Bringing a Human Connection to Law and Ministry
By Axiom Law
Conan Chitham has been an Axiom lawyer in London for over 10 years, and has worked with over 20 different clients. He is currently engaged with one of the Big Four accounting firms, and with a healthcare provider where he serves as Data Protection Officer. Conan loves working at Axiom and his engagements alike, and has been able to build strong work relationships even while working remotely from home. The flexibility that Axiom’s engagement model has given him has also enabled him to have time to become a vicar at a city center church with a strong and diverse business and residential community. Conan holds a certification in data protection and brings his experience in commercial, media, intellectual property, and IT law to his clients.
Serving as a lawyer and business advisor
As a student, Conan initially wanted to pursue acting. However, his alma mater, Cambridge University, did not offer a degree in it, so he decided to concentrate on studying law. After graduating, he worked in Her Majesty’s Civil Service, then trained as a barrister before becoming a solicitor. Conan worked at his first law firm, Birmingham-based Wragge & Co, for almost 10 years, where he served as head of its media group.
Today, Conan feels strongly that lawyers can help to advise on business matters and offer more than just transactional services to their clients. As an example, he points to an experience at the firm in Birmingham that inspired him to be more creative in finding solutions for businesses. For the client, a UK-based brick company, Conan created a detailed set of terms and conditions for customers. The client was unwilling to pay the full time-based fee that would have been usual for the firm, so Conan proposed charging the company £1 for each time they used the terms. The company agreed. “Instead of paying us £5,000 pounds for those terms and conditions,” says Conan, “the company ended up paying several times that amount, but they paid it happily, because they’d seen the use and value that they had got from these terms and conditions.”
Joining a “switched-on” legal community at Axiom
After serving as a partner at two different London law firms, Conan was considering moving in-house, but he was unsure of the best path forward. At the time, Axiom had just begun recruiting in the UK. “When I saw Axiom’s model, I needed no selling,” says Conan. “It was exactly what I’d been looking for. Axiom provides real, quality partnerships with clients, and a new way of practicing law. It was a no-brainer for me.”
His favorite aspect about working at Axiom is the top-notch legal community. “You know the phrase, ‘You’re measured by the company you keep?’ You keep a lot of good company here at Axiom. They are the sort of people you’d want to work with. A lot of very dynamic, switched-on people. That’s a real privilege.”
For Conan, the collegial atmosphere and quality of talent are a perfect environment. “You get the best of the world of in-house practice, without being dragged down by departmental politics,” he says. One of his strengths is being able to build positive relationships with colleagues, even while working remotely. “There’s a whole range of people who I would genuinely call ‘friends’ who I have met in person only sporadically over the last 10 years.”
Building relationships as an embedded business partner
Currently, Conan has four engagements with Axiom, though at times he’s balanced up to eight or more. One of them is as a Data Protection Officer at a healthcare provider, where he ensures the company is being compliant with European data privacy law. While Conan’s engagement there is for only a few hours a week, he is very much embedded in the day-to-day work with his colleagues, and regularly attends events and other team-building functions.
Conan’s other principal engagement is with a Big Four accounting firm, working as part of their global legal function. Although he works largely remotely with client colleagues spread across the world, he feels comfortable and confident with the relationships he’s built at each of his clients. “I’m equally embedded in my client's business as office-based staff in my engagements,” he says, “and I’ve been able to know numerous staff both within the legal function and the wider business, totally through virtual means.”
Connecting on a human level as a minister
Conan balances his legal work with being a Church of England minister at a parish in his home city. His flexible work schedule allowed him to go through the training process a few years ago. “I thought about it a number of times when I was in private practice,” says, “but it just wasn’t possible to do.” As a minister, Conan participates in Sunday church services, baptisms, and weddings; and counsels parishioners. “I’ve only been able to do this because of Axiom,” says Conan. “The alternative for me would have been to give up law altogether and go into ministry full-time, which I didn’t think would have been the right choice for me.”
Conan feels like his work in ministry has allowed him to connect with colleagues on a more human level during tough times, but he also feels that his corporate experience reflects positively back into his ministry. “A lot of people say things like, ‘Oh well, the cutthroat world of business. How is that compatible with being a minister?’ Time and time again for me, I see that it’s very compatible.”
He observes that many corporate responsibility initiatives in ethics, and in social and environmental responsibility, speak to the same agenda that many people in the church are passionate about. He also points out that many of the people he engages within his workplace are themselves involved in the world of work and business during the week, so he is able to bring his experience at work to bear in his ministry in that way too.
The future of law
Conan predicts that technology like document management, automation technology, and AI will play an important part in the future of law, but he expects that experienced lawyers will be important for complex and nuanced decision-making processes. “People will still need lawyers who can provide skills-based, experience-based advice and input to apply the legal out to their particular situation,” he says. “In-house lawyers in particular are about so much more than black-letter law. If some of the routine, time-intensive churn can be automated or AI’d, then that allows more time for creative and strategic thinking on moving businesses forward in compliant and risk-managed ways.” He also predicts that businesses will rely more on embedded or in-house legal counsel, as opposed to law firms. “I think Axiom has a great role to play in the future of legal work.”
A “switched-on” environment like Axiom allows lawyers to embed with their clients seamlessly to create impactful solutions. As a buyer of legal services at past engagements, Conan believes that the legal business needs to continue to evolve in this way. “Time and time again I see that law firms do not necessarily engage with the business needs of their clients.” He believes that businesses need to use lawyers creatively, “not only as people who you go to with problems, but as part of the strategic team from the outset,” he says.
Conan’s passion for creating high-impact solutions at his engagements, and his ability to connect with his colleagues, have been huge assets during his time as a lawyer at Axiom. Get in touch to learn more about how you can join our dynamic, global legal community.