Being the only lawyer in a global medical devices company, headquartered in Edinburgh with a strong IP focus, means an interesting life for the subject of this month’s in-house interview

Where do you come from, and what was the career path to your current position?

I was born in Surrey and brought up near Cambridge. I gained a biochemistry degree at the University of Bristol but decided not to pursue a career in genetics as I wasn’t patient enough for research. I then joined the IP team at Linklaters, London to help with biotech patent litigation. They put me through the London College of Law where I completed the Legal Practice Course; I was a trainee and then an assistant with them.

I took a career break to have my family, then became an IP consultant and from that a partner in DLA Piper’s IP group. While at DLA Piper, I advised Aircraft Medical on their IP and commercial work and they asked me to join them in 2012.

What is your work role, and how much input do you have on business strategy and governance?

I am responsible for all of our legal and IP work as well as having a commercial role working with the CEO to deliver commercial strategy set by the board.

I sit on the board as general counsel and commercial director. I am the only lawyer in the company, but we have taken on work experience students. We are a class 1 medical device manufacturer, so we are regulated but are not as complex from a regulatory perspective as a pharma company.

What is a typical working day for you?

I have no typical working day, as our business is global and you never know what the day will bring. I check my emails as soon as I am awake, replying to urgent matters and making calls early if required. I work a mixture from home and in our Dalgety Bay premises, and speak to our board and staff in the UK and abroad, as well as the partners we work with across the 50+ countries that we work in. I travel to London regularly and travel the rest of the world from my desk.

What motivates you on a Monday morning?

I believe I make a difference, and really enjoy the diversity of my role which is integrated in a business where I am always being challenged with new matters and working closely with the various teams across the company, from engineering to R&D.

What was the biggest change for you when you moved in-house and what do you really enjoy about working in-house?

No longer having my wonderful PA and not having to time record! I have learned so much from a business perspective from my colleagues and am still learning all the time. I work with our heads of department and am often a sounding board for them, which I enjoy as I learn more about the business. I enjoy legal and commercial problem solving, and working with and managing our legal advisers and various partners across the world.

Has your organisation experienced any major change recently?

We opened a representative office in Hong Kong shortly after I joined, which is where our CEO and head of design relocated to drive increased R&D and production growth across Asia. This has been very successful.

What was your most amusing work experience?

We had a murder mystery teambuilding away day, and seeing all of my colleagues in fancy dress and really getting into their characters was hilarious – some are very good actors!

What makes a good in-house lawyer and what’s your career advice for young lawyers who want to start an in-house career?

Excellent communication and listening skills help in better understanding the business and what the drivers and needs are. Being approachable/accessible and available, as well as someone people can talk to and who is not judgmental, helps you to integrate with the business and therefore understand what is required from the business and facilitate commercial problem solving. My advice to young lawyers in private practice is try to go on secondment in-house and have a really open mind while you’re there to how that company solves problems – you may change how you think.

What do you look for when you seek external legal advice from solicitors or counsel in the UK and abroad? How do you see the in-house/external legal relationship changing?

The key driver is, can they help me deliver on a business need, on time and on budget – providing me with the outcomes to help me look good to my board in the process is a bonus. I use UK counsel and external lawyers around the world in our main markets: Europe, Asia and the US. I seek local legal expertise, commercial pragmatism and a willingness to work to a fixed fee arrangement where possible so I can budget for anticipated spend. I pay for good and timely advice that is commercially useful and justifies the cost. The in-house and external legal relationship is changing, and the way forward is for external lawyers to be part of the team, working with me to add value to the business – if we can also keep our costs down it allows us to achieve more. External lawyers need to know our business and deliver on our strategy. It is a two-way street and I need to be able to bounce ideas off them without always being charged for our discussion. All of this ultimately benefits the company, which is the goal.

What are the current hot legal topics in your sector, and how does the future look for in-house lawyers?

Having one unitary European patent and enforcement in one European Patent Court could be great for cost effective patent litigation, though I’m not convinced it will benefit patentees in practice. The future for in-house lawyers looks great – going in-house is now a very popular legal career choice as it gives people a challenging and broader perspective at an earlier stage than you often get in private practice.

You have spoken at several IP seminars in Scotland. How important is IP to your business?

IP is fundamental to our business; it represents major commercial value and reflects our considerable investment in R&D and innovation.

Do you think Scottish legal education and training provide the necessary skills for working in-house?

Yes, it provides good training, but I believe all Scottish lawyers need to look more globally outside Scotland, for example to understand the differences between the law in Scotland and in England & Wales, as the latter is much more used internationally.

How do you think in-house lawyers today are perceived within the wider legal profession?

Things have changed; more lawyers want to work in-house and we are no longer looked down on by private practice as the easy option – I think that’s anything but the case now.

What keeps you busy outside the office?

My family (my husband and three children and numerous animals), friends, my house and three-acre garden in East Lothian, and my husband’s new business (BrawLife, an artisan fruit and vegetable juice business).

What would you take with you to a desert island, and what would you put in Room 101?

I would want to take my family with me to a desert island - and put the hourly rate in Room 101!

Leigh is 2015 rising star

Leigh Kirkpatrick, a solicitor at the Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh, has been named as the winner of this year’s Law Society of Scotland In-house Lawyers’ Group Rising Star Award.

Leigh, pictured (right) with ILG chair Lynda Towers, was presented with her award at the Society’s Law in Scotland Conference reception.

Runners-up were Emma Blundell of City of Edinburgh Council and Martin Campbell of the Scottish Social Services Council, based in Dundee. All three finalists were commended for their commitment to providing the best possible legal services within their respective organisations, and for contributing to the wider community through volunteering their personal time and expertise.

This is the third year of the Rising Star Award, which was launched to support and promote new lawyers working as part of in-house legal teams, a group that now makes up 30% of Scottish solicitors.

The Author
Philippa Montgomerie, general counsel and commercial director, Aircraft Medical Ltd. Questions put by Graeme McWilliams, committee member, In-house Lawyers Group  
Share this article
Add To Favorites