We catch up with Donna McGrath - Holland & Barrett’s newly appointed Senior Legal Manager
Donna, can you summarise your career to date?
I trained in-house at Redrow Plc in North Wales for two years. From there, in 2006, I moved to the Birmingham office of Eversheds LLP (now Eversheds Sutherland LLP) where I secured an NQ role in the construction and engineering team. I worked there for four years and I then had the opportunity to undertake a secondment at Severn Trent plc. I really enjoyed working in-house so I joined the legal team on a permanent basis working on non-regulated business. That role saw me managing a complex workload including leading on key strategic projects, spending seven months working in Pennsylvania, providing commercial and compliance support and becoming legal business partner to the commercial director. After much consideration, I decided that I wanted to widen my experience and knowledge of how other large organisations operated their respective in-house legal teams. So, I decided to leave Severn Trent and set up my own business and undertook consulting work including projects at Rolls Royce Aerospace, Bouygues and National Grid. Alongside this, I also started studying personal development training, I trained as a life/business coach and I developed my knowledge around health and wellbeing. I became an accredited life coach in January this year which I am very proud of. All of this has brought me to my new role which I recently secured at Holland and Barrett. I was approached to help set up and lead the UK legal team. As an organisation Holland and Barrett allows me to live and breathe my personal passion of developing wellbeing and using my legal skills.
What are your main areas of expertise?
When you are an in-house lawyer you have to learn to become a generalist. You also have to have strong commercial and business acumen as this helps the organisation understand the legal and regulatory framework within which it operates.
What made you switch from private practice to in-house?
I’ve always had a natural flair and strong interest in developing people and business to be the best they can be. The opportunities to use these skills are more prevalent in-house. Also, the challenges in an in-house role are more dynamic which sits well with my personality type. I also love the interaction you can have with your work colleagues (note: I don’t say client). It allows for deeper collaboration and to influence key business decisions.
What was the biggest difference or surprise?
The biggest difference is how close you are to your client. Your team is not just the legal team it is your wider work colleagues. There’s no hiding from your client!
What advice would you give to anyone else thinking of doing the same thing?
My advice to anyone thinking of moving in-house is to make sure that you are doing it for the right reasons. You should research the business and check whether it sells products or services that you can relate to. If you can’t it is unlikely you will relate to its culture. Also, working in-house is an amazing challenge, but it is a challenge. It is a very different environment than working in private practice. It would be sensible to discuss your options with an in-house lawyer of the same level to get an idea and feel for that business. Also, not all in-house teams are the same. Some see themselves as a support function, some see themselves integral to making strategic business decisions and some are in-between.
You are also still running a coaching service. Can you tell us a bit about the business?
The aim is to support lawyers, their teams, managers and law firms to be the best they can. Without giving too much away... I offer bespoke sessions to help raise team and individual productivity and improve outputs.
What kind of clients do you work with?
I work with a whole spectrum of people from senior managers and partners to lawyers, barristers, solicitors, paralegals and legal secretaries. As the market for life coaching is quite wide, I have made a conscious decision to support those who are in a profession that I can relate to.
How do you juggle it and your main job?
Its hard work but I enjoy it. Knowing that you can make a small positive impact on someone is very rewarding and well worth it.
What are your aims and ambitions for the business?
The core vision of the business is to unlock the natural talent and potential in the legal profession. I am currently setting up a digital footprint which people will be able to access – although this won’t just be limited to those working in law.
Finally, what’s the best piece of career advice that you’ve ever been given?
I have two pieces that always stick with me. The first was given to me by my college business lecturer: If you are going to be a lawyer, think of yourself as a commodity and always find your USP. The other – and probably best piece of advice – was from my life coach: If you ever have a negative experience, stop blaming others for how you feel; start looking to see how you have contributed to your situation and take steps to make the change for you to have a different experience the next time.