Clare Woolley

Clare Woolley

Head of Legal at RAC

Clare Woolley shares an average working day in her life

As one of the UK’s “superbrands” and having been around since 1897, most people in the UK have heard of RAC: we provide breakdown services to over 8 million members. We also offer a whole range of additional motoring services to support our aim to be the ‘motorist’s champion’ as well as general insurance products such as car insurance, home insurance and personal accident cover. We also provide breakdown, telematics and insurance services to businesses, motor manufacturers, banks and fleet companies to assist in keeping their and their customers’ vehicles on the road.

I joined the RAC back in 2012 just after a private equity house had bought the business from Aviva. Aviva had retained all of the existing legal team so we set up a small team from scratch. I head up the legal team of eight lawyers who support the business on contracts, disputes, and strategic projects and advice.

I am based in our Walsall office, which is 10 miles from where I live, but I go to our Bristol office twice a week; the journey usually takes me about an hour and a half each way. I find the drive fairly relaxing as it gives me time to plan what I am going to do and think through how to handle any difficult situations that might be on my desk. From time to time I will listen to audio books in the car – I particularly like books on psychology and behavioural science; understanding what makes people tick can really help with a whole range of situations in my job (as well as some at home!). If I am in Walsall I simply enjoy an extra few minutes in bed!

I get into the office at around 8:30am. I have usually identified the “must-dos” for that day the night before, but I also try to set myself one important but non-urgent thing to do every few days. Without discipline it’s challenging to get to them and after a while they start to eat away at you.

The first thing I do every day is run through my emails - this is usually when my carefully crafted plan for the day goes out of the window as it is very rare that a day pans out as I expect it to! RAC is an agile and entrepreneurial environment with little bureaucracy which means that things can happen very quickly. As much as it can be stressful - and sometimes frustrating - I would be lying if I didn’t confess that I thrive on the unpredictability.

I tend to have at least one “catch-up” meeting in my diary which I do with the directors of each business area. We talk through the key priorities and challenges facing them that month from a commercial perspective and then have an update on any ongoing legal issues. This is such a simple but invaluable tool for building relationships. I am sure that prioritising these meetings, even when we have been under extreme pressure, is part of the reason that our legal team is able to offer such relevant and commercial advice and consequently is so highly regarded across the company. They also allow you to get to know your stakeholders much better and, in turn, you have an in-depth understanding of their motivations and even the type of language that they use. This really helps you to pitch advice, especially when delivering difficult messages.

Most days I will have at least one 1:1 with a member of my team. We use these sessions to monitor personal development and use a risk-based approach to prioritise workloads. We will usually also do some trouble-shooting; for example, on contract negotiations that have become protracted to see if I can help to identify any different approaches or tactics. We also try to identify common trends and issues that arise so that we can take feedback to the business area in order to develop more streamlined and efficient ways of operating.

The business is now very good at involving legal early on in projects and new contracts. This ensures that we can help to identify issues early on and then we are able to develop appropriate structures and also to add our commercial experience from similar deals that we have seen previously. As a result, a number of my meetings each week will be regarding projects at this early strategic level. I really enjoy these as you become more than “just a lawyer” and fortunately, our views and opinions are valued by the business.

Both of our Walsall and Bristol offices are on industrial estates, so there’s not much opportunity for glamorous lunches! However, we do have relatively good canteen facilities and most of the team manage to grab lunch together there a couple of times a week – although I have to confess I rarely make it and resort to lunch “al desko” most days.

I try to be quite strict with myself and leave the office by 6:00pm. I know from experience that I am at my most productive when I allow myself proper downtime in the evening. I use my journey home to think through the day’s events. If something hasn’t gone quite as well as it could have, I allow myself the commuting time to work it through, but when I get out of the car I force myself to stop as I have a tendency to over-analyse and be a little self-critical. The discipline of drawing that line is very important to me.

I have just joined a gym, so on the days when I am in Walsall I try to get to a spinning class or go for a swim. After that, or on days when I am in Bristol, I enjoy cooking the evening meal with my husband and hearing about his day before settling down on the sofa with a good box set; House of Cards and Walking Dead are firm favourites in our house.

All in all I feel incredibly privileged to work for such an exciting organisation and with such an amazingly talented team. The team has come a long way in the last five years - it has taken a lot of hard work and dedication from everyone, but we have had a lot of fun whilst doing it. It is a real pleasure to work with people who are talented, motivated and supportive but who also know how to party.

Navigating your career as an in-house lawyer