Ex-Addleshaws lawyer finds life slick at Shell
This week we caught up with Adam Khan, previously of Addleshaw Goddard, now in-house counsel at Shell in The Hague. He’s on a great package, has a great lifestyle and no regrets about leaving private practice. We found out more….
mtl: Hi Adam.
mtl: So tell us about your career to date.
Adam: I did History at Bristol and then went to the College of Law, Store Street to do the CPE and LPC. I did a vacation scheme at Cameron McKenna and ended up joining Theodore Goddard (now Addleshaw Goddard). I chose TG because it seemed like a pretty cool firm at the time – just the right size, with lots of media clients. I was nervous about the magic circle and getting stuck in a big machine working on some huge, unmanageable deal. That didn’t happen at TG. I enjoyed it, I felt as though I knew everyone and there was a very good atmosphere in our intake of about 14 trainees. The hours weren’t too bad – better than my friends’ hours at some of the bigger firms. I also had the good fortune to spend 6 months on secondment at a record company which was fascinating and fantastic fun.
I qualified into IP, doing both contentious and non-contentious work and for the most part I enjoyed it. The clients were high-end and interesting and there wasn’t too much of a hierarchy – the partners in all departments were very easy to work with.
At about 3 years' pqe, I started to feel ready for a change. Partnership held no real appeal and I felt that even if I did achieve partnership there were further ladders I would have had to climb such as the move from salary to equity. It seemed a bit like Dante’s Inferno, different circles of hell. The trade off between the money, the pressures and quality of life didn’t add up for me.
Graduated from Bristol (History)
Completed CPE/LPC College of Law, Store Street
Joined Theodore Goddard
Qualified into IP at TG
Joined Shell’s Licensing and Agreements team in The Hague
I had a very good friend who had gone in-house and loved it. We’d had a few chats about it and I realised the key factor was the difference in business models between in-house and private practice. In law firms, time equals money so success is based on how long you spend working. However, if you work in a business which provides a specific product or service, the link between how long you spend working and profits is less direct. If you support the product or service in the right way, it’ll work for you.
mtl: So how did you go about making the change?
Adam: Like everyone else, I flicked through the jobs pages. Spotted a few specific positions that I was interested in and called the relevant recruitment consultants. Enquiring about specific positions was a good way of accessing other opportunities with a couple of the agents. However, I found that approaching agents on the off-chance produced mixed results. You need to find someone you like and build a relationship with them so that they can really ascertain what your interests are and which posts would suit your personality.
The benefit is that they will phone you when there’s a good opportunity that’s only just come on the market. That’s what happened with the Shell job. My recruitment agent mentioned it even though the jobs I had been pursuing were more in the media/FMCC market.
She correctly twigged that I was very interested to work in a big corporate blue chip (I am perhaps one of the only IP lawyers I know who actively enjoys corporate support work!). I went for a couple of interviews, the last one being an enjoyable panel interview which confirmed that Shell was definitely the place for me. Initially I had thought the job would be London-based but they offered me the chance to work in The Hague. After discussing it with my wife, who had just given birth to our first child, we felt the chance to live abroad for a while at that stage in our lives, before our son started school, was too good an opportunity to turn down.
mtl: And how is The Hague? We always assumed it to be something of a sterile place…
Adam: Ha, well perhaps compared to Amsterdam, which is certainly a better place to pursue certain interests!
Adam: We really like The Hague. It’s very cosmopolitan as 40% of the population is foreign, which means there’s a good expat community. The Dutch are also very friendly, very funny and love children. A definite perk is that we can afford a larger house here than we could in London. Dutch day care is excellent and we enjoy the slower pace of life here. When Katie and I came over, she was on maternity leave and had left her job a few months beforehand, but she’s now managed to get a job within Shell’s consultancy business, in the marketing department for three days a week, which works very well for us.
mtl: So how is the new job?
Adam: I’m really enjoying it. The work is very varied and international and I’m fascinated by the technology I’m dealing with. I have no technical background but I have gradually started to pick things up and given the significance of Shell’s business in the world you can’t fail to find this interesting. I was, perhaps, concerned before I joined that, by going in-house, I would just be ‘support staff’ and lose my ‘fee-earner’ status, but it doesn’t feel like that at all. We collaborate with our business people and are closely involved with the projects. They see us as a useful resource and really seem to appreciate what we do for them.
mtl: And what does the future hold?
Adam: Who knows?! The vastness of Shell and the variety of its interests mean there are many opportunities here and people are frequently moving to work in different countries on other projects. Many people who join Shell stay here for the majority of their working lives, and it is certainly impressive that a firm can inspire such loyalty in its employees.
mtl: Any advice for other lawyers?
Adam: Yes, I would really recommend thinking about options outside of private practice, especially if you would like a more hands-on role with business. There are more opportunities than people realise. I think that, even if you decided not to move, the process of reviewing your current position and your options will confirm why you might be better off staying where you are.
mtl: Adam Khan, thank you very much for speaking to us and all the best for the future.
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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