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What made you initially choose to pursue a career in law?
My father was involved in the construction industry as a project manager. As well as being an inspiration, he was a very practical man; a skill that I unfortunately did not inherit. I decided to embark on a career where I could be involved in the construction industry without being asked to do anything overly practical – law was a natural choice given the construction industry’s insatiable appetite for legal services.
Can you tell us a bit about your own career to date?
I have been at Carillion for almost 15 years, leading the construction legal team since 2010 and the building legal team before that. I am part of the senior management team (Board) for Carillion’s construction businesses, which include building, rail and civil engineering. This gives me the opportunity to get involved in and influence those businesses from a commercial perspective as well as a purely legal one. Carillion constantly encourages its lawyers to be engaged in its business and I personally value the diversity on offer.
Prior to Carillion I was briefly at Transco (now National Grid Gas), was a construction lawyer at DLA Piper and qualified into commercial litigation at Clarke Willmott.
Why did you decide to move in-house?
For me it was simple as I had always intended to work for a construction business. Working for one of the most dynamic leading construction businesses in the UK, on many of the most interesting and challenging projects, was simply too good an opportunity to miss.
Feedback from my team indicates that the level of opportunity available to Carillion lawyers is one of the biggest appeals. As a new joiner, you will have great access to clients and be encouraged to develop relationships with them from the outset. You will also be challenged to avoid the “churn” work by being innovative and encouraged to seek out new challenges each day. Very quickly there will be responsibility for looking after a part of the business or a particular issue or function that will connect you to the broader business as a whole.
How did you find the transition?
Transitions always bring their own anomalies, but I immediately felt at home and was encouraged by the positive reaction of the business. They welcomed the arrival of another lawyer to help them win work and achieve their business aims.
From the outset, I was involved in a varied workload. Although our specialism is in construction law, we are involved in all of the legal affairs of Carillion’s construction businesses including general commercial/corporate law, IP, dispute resolution and a list of other topics far too numerous to mention. Involvement in such matters means exposure to a broad range of colleagues, from the project team’s right through to the plc senior managers. This level of exposure was a little scary at first, but if you are confident, flexible and want to develop then the self-assurance you gain is quickly reflected in the trust and support of your colleagues, both in the business and the legal team.
What does your current role at Carillion involve?
Carillion’s business is legally complex, fast moving and innovative. It needs a range and depth of legal advice to stay legal, profitable and compliant. Lawyers are a key and integral part of the business process, and Carillion is a very significant user of both internal and external legal services.
Carillion Legal functions to enhance and protect the bottom line of the business, and to preserve the Group’s asset base. Its role is to provide legal support, advice and assistance to all of the Carillion businesses. For Carillion lawyers, this can involve drafting the terms of high-value contracts, meeting and negotiating with our business partners and even attending some of our sites to see the work being done.
As a result, I am very fortunate to have an extremely wide and varied role that is centred on supporting Carillion to meet its business objectives. I get involved in whatever is needed to provide that support and come to work each day expecting something different.
The last eight years have been tough for the construction sector so how has your team kept motivated & engaged?
Carillion offers significant transparency to its employees who are given insight on the business as a whole. The business adopted a strategy in the wake of the economic downturn that allowed it to remain profitable, although extremely selective, in the work it undertook. As colleagues were made privy to that information, it was easy to understand how Carillion strove to survive and ultimately grow again. In all of that time, although the mix of work may have changed, the quality never did.
In addition to the quality of their legal work, the team are motivated by the professional and personal development available to them. It is really important to me that all of my team focus on and embrace opportunities for development – they are encouraged to apply for the general leadership programmes (our Futures Network, where they can be a participant or sponsor, and the Carillion Leadership Programme), take part in community work (everyone is encouraged to give six days per year) and utilise the opportunity of receiving training from our 13 external Legal Network Firms (the challenge being making a choice from the vast array offered).
What are the biggest challenges you face in terms of recruiting the right people?
Although working in-house is not for everyone, and Carillion is not for every in-house lawyer, a big difficulty with attracting the right people is that law students and junior lawyers are usually not aware of the opportunities that come with working for corporates. Opportunities to ensure that young lawyers understand what we do, why we are important to our business and what career development is on offer are not as plentiful as we would like; particularly as we are not regular or major recruiters of lawyers.
We seek the best quality lawyers. We want those who are willing to work as part of a high quality and responsive team, and who are focused on delivering specialist legal advice in support of the operational requirements of Carillion’s businesses. This requires a high level of self-awareness and confidence as well as a real enthusiasm for the commercial aspects of our business.
What do you think is in-store for the construction industry in the UK in 2016?
Construction activity is continuing to increase. With the government having set up the National Infrastructure Commission, an “independent body that enables long term strategic decision making to build effective and efficient infrastructure for the UK”, the future looks good for 2016 and beyond. Many will be aware of HS2 (the high speed rail link between London and Birmingham), the Northern Powerhouse and Crossrail 2; but these major infrastructure projects are merely those that are politically highlighted. There remains a huge amount of development work going on in our major cities, as well as the upgrading of broadband across the country and the major spending on the rail infrastructure and road network.
Finally, any tips/ advice for readers who maybe thinking of moving from private practice into in-house?
If you want a varied and thought-provoking career and are interested in how the law really works for business, I would recommend anyone to take the plunge and embark on discussions to see if an in-house career is right for them. What is there to lose by having a coffee and a chat, particularly when there is so much potential opportunity?