Webinar report: Strategies for progressing your legal career
It’s a universal topic as we all have aspirations around what we do, why we do it, who we do it for and where we want it to lead us to.
Joining CLL’s Anthony Inglese and Paul Bentall were two senior leaders with extensive in-house legal experience who have walked that walk – and were kind enough to talk us through it.
The second of our 2022 Legal Leaders webinars with Thomson Reuters took place on 18 May. In this session we looked at a subject of immense appeal to almost all-house lawyers: the how-to of progressing your career.
Nisha Arora is Director of Consumer and Retail Policy at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Her division is responsible for developing the rules that govern firms providing retail financial products as well as the FCA’s overall consumer strategy. Nisha also led the FCA’s work to protect and support consumers affected by the pandemic.
Before joining the FCA, Nisha held senior roles at the Competition and Markets Authority and the Office of Fair Trading. Nisha was also a senior legal adviser in the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the Cabinet Office.
Justine Campbell is National Grid’s Group GC and Company Secretary. Her wide-ranging responsibilities range from legal, risk, compliance and safety to governance activities across the group. Justine holds an LLB (hons) degree from Trinity College, Dublin and qualified as a solicitor with Freshfields, spending five years working in their London and Brussels offices.
Previously, Justine was Group General Counsel and Company Secretary at Centrica Plc. She has also held the General Counsel and Director of External Affairs roles at Vodafone UK and European General Counsel role at Telefonica (O2).
With memories of the recent Eurovision Song Contest fresh in her memory, Nisha set out her four big themes to career planning and equated them to songs that you may (or may not) remember.
Making Plans for Nigel, XTC, 1979
Nisha reflected that although she didn’t have a fixed career plan in mind, she did have a set of guiding principles. These included:
- To serve the public purpose;
- To make a real and tangible impact; and
- To follow her interests.
Together, these principles have been the drivers behind all Nisha’s career decisions and it can be helpful to think about what principles are important to your career.
More Than This, Roxy Music, 1982
Nisha talked about the importance of developing wider skills beyond “core legal skills”, and to recognise that the legal skills and experience are transferable to wider roles.
Developing other skills, she says, can help both in the core legal role as well as opening doors to unexpected career opportunities. Examples include working with stakeholders, honing your communication and media skills, project management and delivery skills – and building close engagement with CEOs and boards.
May Way, Frank Sinatra, 1969
It’s your career, so follow your own instincts. People may question your choices or even dismiss them, but remember, they don’t see the world as you do. It may feel risky – or even scary – at times to follow your instincts if it goes against the flow of things. But remember, you’re a lawyer – you’re used to making risk-based decisions.
Shiny Happy People R.E.M., 1991
This one’s about the importance of people in your career. The old adage ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ gets truer as we progress in our careers. Of course, good jobs should always be awarded based on your merits as opposed to who you play golf with, but networks, mentors, friends and sponsors can advise and support you in your career and help you learn about different organisations and decide if you want the role in the first place. And remember, people you meet and work with in one job will often reappear in your working life later on. Keeping a close network of people who can help you – and vice versa – is invaluable in any career. Ours is no exception.
With a CV featuring GC roles at major players in the telecoms and energy sectors, its unsurprising that Justine enjoys the cut and thrust of regulated and politicised environments. Drawing on her experience and learnings from her career to date, Justine had three core messages for in-house lawyers.
Work out your strengths – and weaknesses
For in-house lawyers, this most commonly translates as deciding whether you’re a subject matter expert or a generalist. There’s no obligation to pursue the top legal role in an organisation if your skills and job satisfaction arise from excelling in a specific and highly technical branch of the law.
Conversely, if your legal knowledge is wide and shallow as opposed to narrow and deep you could be more suited to a leadership role. In this case, skills such as communication, delegation and relationship-building with senior colleagues will be more important than expert knowledge. Knowing a little bit about most things and appreciating legal’s role in the overall business strategy will serve you well if you’re building a team to serve internal stakeholders.
While planning an entire career ahead of time is nigh on impossible, it can be a good idea to at least look forward to the next stage. Many lawyers wait too long for the perfect opening to arise when they could do more to make things happen.
This could mean carving out a new role with their current employer or seeking opportunities elsewhere. Almost inevitably, it’ll involve stretching themselves and learning new skills.
Build and nurture your relationships
In any organisation it’s an enormous help to have people who will support you, advise you and promote your capabilities. As lawyers, we’re not great at blowing our own trumpet, so any help we can draw on is really helpful.
Another reason to build great relationships is that it gives us the ability to see things from other people’s points of view. While we may see things from the legal angle, for other stakeholders, the issue is often far wider and multi-faceted. Being able to show we understand that can increase our value to our organisation and, as a result, open some very interesting doors for us.
The third event in this four-webinar series with Thomson Reuters is Designing and delivering a valued legal service to your organisation, taking place on the 28 September, please find more information here.
If you missed this session the recording can be accessed here.