Managing director and founder, Fleet, Hampshire

Initially, I studied for a degree in French, Spanish and business, with aspirations of becoming an interpreter. I soon realised that my proficiency in only two languages might limit my opportunities in that field. So in the early 1990s I found myself working at Cable North West in Liverpool as a temporary employee. I assisted the company’s insurers and their appointed lawyers in defending personal injury claims. It appeared that a significant number of individuals were making claims related to accidents involving cables or trenches in Liverpool. While this was a niche aspect of the role, I discovered a genuine passion for it and became determined to pursue a career in law.

Sharon McDermott

As a late starter, my legal education took a somewhat unconventional route. After completing my initial degree, I embarked on a postgraduate diploma in law to convert my achievements into a legal qualification. I then proceeded to undertake the common professional exam, both of which I pursued on a part-time basis over a span of two years each, while maintaining full-time employment.

During this time, I secured a paralegal position at Telewest Communications – which later became Virgin Media – in Woking. Subsequently, I was fortunate enough to be granted a training contract, which proved to be a pivotal moment in my career, encompassing one year of in-house experience at Telewest Communications and another year at Simmons & Simmons. In 2002, at the age of 32, I officially qualified as a lawyer. My experience during training brought home to me the realisation that I was better suited to in-house roles. I relished the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes and contribute to the overall strategies of the business, rather than merely offering legal counsel.

This appreciation for in-house work led to my 18-year tenure at Virgin Media, during which my responsibilities and role evolved significantly. Initially I focused on major sales contracts, including a complex deal with a public authority valued at nearly £100m in total – the largest revenue generating sales contract for Virgin Media at that time.

'I recognised an emerging gap in the market, driven by the rise of alternative networks and the UK government’s plans for nationwide full-fibre coverage'

I transitioned to working on procurement matters, encompassing a wide array of goods and services. I was promoted to the position of head of legal, where my primary ‘clients’ were the chief operating officer and his senior leadership team. My team and I worked on various deals relating to the service side of the business, such as engineering, interconnect, finance, installations, delivery, and customer experience. This role granted me a seat at the decision-making table.

The business then had a substantial investment injection of £3bn to expand the company’s network. Although it was a high-pressure project, our management team was united in pursuit of the goal to ‘pass’ as many homes or premises as possible – which meant that those residents or businesses (in those homes or premises) could sign up with Virgin Media to receive its broadband services. After successfully concluding the necessary deals for this expansion, I decided to move out of my comfort zone and shift my focus away from being a solicitor. I assumed responsibility for overseeing the wayleave, statutory, and compliance teams, managing about 150 people, plus contractors. Virgin Media provided a remarkable working environment, and I owe a great deal of my professional growth to the experiences gained there.

During this period, I recognised an emerging gap in the market, driven by the rise of alternative networks (altnets) and the UK government’s ambitious plans for nationwide full-fibre coverage. I identified a significant need for expertise in wayleave management and associated strategies within the legal domain. I also acknowledged that altnets may require legal guidance, and contract terms and conditions tailored to their specific needs. My extensive experience in this field led me to establish my own firm, Trenches Law.

The recent awarding of Code powers from Ofcom to the firm is both novel and groundbreaking. This allows us to streamline the wayleave process even further, and support operators and altnets in achieving the government’s ambitious full-fibre rollout targets.

I have also become an adviser to the UK Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, lending my expertise to supporting ISPs throughout the country. I am looking forward to what is ahead – I have so many more things I want to achieve.