
A Anglian Water is quite a collaborative place so at least twice a week I am likely to find myself in a meeting for a couple of hours.  I could be meeting with colleagues on the Management Board to discuss how the business is performing or how we are going to address future challenges/risks to the business or I could be meeting with colleagues from across the business to discuss our plans to respond to market reform.  The whole legal team meets monthly to share highlights from our current caseload and review issues which are of general interest to Anglian Water employees.

When I am not in meetings, I am likely to be focussing either on preparations for a forthcoming Board meeting (I am Company Secretary of both the Anglian Water Services Board and the Anglian Water Group Board), looking at compliance or governance issues, or discussing current issues with lawyers in my team.  I joined Anglian Water as a commercial lawyer.  However, I do very little contract review/negotiation these days.

Q 2 What challenges do you face when handling the legal issues of such a large organisation? How do you overcome these challenges?
A Although the external legal and regulatory environment changes constantly, one of the attractions of Anglian Water is that it offers a pretty stable environment.  Our strategic objectives are very clear and the core nature of the business has remained fundamentally unchanged for a number of years.  Therefore, whilst the business constantly evolves, identifying the legal issues that are likely to arise and the people in the business with whom we need to engage is relatively straightforward.  By way of example, as a company that returns water to the environment following treatment, we need to manage the risk of polluting water courses.  Where a pollution incident occurs, a member of the legal team will become involved in order to understand the impact of the pollution and to deal with any Environment Agency investigation.  Equally, its reasonably easy to predict that the Asset Management team will need legal support from property lawyers in order to buy land where we need to build new assets.  Clearly, civil litigation is somewhat less predictable.  Whilst we will still deal with the majority of disputes “in house” we are more likely to rely on support from Counsel or external legal advisers.

Clearly, building strong relationships between members of the legal team and colleagues in the business is paramount.  As long as these relationships are in place, the business generally identifies the issues which require legal input and knows who they need to contact.

The one area where I have strengthened the team is on the compliance front as it became clear to me that we needed to do more to respond to “generic” legal risks (such as those presented by the Bribery Act, the Data Protection Act and the Environmental Information Regulations).

Q 3 Environmental law is ever-changing; how do you keep abreast of the constant developments within this legal area?
A In truth, developments in Environmental law present the same challenge as any other legal development.  We rely on a range of external sources in order to highlight changes in the law.  We also employ a Legal Compliance Officer who is responsible (amongst other things) for maintaining a legal register which helps us to track changes in the law and flags the areas of the business which are likely to be affected by that change. This helps us to consider whether we need to change our processes in response to a change in the law.  A number of our business processes are certified in accordance with recognised quality management standards (e.g. ISO 9001) and the legal register forms part of the documentation that sits behind a number of those quality standards.  The Legal Compliance Officer also reports on key legal developments to our Regulatory Issues Group (which I also attend).  This group meets monthly to consider issues relating to economic regulation, quality regulation, water resources regulation and government.

 

Q 4 Have there been any particularly noteworthy developments to affect your work over the last year or so? If so, please tell me about them.
A I have spent a considerable amount of time working with the business to prepare for the opening of the market to supply non-household customers in April 2017.  Currently, a business customer in England must use – or expect to use – more than 5 million litres of water a year in order to choose their supplier.  In 2017, all business customers will be able to switch suppliers if they want to (and they will also be able to choose who supplies waste water retail services).  All water and sewerage undertakers will be expected to demonstrate that they are operating on a “level playing field”.  This means ensuring that Anglian Water’s retail business does not receive favourable treatment from our wholesale business.  As each of the regional water and sewerage undertakers has a near monopoly in the supply of water/water recycling services in its area, there are some interesting Competition law issues that arise.  It’s also clear that we won’t succeed in maintaining a level playing field unless we ensure that all Anglian Water employees understand what sort of behaviour is acceptable (and what is not).  I have been really pleased by the support that I have received from my operational colleagues in relation to this issue.

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