How has your career progressed to date, culminating in your role as head of legal at Sellafield?
I qualified at a relatively small firm specialising in civil and criminal litigation, which involved a significant amount of advocacy on all manner of criminal cases. Although I thoroughly enjoyed this element of the practice, I recognised that working in industry and managing complex litigation from within a business would ultimately provide much more of a personal challenge. I was fortunate enough to secure a litigation role with BNFL, supporting the management of a portfolio of construction, insurance, regulatory and international contentious matters which enabled me to develop both an understanding of the particular needs of a specialist company but also a foundation in nuclear law, which at that time was not enjoying the renaissance we see now. From that point, I worked with strong leaders within the business to develop my career from a support role through to being asked, when BNFL was broken up, to create the first stand alone team for Sellafield. I was given the freedom to recruit specialist lawyers into the team to build the diverse legal team that we are fortunate enough to have today.
When do you think is the optimum stage in a lawyers career to make the move in-house?
Personally I found that my path into in-house work suited me well. Being relatively early in my legal career I had the flexibility to select and then focus on specialist areas and I was not fixed on any one particular path. With that said I am aware of many in-house teams that recruit highly specialised and skilled senior lawyers from private practice, so I would not say there was an optimum time – it depends upon the needs of the role.
What have been the highlights of your career to date?
I was more than happy with my role as a legal team member and have many highlights from working over the years within a strong specialist in-house team, with some of the recognised experts in the industry. However for me the challenge of building a legal team for Sellafield Ltd starting with being asked to take on the role of Head of Legal Services stands out as a career turning point and for that reason is my main highlight.
Why did you decide to move in-house/ join Sellafield?
My decision was motivated by two key factors. The first was that even during training I recognised that working in industry presented an opportunity to really understand a business and be best placed to provide advice and support tailored to need the needs of only one (albeit large) client. Secondly I am familiar with the nuclear industry, which faces many challenges, and being in-house enables me to help overcome or at least address some of these challenges and in doing so to work with many of the best in the business.
What is the size of the legal team?
We have 8 solicitors, two non-lawyer specialists, and two support staff
What is your role?
As Head of Legal Services I oversee all of the legal advice and support to the business in all areas in which it is required, including the engagement of external legal resource.
How would you define the role of an in house lawyer?
For me there are three key elements. First, an in-house lawyer is there to provide legal advice, support and solutions – ensuring that work is managed to the best of our ability, mitigating the risk to the business. Secondly by supporting the lead team the in-house lawyer is often in a privileged position to see and understand implications for the business as a whole rather than on a particular matter and can adapt legal advice to support integrated working e.g. to try to avoid decisions within one part of the company adversely affecting another part. Finally: the in-house lawyer should act as a line of defence to identify legal risks that could result in adverse consequences and take action to prevent them arising.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I work with highly skilled and professional teams, whether this is the Board and executive, projects, commercial or indeed the legal team, there is always something new and challenging to deal with. I thoroughly enjoy the fact that no two days or no two issues are ever quite the same.
What characteristics make for a good in house lawyer?
My personal belief is that the in-house lawyer needs to be able to adapt quickly to changing situations and understand the needs of the business at any given time. It is also crucial that an in-house lawyer is able to bridge the gap between the highly professional world of the external legal adviser and the business focus and goals of the company.
What advice would you give to lawyers currently in private practice who might be interested in a move in-house?
Find out about the industry or company first. Moving in house is not so much about the day to day job, but about the business in which we operate.
Why do you think the team won the award for in house legal team of the year?
That is a question for the panel. However all I can say is that the Legal team at Sellafield is dedicated, hard working and enthusiastic about the work that we do; work which is complex and challenging, and which covers a broad spectrum of legal matters in a specialist environment.