Deputy general counsel, Royal Mail Group
My strong drive for reasonableness, fairness and justice pushed me towards a career in the law.
I was lucky enough to be trained in both civil law and common law in two very different countries. This prepared me for looking at things from different perspectives. My civil law training was in the Netherlands with a ‘rule-book’ (code) approach and exam questions which focused on getting to the ‘right’ answer. My common law training was in Canada with a jurisprudence approach and exam questions which focused on taking/defending a side. I realised that both systems often came to the same answers but used very different roads to get there.
A common challenge is that of lawyers being seen as a necessary evil, which is then linked to a most rewarding moment when those same people realise and appreciate the value you actually bring.
I learn all the time. Bringing all my experience together helps me to be a better business partner. You don’t need to always have all the answers. Often what matters is knowing what questions to ask.
A good lawyer not only answers the question ‘can we do this?’, but also ‘is it right to do this?’
The variety you see in lawyers is the same variety you see in other professionals. Generally, though, in my experience lawyers want to help, do the right thing and are very precise and analytical. It is a mindset.
The hardest client is one that sees you only as a necessary evil, or that wants you to provide legal advice based on incomplete information, or that rephrases your legal advice into something they wanted to hear, rather than what you actually said. I have come across all of these.
My least favourite law is one that is either vague or ambiguous, or a law that is not available for review yet applied in the courts.
I continue to see improvements and am delighted how the rule of law is increasingly becoming a foundation for improvement, not just economically but also socially. The 2011 UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights (protect, respect and remedy) are a great example of this. Of course, in this great country we can look back at Magna Carta, where some of these principles were already embedded 800 years ago.
We need both specialists and generalists. The generalists are more frequently seen in-house, and the specialists are more often seen in law firms.