Excelling in Operational Risk – NALP Interviews Entrepreneur Lee Holloway
We sat down with Lee Holloway, founder of the Operational Risk consultancy First Procedural Ltd and the technical content creator SHEQ Planet, to talk about his work and the legal advice industry. Lee received his NALP Level 4 Diploma in Paralegal Studies in 2018. You can find out more about FPL at http://www.fpl.uk.com/ and SHEQ Planet at http://www.sheqplanet.com/
Lee, thank you for speaking with us. Can you give us a quick explanation of what it is you do?
I describe myself as working in the field of operational risk and legal compliance – I'm the founder of 3 initiatives in this area – FPL, a traditional consultancy business, "corac", a member body for small business owners and line managers and SHEQ Planet, a niche creative / technical content producer. "Operational Risk and Legal Compliance" is a term that captures the identification of appropriate, proportionate and legally defendable positions and responses at an organisational level to health and safety, product safety, food safety, environment and data legislation that also integrates the application of best achievable practices in quality, efficiency, sustainability and business continuity. In short – I reduce legal liability for line managers and business owners and improve their efficiency, reputation and employability.
How did you decide to found FPL?
FPL was founded during the financial crisis of 2008 / 2009 when the decreasing reliability of regular employment made the jump to independent adviser much less of a risky move. I worked hard to spread my financial risk across a wide number of clients but an unexpected additional benefit of the decision has been to broaden my perspective and understanding of how different types of business work; I’ve now a well informed benchmarking feel for what is the “norm” having worked with over 60 organisations in the last ten years.
What advice would you have to others looking to start management consulting businesses?
I wouldn’t give advice to others as such, and wouldn’t claim to have found the magic bullet for consulting myself, but I do enjoy a varied workload, a good amount of freedom in how I work, time to develop other initiatives and some peace of mind that my destiny is in the hands of many and not one or a few. Balanced against that are a lot of Sundays in the office doing VAT returns, clearing inboxes and working on business development, whilst my Monday to Friday is client delivery focused. So – what I would say is if you’re going to jump from regular employment, be prepared to work hard, make some sacrifices and be “okay” with commercial pressures and frustrations.
How is GDPR affecting your industry and your clients?
Getting the lawful basis correct for collecting and sharing special category employee health data is discussed a lot. I’d opt for “consent” here but there are other areas of H&S data (CCTV for example) where I’d suggest “Legitimate Interest”. Many people are paranoid about getting this wrong still, but a lot fewer I think than were in May 2018.
What are some challenges inherent in advising businesses on health and safety issues?
One of the best compliments I’ve been given was recently: “Lee, you’re paid to tell people stuff they don’t want to hear, but they still like you!” Trying to maintain rapport with clients and remain amiable to be around is an ongoing challenge – I’d be the first to admit I’ve failed catastrophically on a number of occasions! Another was, “You’ve made this really engaging.” I don’t pretend to be able to pull this off every time but try to generate relevance, “what’s in it for me”, and enthusiasm for the topic where I can.
Your work in Operational Risk involves many areas of the law. What skills do you use on a daily basis?
I think this is a really good question. A good working knowledge of the UK’s legal system is important, plus of course a deeper understanding of the areas I specialise in, including good examples of case law to share with clients. But I’ve also worked hard to find ways of reassuring clients that I’m not going to be judgemental in terms of their current practices, that I understand the commercial pressures they’re under and that I’m not going to suggest unwieldy procedures that could paralyse their businesses. Also though, as well as advising on the potential legal consequences of poor practice, I try to give relevant examples of the benefits of good practice. Empathy and diplomacy are as important as the ability to correctly describe law and give concise and accurate answers to questions.
How important is trust between an adviser and a client, and how do you gain and maintain it?
What I do doesn't work unless you gain trust. Superficially, it starts with a non-disclosure agreement between me and the client. But over time, at every level of an organisation, I try to get across to everyone I engage with that I work for them and not the other way around. I'm not there to finger point or judge – I'm there to advise, point out potential gaps between legal expectations and what they're doing now and to help them make the best possible, eyes-open decisions they can. I'm there to protect them.
How did you hear about NALP, and why did you pursue a NALP Level 4 Diploma?
I discovered it online. I was already a Chartered IOSH member, a practitioner member of CQI and an affiliate of IEMA – but I wanted to develop a relationship with a recognised body attached to the legal world in general and to take a challenging qualification that would set me apart from competitors and demonstrate a deeper knowledge of law.
What benefits have you seen from taking the NALP Level 4 course?
Several new clients have liked that I have a Level 4 paralegal qualification. I never “over-egg” it and ensure that they don’t mistake me for a paralegal per se, but I have had a lot of positive feedback relating to the qualification and, I think legitimately, to the broader legal perspective it has equipped me with.
How does having a broader legal perspective inform your work or help you day-to-day?
I'm much better equipped to discuss the differences between civil and criminal law. It's surprising how many organisations still think being insured removes all of their legal vulnerability – but then again I don't suppose I would have had a clue myself unless I'd studied it! To a point this is useful, directly, because it results in light-bulb moments of discovering how criminal law penalties are not insurable at all – and neither is going to prison! But also indirectly, because hearing about how nuanced and complex things can get when they "go legal" is daunting enough and I think in itself this makes clients want to avoid courts, lawyers, judges and juries at all reasonable cost!
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I like discovering that a process I've suggested has been implemented and has either made a real, operational difference – perhaps prevented a workplace injury or a data breach – and / or has defeated a speculative civil claim. I recently helped to improve proactive employee engagement with regards to health conditions and disabilities. This resulted in both a little bit of a morale boost as the client provided better support, flexibility, information and tracking of conditions on a one to one basis – but also prevented a claim from a disgruntled former employee where the audit trail now clearly evidenced that reasonable adjustments had been explored, agreed and introduced. I also enjoy when clients attain independently audited standards such as ISO9001, ISO45001, ISO14001 or ISO27001 – and subsequently report their contribution in winning a new client, because this highlights a big part of the commercial value in what I do.
What do you see as the future of the legal advice and consultancy sector?
I would love a crystal ball! I think we’re living in an era of unprecedented political, technological and social change and the commercial appetite for independent advice, at least in my fields, is tough to predict. I think people prefer, overall, to develop relationships with trusted advisers who know their business and I think it would take a lot for technology to disrupt this significantly. I think there will always be room for sector niche independents and some generalists – I’m backing both horses whilst maintaining competence across a range of additional compliance disciplines that sit alongside health and safety. In the current climate, who knows what October 2019 will bring, let alone October 2020!