Fourth’s Karen Vethakan discusses her role at one of the world’s leading hospitality operations platforms
Karen, thanks for speaking to us. Can you tell us a bit about your current role at Fourth?
I am Legal Counsel at Fourth, and one of only two in the legal team along with the General Counsel. As you can imagine, being in such a small team in a growing, fast-paced organisation such as Fourth keeps us very busy! I can be working on anything from employment law, data privacy, commercial contracts, property matters, compliance and beyond. It has been a steep learning curve, and I am constantly developing new skills so it keeps things fresh and interesting. Every day is different from the last.
What’s the most enjoyable thing about your job?
I really enjoy the people that I work with. Everyone at Fourth is genuinely passionate about what they do and that comes across in the way that they work. Also, it doesn’t matter on how small a scale you may have helped them, they still take the time to say ‘thank you’. Since it is only the General Counsel and I in the legal team, we try to inject some fun and humour where we can in-between our growing to-do lists, which makes the role enjoyable. Fourth is a very forward-thinking company and I am lucky in that I get to work flexibly, often doing half the week from home, which makes me look forward to days in the lively open-plan office even more.
Why did you want to become a lawyer?
Since school, I found the idea of choosing just one specific job to do for the rest of my life quite daunting. Studying law as a degree appealed to me because of how varied it seemed and I didn’t feel as though I would be pigeon-holed. The same still stands true today, and that is why I like being an in-house lawyer. I have many friends in the law and although we are in the same general field, all of us are doing very different roles and it’s that breadth of choice within the legal sphere that has always made it an attractive option to me. I enjoy having a job where I can employ my analytical skills and attention to detail. I also like that in an in-house environment you are surrounded by colleagues who have different roles and so you almost get to take on a bit of what they do in their job as part of your own.
What made you move in-house?
I started my career working for a legal publishing company – Practical Law. I was there for two years after I completed my Legal Practice Course and I enjoyed that working environment because I was part of a passionate, close-knit team of employment lawyers. I then completed two six-month secondments during my training contract at the same client and I really enjoyed being able to see how the work that I was doing was making an impact on the business. It was at that point that I realised I was better-suited to in-house work. I found the environment to be less restrictive and more creative, and in my experience senior members of the legal team had more time to mentor you through the more complex work. I also worked for a Legal Outsourcing Company in Sri Lanka before I joined Fourth and was involved in lots of different projects, so I always knew that I preferred that kind of variety across different practice areas.
Was there anything you missed about working at a law firm?
Not really! There are small things like the invaluable help of support staff but otherwise I can’t think of anything. I have found recently that friends who trained at law firms in London have either decided to also make the move in-house, or work in offices outside of London in order to get a better work/life balance, so I think there are more of us making the jump!
Have you got a motto in business that you live by?
It is not really a motto in business but more of a general life mantra and that has been not to focus too much on what your peers or other people your age are doing or telling you to do – focus on yourself and what you want. I remember when studying law at University that fellow students were certain of the type of firm they wanted to work at or the field in which they wanted to specialise. I never had concrete feelings on those things, but ultimately I know that it was the right approach because I would rather have left the door open to new opportunities and discover new areas of interest. Many people told me that going from being relatively newly-qualified to a career in-house was a huge mistake and that I had to spend a couple of years in private practice first. However, I knew that I didn’t want to do that and have absolutely no regrets about moving in-house this early on.
Finally, what advice would you give someone looking to switch their career in a new direction?
Take the chance! I can’t count the number of people I have met that say they want to make a change because they are unhappy in their career but they end up staying in the same role or company and then become afraid of the unknown. We all deserve to be happy in our work and if you think you could be suited to working somewhere different then I would recommend just going for it.