Head of legal, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon
I wanted to do economics but was offered a scholarship to do law instead after my university entrance exams and decided to take it.
Learning how to go from thinking like a lawyer to thinking like a business person with legal training has been my hardest career challenge.
Working for a diverse range of organisations that differ in size, complexity, geographic reach and business focus has helped me see both the common threads and to understand the subtleties of business.
At the RSC no two days are ever the same which keeps the role exciting and infinitely interesting. It involves being able to switch rapidly between, and deal with a great variety of, legal challenges as well as business issues.
As the RSC is a charity, it means that resources are much more limited than what would be taken for granted in a similar-sized commercial organisation. The ability to get the most out of what is available and think out of the box in looking for solutions are key requirements of this role.
Over the years I’ve learned that it is essential that in-house counsel have the mindset of a service provider. That means: viewing the business as the client; actively selling and thinking about the value you bring to an organisation; and always looking to provide ways to move things forward.
To be a good in-house counsel it is essential to have patience, an attention to detail, a highly developed sense of humour, a willingness to do what is required (even if it means rolling up your sleeves and pitching in), humility, innovativeness, be a good communicator, a willingness to regularly step out of your comfort zone and emotional intelligence.
Generally, as a profession I find dealing with other lawyers frustrating. While many have an understanding of the law, few have an understanding of how businesses actually work and are truly client- and solution-focused.
I have not had occasion to deal with barristers. The vast majority of commercial disputes I have been involved in settled long before they reached a stage where court proceedings were required.
Lost in the changes I have seen in the legal profession is taking pride in a job done well. And the personal touch – there is too much reliance upon/hiding behind electronic communication. But the flip side of the use of technology is that it has enabled more productive use of time, and a greater ability to connect and share knowledge, not just within the profession in the UK but also globally.
Whether specialisation has been a good thing would depend on whether you are in practice or working in-house. In terms of the ability to provide in-depth legal advice it has certainly been a welcome development. However, if this is not coupled with a wider commercial perspective and understanding it can be more of a hindrance.
I hope the legal profession continues to evolve and embrace the use of technology. There aren’t enough truly good lawyers.
I would advise those starting a career now – any career, and certainly a career in law – to think about the legacy they would like to leave behind. Start with the end in mind and move forward.