Deputy general counsel at Marks & Spencer and non-executive director at the College of Legal Practice

Sarah Dickson

I am sure I should have a highbrow explanation about why I went into the law but I don’t. It was because of Ally McBeal, Kavanagh QC and a brilliant work experience placement when I was 17 with Yorkshire Water’s legal department.

I trained at DLA Piper and qualified there as a corporate lawyer. I had the most amazing years at DLA and learned so much from the partner I sat with, Andrew Davies.

I went in-house on secondment from DLA to a telecoms turnaround company called Energis, which was eventually acquired by Cable & Wireless. When general counsel Nick Cooper asked me to stay, it was a really difficult decision because I was very happy at DLA. However, I just couldn’t resist the chaos, lack of structure  and the complete licence to ‘make sure you just get things done and you pay for yourself to be here every single day’. It was liberating.

I joined Marks & Spencer five months ago after a brilliant 14 years with Asda. I could not resist the challenge of working for one of Britain’s most-loved brands as it continues in its transformation journey. He is very modest and won’t like me to mention it, but I was also very inspired and excited to be working with Nick Folland, the GC of M&S. Working for a brand like M&S comes with a huge amount of responsibility.

I couldn’t resist the chaos, lack of structure and the complete licence to ‘make sure you just get things done and you pay for yourself to be here every single day’. It was liberating

M&S has historically been seen as a traditional bricks and mortar retailer, but we need to keep improving and offering the service our customers want. Therefore there is an absolute focus on digital and online – all hands are on deck as we prepare for the Ocado/M&S launch in September.

M&S always inspires a reaction. It is such a loved brand that everybody has an opinion. I have to say I have been glued to Britain’s Got Talent this year (M&S Food is sponsoring the show).

When I was approached about the role of non-executive director at the College of Legal Practice, it immediately appealed. Nothing excites me more than developing people. Having a role to play in developing our lawyers of the future into brilliant business-minded professionals is a real honour. Being from a relatively modest upbringing in Bradford, the social accessibility offered through the college’s programmes also appeals. 

I would like to see more recognition in the legal educational programmes of the broad skill-set required by today’s in-house lawyers. Their understanding of their sector, and operations and client management skills are mostly learnt on the job at present. Any training that can help new in-house lawyers quickly understand the reality of their work and competing pressures would be of great benefit.