James Thompson

James Thompson

Counsel at Combat Air, BAE systems

James Thompson talks about his day to day at BAE Systems

I first joined the Combat Air Legal team of BAE Systems in December 2012. I’m responsible for the provision of legal services to the support side of the business which involves the availability and maintenance contracts we have with our UK and international customers for the support of the Typhoon and Tornado aircraft. I’m based at Warton in the North West but often need to head over to RAF bases to see our contracts in action or down to the head office at Farnborough to link in with the legal team there.

I am up early when my young son wakes and it is good to be able to get in the first feed of the day to at least try and give my wife, Daniella (who is currently on maternity leave), a hand with looking after him. Following that pleasant start, I have a 45 minute drive to the office which is a good opportunity to catch up on the news with Radio 4. Certainly at the moment there is a lot going on in the world to affect the business; be it unrest in the Middle East or some new form of cyber-attack. I get into the office for around 8.30am, I then have breakfast at my desk and check whether any new demands have been placed on my day.

I spend a good portion of my time as part of the senior management team for the Combat Air Support business. This means contributing to meetings ranging from the direct management of the business through to strategic direction and transformation activities as we evolve to meet the needs of our customers. This management participation is a good way of ensuring I am aware of the key legal issues we face but it also requires me to contribute and participate in the running of the business outside the scope of pure legal advice. Like any in-house lawyer, a lot of my advice is risk and commercial in nature, “hard” legal considerations are only a small part of the output.

Day to day support to the wider community requires me to support colleagues from our Engineering, Commercial, Procurement and Project Management functions. I still enjoy being involved with the drafting of contracts for key customers and suppliers (building on my previous experience as a corporate finance lawyer with Pinsent Masons in Manchester) but I have also had to develop skills in managing projects and delivery through strict regulations both in the UK and abroad. The US International Traffic in Arms Regulations regularly throws up conundrums, but fortunately we have a separate Export Control team for this key part of the business who are great to work with.

A challenging but enjoyable part of my role is interaction with the engineers that are the lifeblood of BAE Systems. This support varies from product safety legal advice in its purest sense all the way through to advice on airworthiness obligations and strategy. Whilst some advice is given over the phone or by email, I spend much of my time in face to face meetings and I love the variety that my day throws up. Given the diversity and complexity of what we do, coupled with our global footprint, there is no shortage of laws and regulations to consider and always something new to experience.

Typically, I finish around 6pm, although this varies dramatically with workload and whether there are any key deadlines coming up on active bids or projects. The drive home normally features a catch up on the football news with TalkSport or some music once XFM comes back into range of the radio! Typically, I am out far less with work in the evenings now, occasionally I have management team events or legal away days but it is very different to my previous role.

In November I am going to Abu Dhabi for a 30 day international assignment to broaden my international experience so I expect I will have a few more late nights and some very different days in the life whilst I try to make the most of that opportunity.