From Australia to the UK, Trudi Charles has travelled the globe, sharing her legal knowledge as she goes. As Associate General Counsel for the internationally renowned BP, she shares how her and her team worked towards BP achieving their highest fiscal results for three years, what surprised her about the company and what the in-house legal industry can do to ensure the legal sector is more diverse.
What took you by surprise when you first came to the UK to study law at University of Oxford? The college system was very different from what I’d experienced as an undergraduate in Australia, not to mention the weather… tennis team practice in the snow was definitely a first. Having been in the inaugural intake of students at Bond University, which was still under construction when we started, it was amazing to find myself at Oxford surrounded by over 800 years of history and tradition.
What was the transition from being a student, to practising law like? What would you advise students to be aware of?
It feels like a very long time ago now, but one of the best pieces of advice I received was the importance of knowing your audience. A professor or partner may well be interested in your detailed and meticulously researched legal reasoning, but it’s highly unlikely many of your clients will be. As a client, what I value from external counsel is an understanding of our business, an ability to focus in on the issues that really matter and a willingness to take a view.
How did your experience at Herbert Smith Freehills prepare you for your role as Associate General Counsel?
HSF was a great training ground. I worked with some fantastic people on great transactions across a broad range of industries. It often felt like being thrown in at the deep end, but it taught me resilience and gave me the confidence to know that I’m ok with being outside of my comfort zone.
What attracted you to work in-house for BP? What aspects, which you weren’t expecting, were different when you first began your role there?
I joined BP over 14 years ago and it was absolutely the right decision. When I was looking to move in-house, I didn’t have a clear view of which sector I wanted to work in, but I knew I wanted a role where I’d be part of a business that respects and values its legal team, working with clever people at the forefront of their field. What I hadn’t appreciated was the sheer scope and scale of BP or that I would have the opportunity to reinvent myself several times over.
From this, how would to advise lawyers that are contemplating moving from law firm, to an -in-house role? What are key things to consider beforehand?
Do not underestimate the importance of culture. Try to gain an understanding of the core values of the organisation you are hoping to join, how it operates and the people you will be working with. Not only do you need to like what you do but also how you do it.
What are three key characteristics to have when managing a legal team?
Credibility, integrity and resilience.
You currently lead a global team: how do you keep on top off everything, especially when it is so internationally based?
I have a very strong team that I trust and constant communication is critical. Working across the different time zones makes this challenging, but technology has made a huge difference.
What do you see the future of supply and trading in the energy sector being like in ten years? Is there anything you are hoping to see change? Moreover, is there anything you are hoping will not change?
Supply and trading will become increasingly competitive with new market entrants and a higher volume of data available to draw insights from. Technology will also play an important role in the industry with tools such as satellite imagery and artificial intelligence enabling us to absorb and interpret data in an advanced manner. Organisations will also need to adapt to the changing market dynamics and geopolitical situations, as demand for energy shifts to developing geographies. We are hopeful that regulators will work to ensure that compliance requirements become better aligned and simplified across jurisdictions to help enable the growth of international businesses such as ours. BP supports the effort and continued focus from regulators in ensuring that systemic risks in the financial markets are mitigated.
With BP’s posting the highest fiscal results for three years, can you share ways in which you think your team contributed towards a good turnaround?
Because we work so closely with the businesses we support, our legal teams have a deep understanding of both our industry and BP, enabling us to provide business focussed solutions. My business colleagues in the supply and trading business describe the legal team as a source of competitive advantage. I can’t think of a better accolade than that.
How do you overcome the challenge of maintaining BP’s commercial face across a variety of countries, as well as adhering to the legal regulations in each of these jurisdictions?
It is absolutely a challenge, which is why we are hopeful that compliance requirements become better aligned and simplified across jurisdictions.
Our legal team is very international and we have lawyers qualified in many of the key jurisdictions with which we transact. We are also fortunate to have BP legal teams present in many countries across the globe. In the absence of this, we work closely with external counsel to ensure that we are in compliance with applicable local laws.
As chair of the BP Legal and Compliance Global Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee, what do you think the in-house legal industry can do to ensure the legal industry is more diverse?
At BP, we recognise that to be competitive, we need the broadest talent pool available – and that our workforce should reflect the communities in which we live and work. This requires diversity and inclusion (D&I) to be central to all that we do and our legal executive team is fully committed to this. Over the past several years, working closely with HR, we have made numerous changes to our recruitment and talent management processes aimed at attracting, developing and retaining our talented and diverse workforce.
We also recognise that we have significant influence with our external counsel. Several years ago we introduced D&I criteria into our panel law firm selection process. We continue to actively challenge our panel firms on how they are staffing and managing matters as well as thinking about how they engage with BP generally, including collaborating in D&I related training and other activities. We have also recently undertaken meaningful steps to identify additional women and minority-owned law firms that may have the skills and resources we need in BP Legal.
Finally, can you share with Lawyer Monthly what you enjoy most about your role and why?
I love the variety and daily challenge of my role. I am never bored. I have the privilege of working in an incredibly exciting industry, with clever and dynamic people in a meritocratic culture where how you do things is just as important as the end result.
Associate General Counsel
Trudi Charles is the Associate General Counsel for BP’s supply and trading business, which is BP’s commercial face to the traded markets for oil, gas, power, petrochemicals, emissions, financial derivatives and currencies. She leads a global team of over 70 legal professionals based in London, Singapore, Chicago, Houston and Calgary, working with a business that operates across the entire value chain supporting BP’s upstream and downstream segments as well as offering its 12,000 customers a combination of physical supply and trading and innovative financial structures. Trudi is a member of the Executive teams for both the supply and trading business as well as for the BP Legal function. She also chairs the BP Legal & Compliance Global Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee.
Originally from Australia, Trudi was part of the inaugural intake of students at Bond University on the Gold Coast where she studied law. She first moved to the UK to study the BCL at Oxford and went onto to join Herbert Smith Freehills, working as an associate in both the London and Hong Kong offices. Since joining BP plc in 2004 she has managed a number of global legal teams, supporting a wide range of BP businesses in the downstream and since 2013 in the supply and trading business.
BP is one of the world’s leading integrated oil and gas companies. We operate in 70 countries worldwide. We find and produce oil and gas on land and offshore. We move energy around the globe. We manufacture and market fuels and raw materials used in thousands of everyday products, from mobile phones to food packaging.