This month’s in-house interview is with Nicola Walsh from Velcro Companies
Nicola, can you tell us a bit about your own career to date?
I completed the bar in 2006 and started working as a paralegal whilst looking for pupillage. During the following few years, I experienced some good quality private practice work in London and Manchester and I really enjoyed the client contact and taking a legal case from the outset and seeing it through; so I started to think seriously about cross qualifying to become a solicitor. Some of the work I had done up to that point would count towards the qualification and I also needed to do more non-contentious work so I worked super hard to apply for interesting and varied roles and I was fortunate to work both in-house and in private practice for very different entities before qualifying as a solicitor in 2012. I haven’t looked back since and I absolutely love what I do.
Why did you choose a career in-house rather than private practice?
Because I have had a varied career and experienced life both in-house and in private practice, I was well equipped to know which environment was best for me, which suited my approach and style as a lawyer and which would provide me with the most rewarding career – undoubtedly this was in-house. To me, being the trusted advisor and getting to know a business from the inside and being able to influence decisions that matter and make a difference is realty exciting! I’m the kind of person that you can throw any legal issue or problem at and it won’t faze me. I know my limits and call upon my external sources when I need to, but solving problems and giving legal advice on a broad range of issues is exciting for me and is one of the main things I love about my work.
Do you see yourself staying in-house?
100% - I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What’s your role at Velcro Companies and what areas of the business do you work with?
I’m Legal Counsel based in the Northern Europe office although my work can cover all geographical areas as and when needed. I’m the only in house lawyer in Europe and the rest of the Velcro Companies’ lawyers are spread out over the U.S. and Asia. My colleagues in the UK office work in finance, sales, marketing and customer service for the industrial, technical and consumer sides of the business so there is heavy contact with these business units.
What kind of work do you undertake on a day to day basis?
Brand protection and trademarks is a huge part of my work and is so important. I love being able to protect and look after such a well-known, famous brand. It’s interesting, keeps me busy and I enjoy really making a difference to the VELCRO® brand. Brand protection touches many areas of the business and so my work is really varied and interesting and no day is the same as the next.
You cover the EMEA region so what are the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenges without a doubt are to protect the VELCRO® brand and to deal with trademark issues – there is a lot of work in this area – after all, There Is Only One ®
Of course there are challenges with the various jurisdictions, but I love a challenge and it keeps things interesting.
And, on the flip side, what are the most enjoyable things about international work?
Working with people from all areas of the globe – it’s amazing how working for a group of companies with around 3,000+ employees can still feel like you can make a difference and contribute towards the success of the business. This is something that the Velcro Companies do really well and I’m proud to be part of that.
How involved are you in the commercial side of the business?
Every in-house lawyer needs to have a commercial head as well as a legal head – it’s a main requirement of the role and so I would say that I am well integrated with this side of the business – it’s necessary for the IP and Trademarks role as the two interlink closely. I work directly with the commercial director for the Northern Europe business and his team and I am always busy!
In your view, what makes a good in-house lawyer?
You have to be a confident adviser and a people person. In private practice, you work with lawyers all the time and so it’s really easy to get used to a way of working and a way of speaking. Blunt and to the point legal speak doesn’t work-in house – you need to give your advice in the context of the business in which you are working, get to the heart of the issue, understand how your advice will affect the business units that you work with and be prepared to get stuck in and help out. That doesn’t mean being soft, it just means that it’s important to give your advice in a different way.
What do you get up to outside work?
I love spending time with my husband and six (yes…six!) cats, learning Italian, travelling the world when I have time, listening to music (I couldn’t survive without it) swimming and am partial to a lovely glass of Valpolicella at the weekends too!
Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for young lawyers considering in-house?
If you want something more than a purely legal role and you don’t want to specialise too much and want to broaden your practice, then I would say that in-house is likely to work for you. Whatever you decide to do, don’t listen to those that tell you that you can’t do something – have confidence in yourself and your abilities and just go for it! When you are in-house, listen to your general counsel and senior colleagues and use their expertise as a sounding board when you need to. I consider myself extremely lucky to have worked for two incredibly talented and wonderful GC’s and I am proud to be part of a truly global and talented legal team at Velcro Companies – long may it continue.