We speak to Premex Group’s Fiona Walker
Fiona, thanks for speaking to us. Can you tell us a bit about your current role at Premex Group?
I’m one of the in-house solicitors at Premex Group. We have a General Counsel and we work across the entire Group which includes several different businesses. That in itself brings its challenges and certainly did when I first joined in terms of getting to grips with and understanding each business and how they operate. My role is very diverse as many in-house positions are, I guess. It includes commercial contract drafting, managing disputes, advising on risks and, more recently, helping to manage the implementation of GDPR across the Group.
What’s the most enjoyable thing about your job?
I would say working with such a range of people and the variety of the work itself. Whilst that is also a challenge in some respects, it means no two days are the same and I really like that there is such a wide range of topics, issues and problems to advise on. Many times, it is not legal advice that people within the business need, but just to bounce ideas off someone who brings a different perspective. It is also refreshing to work so closely with colleagues who aren’t lawyers as you gain real insight in terms of what advice you should be giving and how you deliver it.
Why did you want to become a lawyer?
I can’t honestly say why, it seems like a lifetime ago now, but I knew it was for me after having done work experience in a couple of law firms whilst at school and enjoying the notion of problem solving mixed with the opportunity to deal with people. I liked the mix of being able to sit, read and think but throw into that the opportunity to be client/people facing. It felt like the right profession having decided quite young I think that I wanted a profession.
You started your career in private practice so what made you move in-house?
It felt like the right time for me to make the move. I had worked at two large law firms in commercial litigation for a long time when the opportunity to move in-house came along. Having qualified into commercial litigation and practised that for many years, I had never really thought that moving in-house was a natural progression for me. I thought it was very much a move to make for commercial lawyers. In fact, I couldn’t have been more wrong and I think a lot of the skills you learn and practise as a commercial litigator transfer very easily across into an in-house commercial role. So the assessing of risk, advising on contract terms, negotiation skills for example are all essential for litigators but equally important in my role now.
What was the biggest surprise when you made the switch?
I think it was the speed at which you sometimes have to advise. Your clients are literally with you, working alongside you so you don’t always have the luxury of pondering and giving careful consideration when you sometimes might like a bit more time. Sometimes, you just have to give your best answer there and then. The key is then not to over-think it and worry. It’s knowing and getting used to making the call on when you can do that and giving advice on the spot or when you really have to go away and think it over.
Was there anything you missed about working at a law firm?
Apart from the chargeable hours target of course, not really. I think if I had moved to being the sole in-house counsel in an organisation, my answer would be very different and I would certainly have missed having other lawyers around. I’m fortunate to have joined a team where I work with other lawyers so I have never felt isolated and always have someone to bounce things off.
Who has been your biggest career inspiration and why?
Erin Brokovich – no explanation necessary. I must have been at a young formative age when I watched it.
Finally, what advice would you give someone looking to switch their career in a new direction?
Give it a try and don’t assume that what you have always done is what you have to continue to do. The change can be a daunting prospect but a willingness to adapt your skills goes a really long way. The truth is you never really know it’s the right move until you’ve done it but be honest with yourself about why you are looking to switch direction and think carefully about whether the proposed move will actually tick the boxes in terms of what you want to change.