Emma Sharman

Emma Sharman

Legal Director at Best International Group

Emma trained and qualified with Pinsents in their restructuring team, moving in-house in 2014 to Best International (an investment business) where she grew the legal team. She now works as in-house counsel across 3 different businesses.

So how does Emma have all the legal answers to areas she may never have touched on before? “You aren’t expected to have the answer to everything off the top of your head - but having the confidence, resourcefulness and persistence to find the right answers and figure out how to deliver what’s required, is essential.” Superb advice, enjoy learning more about Emma...

What / Who made you consider law as a career?

I chose to study law at university on the basis that, even if I didn’t want to become a lawyer, it would be a generally well respected degree and hopefully make me vaguely employable in future. Before I knew it, I was doing vacation placements, interviews and signing my training contract.

What do you enjoy most about working as an in-house lawyer?

Being closer to the action. I enjoy being part of the business, rather than an adviser on the periphery who steps back when the contracts are signed.

I am quite practical by nature and so being able to get under the skin of a business, be part of the critical meetings (and decisions) and see and experience what we are working towards first-hand is what I find most enjoyable.

What attracted you to work for your current company?

I currently work with 3 businesses that are SME’s going through significant growth and change. I like working with new and small businesses, as there is usually an ‘all hands to the pump’ mentality and no rule book - part of the job is to help write it. The executive teams tend to be very passionate and driven and this is one of the things that attracts me to working with them.

What are the main deliverables of your role?

I won’t be the first to say that the role of an in house lawyer is incredibly varied and unpredictable.

At a high level, the job is to support the board in delivering the business plan and meeting shareholder objectives, specifically in relation to legal and regulatory matters. This covers everything from strategic business and exit plans through to day-to-day contracts. Horizon scanning is really important, to be able to feed into business decisions with relevant legal/regulatory considerations. Right now, top items on my to do list include a shareholders agreement, new funding and associated debt and equity terms, a long term supply contract, various asset finance transactions and associated guarantees/security, extracting money from a complicated trust structure, a group re-organisation and the transfer of land (for development) into suitable corporate vehicle. But that could all change next week!

What do you feel are the most important character traits of an in-house lawyer?

Commercial and resourceful. I remember the concept of commercial awareness being drummed into me as a junior lawyer, but its only since I moved in-house that I understand what this really means.

It is vital to bring practical solutions that are tailored to the risk appetite of the business, there is no point having a perfect legal answer if it doesn’t work in practice. Legal risk is only one consideration amongst many. As in-house counsel you will frequently be asked questions that you have never been asked before and to deliver things you have never done before. You aren’t expected to have the answer to everything off the top of your head - but having the confidence, resourcefulness and persistence to find the right answers and figure out how to deliver what’s required, is essential.

When / If you look for new team members – what is most important to you and why? Ability or Character?

Character. With professional qualifications there is a presumption of a base level of technical expertise that I do rely on, but ultimately I make recruitment decisions based on character.

I wouldn’t necessarily discount someone due to lack of experience in a particular area of law or sector (with the right attitude, you can learn this), but I would discount someone if they didn’t have what I consider to be the right approach for the business or for the role of an in-house lawyer.

What would you say to any lawyer considering a move in-house?

If you are comfortable stepping outside of your comfort zone, accepting of risk (which can be a challenge, given lawyers are basically trained to identify and eliminate it), enjoy learning new things, willing to go out on a limb to make a judgment call and want to extend your experience beyond the law - you will be well-suited to working in-house.