Arlene Gibbs is a principal solicitor at Aberdeenshire Council, a vice convener of the In-house Lawyers’ Committee and a judge in this year’s In-house Rising Star Award
Tell us about your career so far?

I graduated in 2009 in the midst of the economic recession. Traineeships were few and far between, so I worked for a couple of years in Aberdeenshire Council’s Legal Services team in a non-legal role before securing a traineeship there in 2011. When I qualified in 2013, I moved to Aberdeen City Council and worked in their Commercial, Contracts & Projects team, before moving back to Aberdeenshire Council in 2015 to work as a solicitor advising on a niche area of planning law. 

In 2020 I took up my current role as principal solicitor for the Democratic Services team. It’s a really diverse and interesting role which supports the Council’s monitoring officer and involves offering advice to councillors and officers of the council in connection with quasi-judicial matters, council governance, ethical standards, and ensuring good decision making. I’m often advising in public at committee meetings, so I need to think on my feet and no two days are the same.

Can you tell us about some of the challenges and benefits of an in-house legal career?

A significant proportion of in-house roles are in the public sector, and perhaps the biggest challenge of working in that space is the pressure to do more for less, both in financial terms and staffing. There is so much to do and never enough people. And the pandemic has just intensified that, with people being deployed from their usual roles to help combat the impact of COVID, and latterly the devastation caused by the winter storms. This has really brought colleagues from across the council together and highlighted that in-house lawyers have the opportunity to contribute to the immediate and longer-term strategic goals of the organisation. 

We’re there as the lawyer and offer legal advice, but we also contribute in a more strategic way, often assuming a project management role. I feel like I am part of the bigger picture, and working so close to decision making and democracy in practice is really satisfying. 

What motivated you to get involved with the Society’s In-house Rising Star Award?

I joined the In-house Lawyers’ Committee in 2018 for two main reasons. When I was at university there was really very little awareness of the opportunities for in-house legal careers, and when I qualified I wanted to contribute to the Society’s work to raise the profile of the in-house community. We are equally qualified and experienced as other lawyers in their respective fields; there is lots of exciting work happening in-house and I am keen that as a sector we get the recognition we deserve. 

Secondly, while an in-house career has a huge amount to offer and is very rewarding, the career progression path isn’t quite so obvious. So I was looking to develop professionally and expand my network, and I have never looked back. Being a member of the In-House Lawyers’ Committee has enabled me to realise these ambitions, and having the opportunity to support in-house trainees and newly qualified solicitors in this work and through the In-house Rising Star Award allows me to give something back to the profession which has so greatly supported me over the years. 

What are the main issues that you think the Society/the profession has to address at the moment? 

As a supervising solicitor, I am acutely aware of the need to ensure that our trainees and NQs are properly supported. The early years of a legal career can be intense and demanding, and while remote working definitely has its benefits, it can magnify feelings of isolation and being overwhelmed. So it is essential that we as a profession work together to ensure that there is support in place for our trainees and newly qualified colleagues. I know this is something the Society are live to and working on and I look forward to being part of that initiative. 

If you could change only one thing for the profession, what would it be?

I would like to ensure that people considering a career in the law, law students and diploma graduates have a good understanding of the full breadth of career opportunities the legal sector can offer. There are so many possibilities, and by breaking down assumptions that there is one career path, we can open up doors and match the right people to the right roles, based on their skills, interests and aspirations. Initiatives like the In-house Rising Star Award really help to raise awareness of the fantastic talent and brilliant work going on outside of private practice. I can’t wait to see who reaches the finals this year.

What keeps you busy outside of work?

That’s an easy one! I have two young children; at ages six and two I spend a chunk of time ferrying them around to their various activities. On the rare occasions I do get some time to myself, I love nothing more than to escape into a good book. I received a book subscription for Christmas, so every month I receive a surprise read in the post. It comes with coffee and a packet of biscuits. What’s not to like?! 

Read Arlene’s blog for those Considering a career outside a big firm

The Author

Arlene Gibbs, principal solicitor at Aberdeenshire Council

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