In-house lawyers news archive

SYLA and ILG joint event: So you wanna be an in-house lawyer?

22 April 2013

Report from ILG/SYLA event

The ILG held a joint event with the Scottish Young Lawyers' Association (SYLA) on 27 March in Edinburgh. This was part of the SYLA's successful "So you wanna be a..." series, an event designed to introduce young lawyers to the variety and possibility of different in-house legal careers.

Five in-house lawyers spoke from various different sectors of work and at various different stages in their career. All five were inspiringly passionate about their in-house jobs. They took us on a journey of opportunity which included parliaments, bridges, exotic locations, entrepreneurial spirit, trams, festivals, share prices and an unusual traineeship application strategy! Key themes about the benefits of working in-house were:

  • interesting and varied work
  • work-life balance
  • doing more than just being a lawyer
  • good career prospects

After a quick welcome and introduction from SYLA President Fiona McAllister, Lynda Towers took the floor to walk us through her career in pictures. Lynda, who is Solicitor to the Scottish Parliament has litigated, legislated and advised people of all political views and tempers (keeping her own political neutrality where the job required it) and has managed others. Her jobs have not just been about being a lawyer. Her career has spanned several parliaments, involved various bridges and taken her to the European Court of Justice three times. It's all her fault that the Scott Monument is dirty (she managed to put a stop to a proposal to clean it with chemicals which would have actually damaged it)! She has happily had the time to do other things as well, such as her work on ILG and her sailing and she encouraged us to make time to do the same.

Next Robin Baxter, ILG Committee member in Aberdeen, whizzed us through some slides to explain his incredibly international career. Born in Drumsheugh Gardens (now known to us as the home of the Law Society) he has gone on to set up his own oil and gas company, with lots of work as a commercial in-house lawyer in between. His career has taken him to Libya, Vienna, New York (he was actually there when 9/11 happened) and London and has included working for American and Danish companies. He once worked on a deal involving buying a Spanish ship the size of two football fields. His job has been more about managing other lawyers around the world than advising himself - all you need is the phone number of the right person! When you work in industry a common benefit is share options but it's only for you if you can be a capitalist who adds value for shareholders. After setting up his own company he hopes to inspire us to realise that lawyers can be entrepreneurs, after all being an entrepreneur has a lot to do with managing risk. He also hopes his career demonstrates that you can take a Scottish legal qualification around the world and live a good life.

Kevin McKee from the Commercial Legal Team in Edinburgh City Council spoke next. He trained in Shepherd & Wedderburn before moving in-house. The council employs 36 solicitors, including two trainees and is now taking on two more trainees. He said that time-recording does happen in-house, in the form of an internal charging system. On the plus side they are helped by an external panel of firms. Typical work covers large projects (like the infamous trams), contracts for events like the Edinburgh Festival and Hogmanay and high profile matters like the Property Care Corruption investigation. He has a varied and interesting workload and it's not just a purely legal role. Days are busy but there is flexi time and late nights are rare. Other benefits are good career options (many lawyers hold senior positions in the council) and the element of public service, of helping people. A challenge however is the lack of a client/lawyer filter!

Laura Smith told us about training in Group Legal in Standard Life, a team of around 70 staff. It is like a mini firm and like Kevin she has to time-record. Standard Life offers one of the only private sector in-house traineeships in Edinburgh, taking two or three trainees a year. In the past few years they have had a 100% retention rate of trainees (something I hope will encourage other companies to take a trainee). Trainees do six months in Burness, Paul & Williamson as part of a reciprocal arrangement. They are also part of the wider Standard Life graduate network which she says is very enjoyable and great for building that all-important internal network in a large organisation. She is now qualified and works in the legal pensions team where auto enrolment is keeping her very busy. To be a good in-house lawyer she says you must know your client and keep informed, stay smart. She then took us through her love/hate lists about working in house. She loves watching the share price move, tendering for new business, leaving work at 5pm, working with different business areas, the brand, the training (a nice mix of legal and business) and having just one client! On Laura's hate list is pressure from shareholders, constant regulatory change and internal restructuring.

Finally David Johnston of the Government Legal Service Scotland (GLSS) gave us the lowdown on "So you wanna be a Government lawyer". There are two main areas of work in GLSS: (1) advising and legislative work and (2) litigation services. David only applied for one traineeship (not a strategy he would recommend!) but he liked the sound of the GLSS traineeship and luckily he got the job. GLSS puts lots of emphasis on its staff and provides lots of responsibility from day one. He has enjoyed a unique and varied workload, intellectually challenging work, involvement in politically sensitive work, regular career moves to develop skills and a positive working environment (he's only worked three Saturdays in six years). Career opportunities can include Whitehall, the EU, the Scottish Law Commission, public inquiries and taking a policy post. David finished by telling us that GLSS is currently recruiting!

Then it was time for a glass or two of wine, nibbles and networking. The feedback was that it was a thoroughly inspiring evening with lots of great insights into working in different in-house jobs, even for people like myself who already work in-house! I hope that events like this can help more young lawyers better understand that there is legal life beyond private practice. The ILG is hoping to collaborate with SYLA on other things to help achieve that goal and to support young in-house lawyers. If you have any ideas about how we might do that then please get in touch!

By Sara Scott, Vice Chair ILG Committee