Andrew Robertson, general counsel & group company secretary at Hargreaves Services PLC

Andrew, can you tell readers of The Brief a bit about your background?
I’m from the North East, which is where Hargreaves has its headquarters, and I studied Law at Durham University. I trained with Dickinson Dees (now Bond Dickinson) where I qualified into the insolvency/ restructuring team. I stayed there for 12 enjoyable years and never considered moving in-house. However, while researching Dickinson Dees’ merger partner, I came across this job in The Lawyer and, after careful consideration, I realised that my experience in private practice had been excellent preparation for a move in-house. I decided to apply and I joined Hargreaves in January 2013.

What does Hargreaves do?
Hargreaves PLC is one of the largest publically listed businesses in the North East with an annual turnover of £1bn and 2,500 employees. We’re perhaps best known locally for our green lorries but there’s much more to us than that! Group operations extend to mining, commodities trading, renewable energy and industrial services. We’re also one of the biggest private landowners in Scotland and we have subsidiaries in South Africa, India and Hong Kong.

Hargreaves Services is a huge operation so what areas does your role cover?
When I first joined, it took me a while to get a handle on everything as it’s a huge organisation with lots of interests. However, after a lot of time and effort spent educating the group, I’m pleased to say that my role now extends to every aspect of the business. When I started, there was limited uniform approach but the legal team is now respected and is embedded in the heart of the management structure. This means that getting it right from a legal perspective is a top priority from the outset of each project.

What’s your average day like?
There really isn’t one, which is why I enjoy my job so much. The scale and nature of our operations makes for a large and varied caseload that never gets boring. For example, this morning I was co-ordinating the advice on international trade restrictions, and then this afternoon I’ll be working on a multi-million pound piece of litigation. We have sites across the country so it’s important to get out and about to ensure there’s a two-way dialogue between the legal team and the rest of the business.

What are the biggest legal challenges you/ Hargreaves face?
The biggest challenge is keeping up, as we continue to diversify and exploit new commercial opportunities.

How is the legal team structured and do you also work closely with external firms?
I’m the general counsel and group company secretary and I work alongside two other excellent solicitors. We tend to have a secondee from one of our panel firms (Dentons, CMS Cameron McKenna and Walker Morris). This arrangement is useful as it strengthens our relationships with the firms we work with and their understanding of our business. We’re also now in the process of recruiting a fourth solicitor.

What’s been your biggest personal career highlight so far?
Probably making the successful transition from private practice to in-house. It’s been a big achievement for me to gain acceptance, not just as a lawyer but also as someone with a sound commercial mind.

What’s next for Hargreaves Services?
It’s difficult to predict but the future looks exciting. My focus is on continuing to develop the legal team to provide the support that the business needs.

What do you think are the main benefits for a company that employs an in-house legal team?
There are many, but I’d single out the clear benefit of developing commercial and legal strategies in tandem, as this approach helps to address obstacles and makes deals run more smoothly.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone looking to develop their career in-house?
Go for it but choose your first role carefully. I would always advise that you make sure the team you’re considering has the support of senior management and that there is an established panel of legal advisers. This will tell you whether or not essential support will be available when you need it.