Can you work 100% remotely, from Stornoway, as an in-house counsel for a global company focused on people development? Yes you can, and this month’s interviewee revels in it
Tell us about your career path to date?

My journey began as a trainee at the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service in 2010, where I gained invaluable experience, particularly in court work. Although I really enjoyed my traineeship, on qualifying I wanted to experience working in other areas because I wasn’t sure about focusing solely on criminal law as my career, and I Iove learning new things.

After a short time with a criminal defence firm, I applied for my first in-house role at the University of Aberdeen. I was surprised but incredibly pleased when they offered me a temporary position. I worked there for six months before moving into oil and gas, where I remained for the next five years.

I became conscious that I had never worked in private practice, and was keen to expand my experience within that environment. I wanted to work as part of a team where I believed I would have the opportunity to grow as a lawyer, extend my knowledge and learn new skills, so I was delighted when I was offered an associate position with an international firm in Glasgow.

Although I did gain amazing experience and learned a huge amount, when the opportunity to become legal counsel at Insights as remote worker came up, I jumped at the chance. I had just started a relationship (with the man I would eventually marry) and there was a possibility of me moving to Stornoway, so remote working would be ideal. Additionally, Insights seemed to have a great culture, a good variety of work and a fantastic product – which I have grown to get behind and love.

What were the main differences you found between your in-house and private practice roles?

Private practice provided the opportunity to work for, and help, a wide variety of interesting clients. It was a fast paced, adrenaline-fuelled environment (my colleagues worked hard and played hard), and with billable hours you could tangibly see that you were increasing profitability for the firm, which was very satisfying. I was given very challenging but really enjoyable secondments, including working in a London fintech startup, which even had a prosecco tap in the office! All the experience gained helped me grow professionally and personally and I am pleased that this pattern of learning and growth has continued in my current role.

Working in-house enables one to really get to grips with the whole business, build good relationships across the company and oversee projects from start to finish, all of which I find very rewarding. I feel a great sense of achievement when solving a problem for the business or concluding a really complicated negotiation. I also appreciate the steady, flexible working hours and routine which give me a fantastic work-life balance.

Tell us more about your current role and how it feeds into Insights’ overall aims?

Insights’ overall aim is to create a world where people truly understand themselves and others, and are inspired to make a positive difference in everything they do. This applies to employees and clients alike. As legal counsel, it is part of my role to ensure Insights achieves this aim by providing advice about new products and services, assisting in contract negotiations, drafting templates and providing advice on data protection and general legal enquiries.

Since the Legal team provides legal advice and carries out most of the contracting work with clients, other teams are able to focus confidently on their goals and helping their clients effectively. Everyone at Insights works as a team to ensure that clients are able to access Insights’ unique and life-enriching products and services. Our services are aimed at assisting people to understand themselves and others better, thereby making the working experience richer and happier. The legal team is just one cog in the wheel.

Insights has a huge focus on relationships, team bonding and creating a positive working environment. All employees have a role in promoting this culture which flows through the company.

Insights specialises in personal profiling. How has this impacted on the way you work, and would you recommend the approach to other in-house legal teams?

In short, yes, absolutely. Personal profiling provides the basis for all employees to have deeper personal awareness of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as tools for understanding and appreciating colleagues. The aim is to provide a working environment where staff understand the way you work, think and typically react in certain work situations. You and your colleagues are far more likely to have a productive, contented, happy working environment and work experience when you understand each other.

For example, the Insights personality profiling taught me that I predominantly lead with “earth green”, which means I am more productive when others show they care about me. My colleagues know this and take it into account when we work together. Equally, when I see that a colleague leads with “fiery red”, I know they are primarily target driven, task focused and like quick results, so when writing an email to them, I try to make it short, concise and with action points to facilitate their working style.

Your head office is in Dundee but you work from home in Stornoway. How do you find remote working 100% of the time? What are the pros and cons and how do you compensate for any cons?

As a company, Insights recognises that to gain access to the best talent, you shouldn’t restrict your recruitment pool to one area; this is why they have so many remote workers. Remote workers are very much part of the Insights team and huge effort is made to include them in all events.

The view from Helena's home office on LewisStornoway is an amazing place and the Island of Lewis has some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. Remote working enables me to enjoy island life while pursuing my Insights legal career.

Another pro of working remotely is that there is no daily, timewasting, repetitive commute, which means I can spend more time with my family before and after work. I feel really connected with my team, even though I am many miles from most of them and keep in contact via videoconferencing calls, emails and Skype.

You do miss out on some of the fun events that are organised in the office. Insights focuses on making work fun, and often has events, quizzes and competitions in the office to build team spirit and enable teams just to have some fun together. Not being there for these is a shame. However, since COVID-19, I’ve managed to participate in some events tailored for remote working which I’ve really enjoyed and appreciated. For example, there was a challenge before Christmas where employees were encouraged to go walking throughout the day to keep healthy and improve wellbeing. We would participate in “walking meetings”, where instead of sitting at a desk during calls, we were outside, enjoying the fresh air and getting our step count up. It is something I had never thought of before, but it was a fantastic idea – especially when nights were so dark!

What else sets Insights apart from other in-house teams?

Insights deeply understands that employees have a life outside work and takes the view that achieving a successful work-life balance is hugely important in the grand scheme of things. In addition to personal profiling, there is also a focus on wellbeing, mental health, self-care and a flexible approach to work – all making for a staff team who are inspired to offer their best.

What are the key challenges for your Legal team this year?

One of the key challenges we faced was how to adapt to, and thrive under, the lockdown restrictions. For example, we changed our face-to-face workshops and events so they could be delivered to clients completely online. We had to adjust to lockdown pretty quickly, and Legal supported the business throughout this change, conducting all client negotiations virtually, adapting our products to online delivery, and servicing client relationships completely online.

In addition, we had to prepare for Brexit and its implications, particularly in respect of personal data.

How have attitudes and working practices changed in the profession since you started out?

When I was at university, I always envisaged a legal career as starting in a law firm, picking one specialism and progressing through the ranks. I’ve now come to realise that there are many routes to having an enjoyable and prosperous career, while at the same time achieving a work-life balance.

At university and during my traineeship, I was unsure how easily solicitors could switch from one area of law to another. I was delighted that I was able to branch out from criminal law to other areas. I really enjoy working in-house; it is becoming more recognised as a viable career choice (many companies now offer in-house traineeships). I have valued my in-house roles because I have increased my knowledge in so many different areas and have not had to pick one specialism and stick with it, although I admit there are certain areas where I have more specialist knowledge than others. Every day is a learning opportunity.

What is your most unusual/amusing work experience?

Since Insights puts huge emphasis on team bonding and colleague relationships, it often provides fun and generous opportunities to facilitate that. When I started there, one of the most enjoyable team events was a Global Legal team day trip to Edinburgh, where we looked around the shops, had a tour of the Signet Library and enjoyed a lovely meal in an Edinburgh restaurant before heading back to our hotel in Dundee. A very enjoyable working day indeed!

Although it was a fun day, the goal was to enable the team to foster good relationships and bond together. The theory was that the more you know your team, the more you are likely to reach out to them when you need help and to provide help to team members when they need it. It is easier to email someone you know well, than someone that you barely know. It definitely helped me know my team better and become more comfortable reaching out for assistance or running something past colleagues.

Finally, what do you love doing when the working day is done?

I enjoy going for long walks along the white sandy beaches of Lewis, or around the Lews Castle grounds. Prior to lockdown, I enjoyed finishing my walk with a nice meal at one of the harbour restaurants. Lewis is a beautiful place and I’m blessed to be able to work from here.

Questions put by Hope Craig, In-house Lawyers’ Committee member

The Author

Helena MacLeod, legal counsel, Insights

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