Ex-City lawyer working in-house for a PLC in Nottingham
Our interviewee this week trained in the City and after a brief stint at a US firm, left London to work in Nottingham. He is currently Group Legal Advisor and deputy Company Secretary at Pendragon PLC, the UK’s leading automotive retail network with a £5bn turnover. At 5yrs PQE he is really enjoying the role.
mtl: Hi Richard, please can you tell us about working in London?
Richard: After studying law and the LPC in Nottingham, I trained at CMS Cameron McKenna. I enjoyed my training contract and gained a lot from it. On qualification I was ruthless and went for the money by qualifying into a fledgling tax department at Shearman & Sterling. I realised very quickly that it wasn’t for me. I was expected to do the work of a 1-2yr PQE assistant with no real structured training or development. It was certainly a case of “in at the deep end” and a combination of the hours and the type of work meant that I only stayed six months.
mtl: What did you do next?
Richard: I moved back to Nottingham. My family is from Sheffield and it was nice to be closer to home. I’d had enough of the commuting and hours which come with working in London and also the cost of living there. I took a job at an accountancy firm where I did specialist tax planning, with a focus on stamp duty. I was able to use my corporate and tax skills in a half-way house between private practice and an in-house role. I stayed there for a year and in 2004 I moved to Pendragon PLC, where I still work.
mtl: Tell us about your role there and what you like about it?
Richard: I have a dual role as I am the corporate Group Legal Advisor and deputy Company Secretary. It was no problem to switch back to a purely corporate role as I’d had a good grounding at CMS Cameron McKenna. It was of course a steep learning curve for the first few months, although a lot of it came down to confidence. There are four of us in my team: the Company Secretary who I report to; a litigator; and a trainee.
Training contract, CMS Cameron McKenna
Tax assistant, Shearman & Sterling
Specialist tax planning, Premier Strategies
Group Legal Advisor and deputy Company Secretary, Pendragon PLC
The work that I do includes buying and selling businesses within the group, structuring large corporate transactions, managing the company’s listing on the London Stock Exchange and investor relations, minuting the meetings of the PLC board and its committees, reviewing significant contracts and supply agreements, drafting and running the company’s executive share schemes, IP registrations, franchise agreements and licensing issues. I basically cover everything you could imagine! It is a varied and busy role on a day to day basis, which gets even busier when we have large projects on, such as our £450m acquisition of Reg Vardy PLC in 2006 and the 2007 £16m acquisition of Dixons Motor Group. We of course instruct external lawyers on the larger projects!
I really enjoy the variety and having to juggle lots of different things in the day without knowing what is coming in next. One minute I might be dealing with a grumpy customer, and then I will be working with the PLC board on a deal. The role gives me a fantastic insight into business as I get to see the direction and strategy of the company at board meetings. I enjoy not having to bill hours and on average I work 8am – 6:30pm. If it is busy or we have a completion then of course I will work later.
The hardest thing I find about working in-house is the need to become an expert in different areas of law very quickly and then immediately moving on to something else. In private practice you become an expert and re-affirm your knowledge all the time. In-house you don’t focus on depth as your job is to protect the interests of the business rather than becoming an expert in a particular area. Ultimately I’d like to be General Counsel or Company Secretary for a FTSE 100 company but for the moment I am very happy working where I am and will stay here.
My advice if you are considering going in-house is to be decisive in your role. It is important to provide whoever you are advising with an answer, be it a board director or a salesman at a car dealership. In-house, no one is impressed with your knowledge of the law, they want an answer and direction, and the advice you give can often be business critical. Having the courage of your convictions is therefore important. Be succinct and quick with your advice. I moved in-house at a relatively early stage in my career but if it is right for you, you have good training and you are confident then you will succeed.
mtl: What’s it like living and working in Nottingham?
Richard: There’s a very good social scene for lawyers and other professionals. I live just outside the city centre and drive to work against the traffic. There are lots of good bars and theatres, you can get out to the Peak District and it’s not too far to get down to London to see friends. Generally there is nothing in London that you can’t get in Nottingham on a smaller scale and if you need to you can hop on a train there. I have no regrets about leaving the City for a regional job. I have a lower salary but I don’t work such long hours and arguably I have a better quality of life.
mtl: Thanks for your time Richard.
Click here to see Pendragon’s website
If you know any other lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives or who have a great work/life balance then please get in touch.
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