Ex-City lawyer hugs David Beckham......
......as part of her job at the British Olympic Association
We caught up with Sara Friend, ex-Baker & McKenzie lawyer, now Legal Director at the British Olympic Association. She has an exciting time overseeing Britain’s involvement in the Olympic Games and is now heavily involved in the preparations for 2012. How did she get here?
mtl: Hi Sara.
mtl: So, take us through your legal career.
Sara: Well, after studying Law and French at the University of Buckingham and then the LPC at Guildford, I joined Baker & McKenzie in the City and eventually qualified into Dispute Resolution.
I really enjoyed my time at Bakers. I met a lot of great people there, many of whom are still great friends, and I worked on some very interesting matters. About six months before I left, I was working on a particularly complex arbitration case, which involved me spending a lot of time at the client’s offices, getting a detailed insight into how our client’s business was run. As external lawyers, it was sometimes difficult to see how your advice was actually used by the businesses you were advising. I often felt that as a lawyer your advice didn’t have much impact on the commercial direction of the business, even though it should have done. Advice was sometimes ignored – especially if the client didn’t like what they heard! That got me thinking about what it would be like to be a lawyer on the inside of a business, with more of a practical, day-to-day involvement in the direction and strategy of running it. I had never been that excited by black letter law – I enjoyed the practicalities of helping clients.
mtl: So you started thinking about other options…..
Sara: Yes, although I wasn’t in any rush to leave Bakers. It was more a case of waiting for the right job to come along, I didn’t want to make a mistake. I signed up to a couple of recruitment consultants and kept my eyes on the back pages of the legal press.
Graduated from University of Buckinghamshire (Law and French)
LPC (College of Law, Guildford)
Started Training Contract at Baker & McKenzie
Qualified into Dispute Resolution
As it happened, I saw this job advertised in a small advert at the back of the Gazette, although I had read an article about my predecessor and the fact that he was moving on, which had alerted me to the possibility of an opportunity here.
I am a big sports fan and this happened shortly after the Sydney 2000 Olympics, so the job really caught my eye. The advert said they were looking for someone with IP/commercial experience. However, once I met them, I could tell that, as a small organisation, what was most important to them was finding the right personality, as long as that person came from a sound legal background as well!
Fortunately, they offered me the job. It was a pay-cut, of course, but it sounded very exciting. As I had never been 100% sure about the long-term reality of life in a City law firm, I decided to go for it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
mtl: And how was it?
Sara: A little scary, at first. Going in-house can take you out of a fairly easy comfort zone in the City - it's certainly not for everyone. I was the only lawyer and, at 4 years qualified, coming from a big firm, I was used to considerable partnership involvement and all the luxuries of a City law firm, like a 24 hour IT department or overnight typists. There was a lot about the sporting world that I needed to learn. I was thrown in at the deep end with the Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City coming not long after I joined – I had to oversee team preparations and sponsorship deals from a legal point of view.
mtl: Tell us more about the role of the British Olympic Association.
Sara: We’ve been around for over 100 years and we have responsibility for organising Britain’s involvement in every Olympic Games. Our objectives are to provide world class services to all who impact on athletic performance at the Olympic and Olympic Winter Games, and to inspire young people to embrace the ideals and values of Olympic sport. On the legal side this includes sponsorship, licensing, events programming, legal protection and promotion of Team GB. It also stretches to team selection policies, appeals and management of issues that arise at the Olympic Games, including doping offences.
I was also heavily involved in the London bid for the 2012 Olympics - getting the Government and the Mayor’s Office on board behind the BOA’s vision and then working with them to put together the bid.
mtl: Ok, so you must have been just a little bit excited when the announcement came that London had won?
Sara: Yes – just a bit, it was an amazing climax to two years’ hard work. I was there in Singapore for the announcement. I even managed to get a hug from David Beckham. That was worth more than any City bonus!
mtl: Agreed. But how does your more average day differ from life in the City?
Sara: I generally work shorter hours – no surprise there. Other than the last few weeks before an Olympics and once we’re there, I will generally leave the office around 6.30pm. That said, shorter hours certainly don’t mean less work, I think it is more about how you prioritise. It is of course helped by the fact that you are advising internal “clients” and they’re easier to put on hold than external clients who are paying for your services and want an immediate answer. The nature of the work and of my involvement is totally different. I am part of the senior management team and I am now as involved in the commercial side of the operation as the legal side. I get to see the whole picture, and I really like that.
But there is no doubt that the most exciting part of my job comes during the Olympics and Winter Olympics. Quite simply, I get paid to go to the Games and live in the Olympic Village with all of the athletes. Money can’t buy that sort of experience if you’re into sport! I’ll be working of course, and it’s really hard work, but the adrenalin gets you through. Some of the issues that arise can be very high-profile. For example, in Athens we went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to get Britain’s Leslie Law reinstated to Gold Medal position in the three-day equestrian event after Germany had had some penalty points wrongly reinstated. That was hard work, but professionally very satisfying – even if the world’s media were watching ever move!
mtl: Yes, that is exciting. Any advice to lawyers who like the sound of your job?
Sara: Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities, or even write to the sporting bodies in which you are interested. As it happens, we have recently been looking for a junior lawyer to join us to take on more of the day-to-day legal work to allow me to concentrate more on the BOA’s role in the 2012 project. The deadline for applications has passed but people should take heart in that a lot of sporting bodies are taking on in-house lawyers - it is a growing area.
mtl: Sara Friend, thank you very much for your time and good luck with the preparations for 2012.
You can find out more about the BOA at www.olmpics.org.uk.
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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