This month we focus on newly-elected In-house Lawyers' Committee convener, Graeme McWilliams
What made you pursue a career as an in-house solicitor?
At school my career adviser suggested a career in teaching or law. I was not convinced I had the patience for teaching, and was encouraged to pursue law as a career. I really enjoyed my degree, Diploma, traineeship and first few years in private practice in Glasgow, then an opportunity came up to work in-house with Standard Life in Edinburgh. Colin Anderson hired me and the rest is history!
Why did you decide to stand for the In-house Lawyers' Committee (ILC) convener?
I wanted to continue the excellent support of the in-house profession by Lynda Towers and her predecessors, and having been on the In-house Lawyers’ Group and ILC since 2012, I thought it was about time to get behind the wheel!
I was delighted to be elected by my peers as convener in July this year and would like to thank everyone who voted for me. Whilst keen to concentrate on my new role, I felt sad stepping down from my other Society commitments on the IP & Technology Subcommittees and IP specialist accreditation panel, but had really enjoyed collaborating with and being supported by so many great lawyers and colleagues from the profession and the Society.
In-house lawyers make up almost a third of our profession currently and, in these very interesting times, the in-house sector needs to be fully represented on Council and by the Society. The ILC will continue to champion the in-house community, support the Society’s pursuit of legal excellence, and make a real difference for in-house members in both private and public sectors.
I couldn’t do this without the great support and enthusiasm of Beth Anderson, another in-house lawyer, who is the Society’s head of member engagement for in-house lawyers.
Have your perceptions of the Law Society changed since you joined the ILC?
The Society has continued to evolve and develop over the many years I have been involved. The move to Atria One has marked a new era and I notice a renewed enthusiasm in the Society’s staff and office-bearers.
What have been the highlights for you personally?
The really popular in-house conferences and dinners we have organised in recent years and the always well-read Journal in-house interviews. The annual 21st Century Bar Conference is an amazing and collaborative event with the Faculty of Advocates, and the 16th annual conference has been pencilled in for early December. A particular highlight for me was when our President and the Dean of Faculty both spoke so enthusiastically about the future of this conference at the 15th anniversary reception in December 2015.
What are the main issues that you think Council and the ILC committee have to address at the moment?
In the current climate of economic restraint and change, I think it is really important for the future of the in-house profession that we encourage larger organisations to consider taking on in-house trainees and secondees. It is a win-win situation for all involved, and this will help to ensure the future of our in-house profession. The percentage of the profession working in-house is projected to rise over the next few years, so relying on private practice to train up new in-house lawyers is likely to become unsustainable. And as more lawyers in private practice move to in-house roles, we must add value in supporting them in their new in-house careers.
What has been the most surprising/interesting aspect of your work as a Council and committee member?
The sheer breadth and amount of hard work done voluntarily by members of our committees and Council, and how much passion, commitment and support there is, all on top of our day jobs. I have always enjoyed great support from the Society, my ILC colleagues and our members and I am really looking forward to my first Council meeting.
What are you most looking forward to as part of the Society’s new strategy?
The strategy to be world class is challenging but exciting. I think it will need to involve a lot of innovation as well as getting a more detailed sense of what other professional organisations around the world are doing well and benchmarking against them. I am really looking forward to representing the ILC in Paris at the October In-house Counsel World Summit and will report back on what I get out of this.
What are your top tips for new lawyers?
You have to stand out from the crowd and always think about your audience. Never miss a networking opportunity: you never know who you will meet, or who they may know and how they could help your career.
If you could change only one thing for our members, what would it be?
I would like every solicitor, whether in-house or in private practice, to be as valued and appreciated by their internal customers or external clients as much as they should be. And the sooner we can all move away from time recording, the better!
What keeps you busy outside of work?
I’m a keen supporter of World IP Day. Roisin Higgins QC and I co-chair the annual Faculty World IP Day conference in Edinburgh, and next year’s 10th anniversary conference is already being planned. I am also on the board of the Friends of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture, and led a group of 27 of our Friends on a trip to Vienna in May. We saw some amazing art and architecture and really enjoyed the local food and wine!