Ex-City lawyer working for a conservation charity in Jersey

Rachel MacNeil worked as a finance lawyer in the City for six years before moving to Jersey with her husband for a better work/life balance.  After working in-house for a bank there for almost two years, she decided to take a career break.  Initially she volunteered in the marketing department of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust  (‘Durrell’) and earlier this year she joined the charity in a permanent role. 


mtl:  Please can you start by telling us about your training before following a legal career in the City.


Rachel:  I studied Law with European Studies at Durham University, as I thought it would be good training for whatever I went on to do.  The degree included an Erasmus year where I studied European and International Law in Belgium and managed to pick up a spot of Flemish to boot! Like most law students at the time, I didn’t give my training contract a huge amount of thought, other than knowing that I wanted to work for an international firm, so that I could live and work abroad. 


I trained at Ashurst and was able to do a seat in Milan, which was great.  I qualified into the international finance practice as I wanted big ticket cross-border work where I could work with different cultures and use my language skills.


On qualification, I worked principally on leveraged finance deals which had a short but intense cycle. Usually I was drawn into a deal for 2 or 3 weeks, worked all night and my life was put on hold until after closing. At the beginning it was really exciting to read about these transactions in the FT but after a year or so I realised that it wasn’t for me in the long term.  The downtime after a deal was spent waiting for the next wave of work, which I found quite stressful, so I started to think about moving into a more general practice area. 


In 2005 I moved to the commercial group of Slaughter and May, where I worked on a mixture of different finance transactions and was able to develop my experience while generally working more regular hours than before. 


However, after a few more years, my fiancé and I decided to leave London in search of a better work/life balance. We wanted to continue our careers as finance lawyers so looked at a range of places, including New York, Hong Kong and the Channel Islands. Despite having no previous connections, we finally decided upon Jersey because of the offshore lifestyle, better climate, low taxes and proximity to the UK and France.   In May 2008 we both found jobs and moved to Jersey in August 2008, which was good timing as it was just before the credit crunch hit. 


mtl:  Tell us about your legal role in Jersey…


Rachel:   I used the move as an opportunity to try an in-house role, as I had decided that I did not want to stay in private practice. I also wanted a change from dry technical legal drafting and instead gain exposure to the underlying commercial drivers behind deals. 




Career timeline


1996 – 2000

Law with European Legal Studies,

Durham / Leuven


2000 – 2001

Nottingham Law School


2002 – 2004

Training contract, Ashurst


2004 – 2005

International finance associate,



2005 – 2008

Commercial associate, Slaughter and

May Ltd


2008 – 2010

In-house, Standard Bank Jersey


May 2010

Started career break


October 2010

Volunteer position at Durrell Wildlife

Conservation Trust


January 2011

Permanent position in marketing at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust


My in-house role was in the corporate trust division of Standard Bank Jersey, advising the business where it acted as trustee in a range of capital markets deals, where sub-Saharan African governments had issued bonds to investors. Unfortunately, because of the economic climate at the time and the high risk nature of the work, there was no new deal flow and so my work focused on helping the bank to represent the rights of investors in negotiations - and sometimes litigation - with various governments who had defaulted on their payment obligations. 


The circumstances were not ideal in that it was high risk work and there were minimal resources in the department.  My job was to highlight risks to the bank which I did but, after 18 months, I decided that the role was no longer very rewarding and it made me think about whether I wanted to continue as a lawyer.  I took a few months to clear my head, network with people and evaluate what I could do with my future career so that I could still use the skills I had developed as a lawyer – negotiation, organisation, networking, dealing with people, languages…etc.


mtl:  How did your career change pan out?


Rachel:   I realised that I wanted to do something where I helped people. I also wanted to believe in the values of the organisation where I worked.  After a break over the summer of 2010, I saw an advert for a volunteer position in the marketing department of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, which I’d previously visited and had thought was wonderful. 


It seemed like a creative role – something different from the law – so I applied and started in October 2010.  In January 2011, I was offered a permanent role, which I accepted.  I’ve always been interested in animals and nature and have fond memories of watching “My family and other animals” as a child.


mtl:  Tell us about your role?


Rachel:   My role is working in the marketing department to raise the profile of Durrell at local, national and international levels.  My first piece of work was writing a marketing proposal for a new luxury wildlife camp which we plan to open in 2012. This involved dealing with local businesses, investigating the market and finding websites, companies and travel agents that would be keen to sell our product. 


I had no prior experience in marketing but my legal background prepared me well.  I have used my organisational and people skills from law and see it like putting together the different elements of a deal.  Strong attention to detail, being able to deal with people at any level of an organisation and the ability to adapt to different circumstances have all made the switch manageable.  


My work includes liaising with corporates, high net worth individuals and even celebrities from time to time for marketing and fundraising activities. I also assist with external publications that go out to our members.  Every day is different, but what I enjoy most about it is working in an international charity, building relationships with people within the Trust, in varying sectors in Jersey and internationally – and seeing ring-tailed lemurs jump through trees outside my window.  Having gorillas nearby is pretty cool too!


The only tricky aspect about moving to a charity has been not having the same support structures that you get in a big law firm or a bank, as there can be challenges resulting from a lack of technology or manpower.  I feel I’ve had to prove myself again from the beginning, as I am in a different arena and it took a while to establish myself in a completely different type of organisation.  At least in my new role I am dealing with a different type of Alpha male compared to the ones that I encountered in the City!


mtl:  What makes the Durrell charity special?


Rachel:   Durrell was founded by the famous naturalist, Gerald Durrell, over 50 years ago. It is an amazing place to work, as its mission is to save species from extinction. Durrell is a world renowned, international conservation charity that has 50 projects located in 14 different countries.


Unlike other conservation charities, it has a unique structure that is based around its three core pillars of specialisation: its international field programmes, its wildlife park in Jersey and its international training centre - a type of mini-university for conservationists, where people from around the world learn pioneering conservation techniques which they take back to their home countries.  Durrell’s work also involves liaising with governments and NGOs to prevent the illegal pet trade, for example, in relation to the critically endangered ploughshare tortoise of Madagascar.


To raise its profile in the UK mainland and elsewhere, Durrell is working with Jersey Finance on building better links with the City of London. In particular, we are planning some high profile fundraising activities for 2012.


mtl:  Any tips or advice for our readers?


Rachel:   I took a major pay cut, which is something obvious to be aware of if moving to a charity, but this wasn’t something that particularly bothered me - money doesn’t bring happiness after all!  Do what you believe in and feel passionate about and don’t be scared of change.  Be aware that doing law from age 18 can make you blinkered to other career paths – it’s a big world out there with many opportunities.


I found “What Color Is Your Parachute?” really helpful to read, as it pinned down what motivates me, what I wanted out of a job and made me focus on the skills that I have. 


Life in Jersey is great and I have no regrets about leaving the big smoke.  People have more time for each other here, it’s an island of great natural beauty and the working hours are better.  You can be on the beach or home in ten minutes after work, there is a good standard of living, as well as great restaurants and day trips to France!


You can see the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust website here.


Rachel can be contacted at rachel.macneil@durrell.org.


If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.


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