Ever thought about going in-house? What are the most enjoyable elements of the job and what are the main challenges faced day to day? Follow the stories of our featured in-house counsel in the coming weeks as they share their experiences with us. Today, we speak to Executive Director and Assistant General Counsel of JPMorgan Chase Bank, Natalie Abou-Alwan.
Job title: Executive Director and Assistant General Counsel
Company: JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A.
How long have you been working for your current company?
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I qualified into the Energy team at Clyde & Co. in 2000 and from then on have worked in the Energy & Commodities sector. While working in private practice I got a taste of life in-house when I was seconded to Aquila Energy Limited in 2002. I joined J.P. Morgan in 2006 and really enjoy the daily contact with the business. I truly believe that a lawyer’s skills are given the opportunity to be fully rounded when they experience the 360 degrees of working in a commercial environment.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Aside from some of the transactions that I have worked on, my proudest professional achievement is the trust and confidence I have gained from the Commodities business I support. The business is not always easy to please due to their expectation of quick and accurate advice and this is understandable as every minute counts for them particularly in the fast pace of the trading environment. Once their trust and confidence is earned, it can only be built upon and grown which leads to greater exposure to their deals from the start of a transaction right through to its execution.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
Throughout my career I have formed some great professional relationships. Equally, we all face tougher relationships from time to time from all areas. I have found that an effective way to overcome these types of challenges, that are experienced by many but rarely discussed freely, is to maintain a strong core of confidence in your own abilities and put your trust in those you respect to guide you when you feel you need a little encouragement.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
To a certain extent, my decision to move in-house was made in the hope that a work-life balance would be more attainable than working in private practice. On the one hand, this has been true as generally, I have my evenings and most weekends free from work. However, on the other hand, because I enjoy the work I do, I often find that I am thinking about a potential deal or project more in my spare time. Yet, this is my choice. Switching off is an acquired skill and the longer I have worked, the more I realise that ensuring my time off really is a true break and not just a change of scenery, pays dividends when returning to work with a fresh mind and a new perspective.
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
I had several mentors throughout my early career in private practice, one of whom, Matthew Williams, I still rely on to a certain degree. In particular, he provided me with the confidence and guidance I needed at various times throughout my career and I still seek his view when I feel that I need confirmation of my decision or understanding of an issue.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
I have not taken part in many corporate diversity initiatives as I have felt that my own contacts both inside and outside the bank have provided me with the right level of net working opportunities. However, these initiatives project a positive image of the firm or company that carries them out and should be encouraged because they are often a huge support to employees who take part in them.
Were there any points in your career when you felt that you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
I have not really experienced a male/female bias and in any event, certainly not from most of the men I have worked with. There have been a few occasions when I fought back on issues that I felt were either unfair or wrong, and where I felt that I would have succeeded better in changing if I were male, but there weren’t that many!
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
A more understanding attitude of flexible working arrangements to allow women the ability to better juggle motherhood and a demanding job.