Stuart Murdoch, now a Partner at DLA Piper, won the In-house Lawyers Committee’s first ever In-house Rising Star Award in 2013. We spoke to him about what it meant to win the award, and why recognising talent in the legal profession has never been more important.

Tell us a bit about your career to date

I trained at Brodies and qualified in 2009 just as the global financial crisis was really starting to bite. I had my first secondment in-house to NatWest as a trainee and loved it. I qualified into the commercial litigation team at Brodies.

After about 18 months I got an opportunity to go for a permanent job with NatWest Litigation in Edinburgh. I started at Gogarburn in 2010. It was a very difficult time for the country, the economy, the bank and its staff and shareholders. From a legal perspective, the issues were highly complex and varied.

In 2014 I joined Burness Paull as a senior associate. I had to adapt to the type of legal work that Burness Paull’s clients needed. That meant much wider FS upskilling e.g. insurance and funds; corporate litigation; and more FS regulatory work.

I moved to DLA Piper in May 2021 after a short break to finish my English qualification exams in London. Moving during COVID was very tough. I didn’t appreciate how much I thrived on being around people every day. The DLA Piper model is genuinely not about being a local partner in an outpost office: it’s about being fully integrated with the international firm.

You were at NatWest when you were named In-house Rising Star for 2013.What did winning the award mean to you?

To be honest, just to be nominated I was extremely proud. My whole family were. I was up against two amazing finalists (April Law-Reed and Mhairi Maguire) who I thought sounded much more impressive and deserving than me.

I won the award, I think, for two reasons: 1) my boss at the time, Carol Paton, is a beautiful writer (and an amazing lawyer of course); and 2) I was lucky enough to be in a job where the quality of legal work was second to none. Carol wrote my nomination and it was so kind, thoughtful and charming whilst also being blue-chip and impressive.

I couldn’t believe it when my name was read out. I should have been more confident for the reasons I’ve mentioned. So, I really have to put the achievement down to having a great boss who believed in me and who believed in giving praise and recognition – and yes – I take some credit for not totally messing up the fabulous opportunity I was given.

Why do you think it’s important to recognise the achievements of those who are early in their legal careers?

I think it’s important to recognise everyone’s achievements all the time but, yes, particularly those just starting out. Confidence is such a funny thing. For some people it’s so easy (although sometimes unmerited) and for others it’s elusive.

I think law is such a fulfilling and rewarding profession and I hope the next generation feel that too. I think we owe it to our profession to do everything we can for the next crop of talented young lawyers who will hopefully go on to make the differences in society that we haven’t managed.

Some law firms and businesses can be hierarchical. I’ve never liked that. I believe in experience, sure, but I also believe that there is a qualitative element to experience: it’s not just about number of years. I also strongly believe in meritocracy. Too often partners and GCs hog the limelight and airtime when it would be a much richer discussion if more “junior” colleagues had a bigger role to play.

You’re now a partner in private practice. Was making the move from in-house to a law firm straightforward?

Yes and no. I like to think I’m a bit entrepreneurial. I like to make relationships and gain work from people by earning their trust. All in-house lawyers have to do that of course but I think I thrive on the make-or-break pressure of doing it in private practice. Of course, time recording is a menace. And, as I mentioned before, I had to learn to adapt – a lot. I now think that adaptability is my key strength. I try to force myself out of my comfort zone all the time. Doing that time and time again gives you the confidence to know that you can constantly up-skill and deliver.

What advice would you give students or new lawyers who are just getting started with their careers?

Be nosy. Wanting to know about everything and everyone and how the world works is, in my opinion, a great quality.

Be bold. If you have a law degree, you’re a highly intelligent and influential member of society. You have valid opinions and amazing ideas. Some people might make you feel like some of that isn’t true. Have courage in your convictions.

Always be true to yourself. I’ve tried to be all things to all people. It doesn’t work. Sure, lean towards people but don’t change or pretend to be something you’re not.

Push yourself; but not too hard. Stay healthy and safe and as happy as possible – but the biggest accomplishments are never the easiest ones.

Always try to work smarter rather than harder.

How does the future look for the legal profession?

Honestly, the need for lawyers has never been so great in my career. Right now we have a truly terrible war in Europe, a climate change emergency, a global flu pandemic and ongoing political uncertainty. Of course, scientists, doctors and politicians might have a more conspicuous role to play in these events than us, but the need for high-quality legal advice is greater than I’ve ever known. The rule of law and democracy go hand in hand. It’s not just that there is an awful lot of work for lawyers to do; it’s also very important work which is integral to our society both now and as it evolves (hopefully for the better) in the future.

However, the profession does need to change. My year at Glasgow University was 65% female back in 2001-2005. Yet in 2022 equity partners in law firms are at least 65% male. That’s just one of many aspects of diversity that need to be tackled much more aggressively. I genuinely believe that those law firms which fully embrace a D&I agenda will be much more sustainable (and profitable!) businesses. I think it’s incumbent on everyone – and especially those men and women with the most power and influence within their firms – to make change happen.

 

Who are your rising stars?

Recognise the outstanding achievements of newly qualified or trainee solicitor colleagues working in-house and nominate your In-house Rising Star for 2022 by 18 May 2022. If you have any queries about submitting a nomination, please contact Beth Anderson, Head of Member Engagement at the Law Society of Scotland.

 

Do you know an in-house rising star?

The Rising Star Award celebrates and rewards the brilliance of trainees and NQs with up to five years' PQE who are shining in their early careers in-house. Nominate a colleague or contact today.