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Let in-house keep you right

16 October 17

The former vice chair of the In-house Lawyers' Committee has moved back to private practice – to an internal role as her firm’s regulation and compliance manager

by Sara Scott

Where do you come from and what was your career path to your current position?

It’s so funny to be doing this interview, having often been the interviewer when I was on the In-house Lawyers’ Committee but never the interviewee.

I grew up in the Southside of Glasgow but ended up going to Edinburgh University for my LLB and Diploma (with a very memorable third year on exchange to McGill University, Montreal). I fell in love with Edinburgh and stayed there for my traineeship at Dundas & Wilson. A year or so after qualifying into the Banking & Finance team I was offered a secondment in one of the Royal Bank of Scotland retail banking legal teams. I wasn’t too sure about working in-house initially, but ended up loving it and staying permanently. Various legal, risk, compliance and governance roles in RBS kept me busy until I left last year to move to St Andrews, something my husband and I had dreamed about for a long time. I did some consultancy project work for the Law Society of Scotland, which I really enjoyed, and some temporary work in Lindsays, trying out private client work before taking up my current role earlier this year as risk and compliance manager for Blackadders in Dundee.

What is a typical working day? What motivates you on a Monday morning?

My role is a brand new one which I’m having to build – a very exciting challenge. It’s very much like an in-house role but in a law firm – I’m advising the firm, not our clients. Most days bring a mixture of business as usual and project work. I get involved in risk assessment of new business and dealing with queries from the team about anti-money laundering regulations. I might be preparing a report to our Risk Committee, or delivering compliance training in one of our other offices around the country. The project work is about implementing new rules in as practical and understandable a way as possible – designing, syndicating, delivering and monitoring. I’m a team of one so I need to be highly collaborative with my colleagues in other teams across the firm.

Monday morning motivation is initially getting up so the cat will stop pawing me to get her breakfast, followed by caffeine. The drive over the Tay Bridge makes the desire to make things better and deliver results kick in.

What was the biggest change when you moved in-house? What did you really enjoy about working in-house and what was it like moving back to private practice?

When I moved from a large commercial law firm to a small in-house legal team the huge variety of work and amount of responsibility immediately struck me. It was pretty full on, sometimes with a queue of people at my desk waiting for me to give advice, approve a marketing promotion, look at a supplier contract and so on. But once I got the hang of it I loved that variety of challenges and being so close to the business.

Moving back to private practice last year in a client-facing role was a big change again, trying to remember everything I had forgotten about time recording, billing etc. I had been in RBS for a long time, so adapting to a different organisational culture was also a big change. However, working with some hugely talented people and helping clients was very rewarding. My current role was an easier transition, as it’s like an in-house role, though in a city I had rarely even visited before! Everyone at Blackadders is very friendly so it’s been easy to settle in.

Has your organisation experienced any major change recently? What are the current hot legal topics for you? 

It’s been busy since I started, because we’ve had completely new anti-money laundering regulations to implement and a clear theme of greater regulatory focus. Another topic that keeps me very busy just now is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and I’m sure others are having the same challenges trying to get to grips with compliance. I have a little poster above my desk which says “Keep calm and prepare for the GDPR”! I think this volume and complexity of change is making risk and compliance roles in law firms a growth area. 

What is your most unusual/amusing work experience? 

I think charity events at work have tended to provide the most amusement – it is amazing what you can get people to do for a good cause! For example, I once went to a normal work meeting in RBS, expecting a rather dull debate about an ongoing project, only to find one attendee dressed as Batman and another as Robin. It turned out they had a charity event in their team that day so everyone was dressed as superheroes. I also recall merrily bouncing past RBS reception on a spacehopper one day, as part of a charity race. Who ever said banking was boring?!

What’s your career advice for young lawyers?

Take opportunities and be open to trying new things – your path may take you in a different direction to the one you originally planned, but that’s okay. You might not have as clear a promotion path in-house as you would expect in private practice, as structures can be quite flat, so find ways to advance within a role – mentor someone as a precursor to managing, take on more responsibility, build your profile or do something to help the team.

I’m hoping to become a trainee CPD mentor via the Society later this year. Secondments are a great way to build experience and also to “try before you buy”. If you’re a trainee in private practice, try to do a placement in-house. If working in an in-house legal team, try to get a secondment to one of the business teams that is a key “client”. It’s the best way to put yourself in the client’s shoes and really understand what they need from you and how to deliver that. And if you do well it may lead to other opportunities.

Also, build your profile, network, skills and experience in other ways by volunteering your extra time, maybe to a Society committee, becoming a non-executive director of a charity (check out www.goodmoves.org.uk), or using LinkedIn and Twitter to your advantage.

How do you see the in-house/external legal relationship changing?

I think we’ll see a significant shift in the balance of the profession working in private practice and in-house. Growth is happening and there’s a particular trend of small companies deciding to appoint their first in-house solicitor rather than outsourcing everything. These lone lawyers need support and tailored services from the Society and from private practice.

I also think that accelerating legal technology will massively impact the future for both in-house and private practice. The possibilities are exciting and they need to be grasped. For instance, as a client I would love to see an online portal where I can view my key documents and progress of my transaction, and get text updates instead of letters.

In-house and private practice lawyers working better together, including collaborating on innovation projects, should benefit both arms of the profession.

How have you seen the profession develop in terms of diversity since you qualified?

I think large corporates’ equality and diversity policies are, in general, more advanced, more transparent and organised, such as having internal targets for diversity at management level, internal training and support networks to help different groups of staff, and flexible working. RBS has its global Focused Women network, which has a strong focus on soft skills training and networking to help women progress to senior management, and it also puts staff onto external development and networking programmes.

There is some great progress being made in private practice too. For example, part-time working is much more accepted than it used to be. My current role is part-time and lots of my colleagues successfully work part-time too. However, I do think there’s a long way to go in the profession and Scottish business generally. If you’re a working parent who wants to change employer (like me recently relocating), it’s a real challenge to find a part-time role: it only ever seems to be full-time jobs that are advertised, so you can find yourself just having to apply and hoping for the best. Recruitment consultants sigh when you say you’re looking for a part-time role. But employers often get better value for money from their part-time workers. You have to be much more efficient with your time.

Wherever you work there are networks out there to help you, such as Changing the Chemistry, which aims to increase diversity on boards in Scotland and can help you get a non-executive director role to improve your profile, skills and experience. 

How do you see the remit of the In-house Lawyers’ Committee developing? How can the Society best serve its in-house members?

I think ILC is doing a great job and in the last couple of months has launched its in-house trainee initiative and its “Who is my client?” guidance. I’m sure the in-house ethics section at the Society’s conference was very interesting and would like to see some guidance issued on that.

How did you enjoy your Society work and what were the highlights?

Sadly I had to step down from ILC when I moved back to private practice, and I really miss it! Highlights were getting things delivered and receiving good feedback from members. Knowing that you’d actually helped them in some way was always very rewarding. Educating people about the opportunities available in-house that they might not have known about, the social aspect and teamwork were fantastic too. I’m still a member of the Society’s Audit Committee and always open to new opportunities to volunteer to support the Society in its work.

What keeps you busy outside the office?

A cheeky but ever so cute toddler – endless trips to play parks and soft play, running a small holiday home business and blog, and decorating our new house.

What would you take with you to a desert island?

I don’t think I could live without shopping online. Delivery may be a problem, though I’m sure Amazon would find a way!

Sara Scott, Regulation and Compliance Manager, Blackadders LLP. Interviewed by Norma Shippin, Director, Central Legal Office, NHS National Services Scotland

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