From Slaughters to Olswang to London 2012
This week we speak to Alastair Ruxton, formerly of Slaughter and May and Olswang, now a lawyer at London 2012, the organisation responsible for preparing to stage the Olympic and Parlympic Games in London in 2012. We wanted to find out more…
mtl: Hi, how are you?
Alastair: Very well, thank you.
mtl: Great. Now, start at the beginning.
Alastair: Ok. I studied Classics at Oxford. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after that and lots of my friends seemed to be going for jobs in law firms. It seemed like a sensible thing to do. After all, city law firms would pay you through law school and you would have a good job at the end of it.
It was 1992 and jobs weren’t in abundance so when Slaughter and May offered me a training contract I went for it. The people there seemed nice but I didn’t have much of an idea about the nature of the job itself. I thought that as Classics was a rigorous subject and law seemed like a rigorous job, it might be a good fit for me.
I went to Japan for a year straight after university to learn Japanese. That was a great year and I might have stayed out there longer if I didn’t have the Slaughters job to come back to…and things might have been very different.
I did my training contract, qualified as a corporate lawyer and stayed at Slaughters until I was a year and a half qualified. I very much liked the people but I found the work a bit dry. Big companies were doing big financial things that weren’t very tangible.
I decided to try something different and so went to Olswang. That was in 1999 and Olswang was a pretty exciting (if a little manic) place as it was growing so quickly. At first I thought “Oh no, what have I done, this is just the same pressurised environment”, but then I started to get some great work.
I’ve heard some lawyers say it doesn’t make any difference whether you are selling a property company or a television company, a deal is a deal, but I disagree. I think the subject matter is very important – I couldn’t get excited by big financial institutions but at Olswang I worked for companies that I found interesting – Channel 4, Ministry of Sound and the BBC, for example. That did make a difference.
mtl: So what made you leave?
Alastair: I was constantly on the look-out for other things, not because I did not like Olswang but because I was always re-assessing whether I really wanted to be a corporate lawyer long-term.
I had this slightly crazy notion of writing a book about cricket in Barbados. I thought it would be fun to go out there and try to play in a village cricket team and then write a book about my experiences. I was on the verge of doing this when the London 2012 role came up.
I didn’t abandon the cricket idea, in fact I went out to Barbados during Easter 2004, played some cricket and appeared on Barbados Radio as a cricket pundit, whilst on holiday from my London 2012 role. However, the book never got written as the London 2012 bid started to become my focus.
Graduated from Lincoln College, Oxford in Classics
Year in Japan learning Japanese in Kobe
CPE/LPC at College of Law in York
Joined Slaughter and May
Qualified into corporate at Slaughter and May
Joined London 2012
mtl: Why did you choose London 2012?
Alastair: It just felt right at the time. I’m keen on sport and I was at a stage at Olswang when I was ready for a new challenge. I saw an advert in the Legal Gazette for a role at London 2012 and I actually pointed a friend of mine at Olswang in its direction. He applied for it and decided it wasn’t for him. It turned out that someone I knew well from University, Charlie Wijeratna, was the lawyer recruiting at London 2012. Somehow it seemed to be fate telling me to give the job a go. I had an interview on the Tuesday, accepted the job on the Wednesday and started on the Monday. London 2012 was growing quickly and keen for people to join their team straight away; Olswang were really good about letting me go quickly.
This was November 2003 and no-one at London 2012 had any idea how long their job was going to last. We were in charge of submitting the London 2012 bid. We had no idea whether we would get it. There was an incredibly exciting challenge ahead.
The first few months were something of a scramble, getting the first stage of the bid submitted – the Applicant Questionnaire. We were behind some of the other Candidate Cities as they had either bid previously (e.g. Paris for 2008) or (in the case of New York) held their own sub-bids within their own country just to become the Candidate City, and so they were much better prepared.
We only had a few months after the Government gave its backing to the bid to prepare the questionnaire and so I was thrown in at the deep end - covering areas from drugs policy to immigration issues, to the obtaining of Prime Ministerial backing. It wasn’t corporate law, and a lot of it was common sense, but the sheer range of the work was the challenge.
In May 2004 London was put on the short-list and we started to accelerate work towards submitting the main bidding document, the Candidature File. This was submitted in November 2004.
It’s hard to imagine the amount of legal work involved. The Candidate City has to demonstrate that its laws are sufficient to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in a range of areas, but in particular in relation to intellectual property protection for the Olympic marks. We even had to check things like whether guide dogs would be allowed in from abroad and what procedures were in place to guard against an outbreak of African horse fever! And then we had to prepare sponsorship arrangements for bid supporters and we had to negotiate option agreements over every poster site in London. In short, we had to get 400 guarantees and commitments from every organisation involved – the Prime Minister, 11 other ministers, 30 local authorities, the venues themselves, transport authorities, and around 60 hotels. We had to get all these people to give it time and thought, when no-one knew whether the bid would all end up being a waste of time!
After the submission of the main document came the visit of the Evaluation Commission in February 2005. That was an intense four days. I had to give a presentation on customs and immigration, with some extremely senior individuals present! I also had to organise getting 16 important people around London to 20 venues.
At one stage, I even travelled in the lead car through the Channel Tunnel with Seb Coe in the front and me in the back. It was pretty exciting – driving in to Wembley and hearing an impassioned speech by Sir Bobby Charlton – fantastic. The visit was a great success. It was the start of our believing we really could win the bid.
In the last few months there was more planning to be done for the possibility of winning. In particular, we worked closely with the Government, the Mayor of London and the British Olympic Association on the new legislation (the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Bill) to be brought in if we were successful on 6 July 2005.
The last few days of the bid were incredible. Being in Singapore where the announcement of our win was made was one of the best moments of my life. We had won the Games for Britain and we now had a chance to inspire the youth of the world to choose sport. What more do you want from a job?
mtl: Fantastic. Are there opportunities for other lawyers inspired by your story?
Alastair: Not in the short-term, but in a few years’ time, yes. After the next Olympic and Paraympic Games in Beijing, the pace will really accelerate. The London Organising Committee’s staff will grow to 3000 by the time the Games arrive, with a legal team of around 25.
There will also be opportunities for legal volunteers to get involved in checking venues, for example. We expect there will be around 75,000 volunteers. You can find information on this and all the other opportunities on our website – www.london2012.com.
mtl: How do the financial rewards compare (for the non-volunteers)?
Alastair: It’s pretty good – competitive as compared to other in-house roles. We are keen to get the best people to work here and that means paying competitively.
mtl: What happens to London 2012 once it’s all over?
Alastair: Who knows?! Theoretically, I will no longer have a job but my experience will be so broad and unique that I’m sure something will come up.
I just feel lucky to be involved in something like this. I really don’t see a downside. For an armchair sports fan it’s great to be this close to the guts of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
And, ultimately, I really do buy in to the ultimate aim: to change people’s perspective of sport in London and the UK and to inspire young people to take part.
mtl: Indeed. Alastair Ruxton, thank you very much for speaking to us and good luck for 2012.
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.
Send this feature to a friend: