Ex-City lawyer makes a good call
This week we speak to Emily who works as a Legal Counsel in T-Mobile’s large in-house legal team. Emily started out in the City at SJ Berwin and is now based at T-Mobile’s HQ in Hatfield. We ask about the transition from private practice to in-house, what the work is like and how life now compares to life in the City….
mtl: Hello Emily. So let’s start at the beginning.
Emily: I studied law at Nottingham University and then did the LPC at Nottingham Law School. Then I went straight into the City and did my training contract at SJ Berwin. It was hard work - a very busy and fast-paced working environment, but I had fantastic training, including three months in their Brussels office, which was a great experience.
I qualified into the Commerce and Technology team (essentially non-contentious IP). The work was high-quality and interesting, but I did wonder whether the City lifestyle was for me, long-term. While I was on secondment at one of the major rail companies, I really started to think about moving in-house as a career option. I enjoyed the secondment because it was a more commercial environment – I really got to see how the business worked and I was able to play a part in that. It also seemed less hierarchical than law firms, with a certain amount of independence to build your own role.
So, after being qualified for two years, I spotted the job at T-Mobile and decided to go for it.
mtl: Isn’t it quite early to go in-house at only two years qualified?
Emily: I felt the time was right for me. I think that if you leave it too late then private practice could become so ingrained that the transition might be very difficult. I felt I was able to take the benefit of all the skills I had learned from four years in a law firm and adapt them quite easily to in-house practice.
I think it is impossible to say exactly when the right time to go in-house is. It depends on your area of practice and the nature of the in-house role. I would be against going into a limiting role as a junior lawyer, which might be the case if the role involves you simply managing the outsourcing of work to private practice firms (and not actually doing any of it yourself!), or where the nature of the work is so specific to one particular industry that your skills might not be very transferable. I think if you move into a role where you are going to get a lot of responsibility and your skills are transferable, then two years of private practice experience is definitely enough.
Graduated from Nottingham University - Law
LPC at Nottingham Law School
Commenced Training Contract at SJ Berwin
Qualified into Commerce and Technology Team
Moved to T-Mobile
mtl: So why did you choose T-Mobile?
Emily: I wanted to work for a well-known company with a big legal team. I also wanted to develop my specialist knowledge and know that I was going to get the support I needed for my future career development. Our team consists of around 20-25 lawyers, with a broad range of specialist areas covered, which gives us all the opportunity to become experts within our fields. I was concerned that in a smaller team I might become a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’.
mtl: So how did it work out?
Emily: Well, I’ve been here three years and it’s great. It has been everything I hoped it would be.
The work is extremely high-quality. I advise on the branding, marketing and IP side of the business, which means I get involved in our television and radio advertising campaigns, and review much of our customer-facing material. I’m also involved in our website strategy. Basically, it’s the fun stuff that I was doing in private practice without the unmanageably huge agreements to worry about!
The atmosphere in the legal team is great – very professional but friendly, and we are constantly sharing ideas with each other. It’s a very strong legal team – we won The Lawyer Awards In-house TMT Legal Team of the Year this year – and people who come from the City seem to like it here. We’ve had a number of secondees from City firms who have stayed on permanently.
I work much more independently than I did in private practice. On the vast majority of the matters on which I work, I am the only lawyer. Sometimes the work is intense and the decisions that I need to make are quite significant ones for the business.
The level of independence makes a big difference to my lifestyle. It’s really a question of control. If I work hard during the day, I know I will be able to leave at a reasonable hour – it is up to me. I usually get in early to get a head start. Office hours officially end at 5pm, though I’m often here until around 6pm. I think the latest I’ve worked in three years is 8.00pm, with the very occasional weekend. And that was my choice – that’s the difference.
mtl: Sounds good, but what about the pay?
Emily: Certainly at the time I moved it was competitive. T-Mobile is obviously keen to recruit the best lawyers, so it offers all the other benefits that you would expect from a major corporation. Our offices are really smart – light and glassy, with our own Starbucks. They’re in Hatfield, which is only 20 minutes from King’s Cross, and some people reverse commute.
mtl: Do you think you could go back to private practice, if you wanted to?
Emily: Oh yes, definitely, if I wanted to (which I don’t currently!). I don’t think I’ve closed any doors by coming here, and I think my experience has given me something that would be of value in private practice – a real insight into how businesses work at the same time as continuing the development of my legal skills. Over the years, there have been a few people from our team who have moved back in to private practice in the past – it does happen.
mtl: So what does the future hold for you?
Emily: I’m still very interested in my specialist area of law, which is constantly changing. My plan is therefore to continue to develop my existing role here. Most of my current work is UK based, so I am keen to expand my involvement with the international branding and trademark teams, as I find that really interesting. That is what I love about this job – it is up to me to develop my own career and I have the opportunity to take it in a number of different directions. For example, other members of the legal team have now moved into senior commercial roles in the business.
mtl: So what would your advice be to lawyers thinking about going in-house?
Emily: Be careful about where you go. Think about what you want from the experience. If you want to keep your options open then a big company with a big team might be best. But generally I think that in-house roles are what you make of them – there is much more scope for you to mould your own role.
mtl: Emily, thank you very much for speaking to us and good luck at T-Mobile.
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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