We spoke to Simon Swain, an in house lawyer at Certas Energy, about beginning his legal career, his decision to move in house as well as the day to day tasks of working as an in house lawyer for Certas Energy.
Slaughter and May. I was lucky enough to do my training contract with them and stay on post-qualification into the department I chose. The training was first class and having the chance to work with such an excellent calibre of lawyer on a daily basis really was an excellent starting point for a legal career.
I’d always intended to do so, but actually moved in house sooner than expected as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. Having just moved up North with my wife (who was studying medicine on the way to becoming a doctor), the quality deals and general work simply wasn’t there. Thankfully an interesting opportunity came up to do a first in house counsel role for an automotive aftermarket company, intent on pursuing its own acquisition plan. The timing was perfect and I haven’t looked back in the eight years since!
Definitely a combination of things. Certas Energy is the second biggest privately owned company in the North West of England (turnover c.£5bn through the UK, Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and some overseas sales). It’s also a very diverse business – divisions include domestic kerosene, bulk fuels (i.e. diesel, red diesel, specialist fuels), retail petrol stations, aviation, marine, boiler maintenance and a number of specialist offerings. It’s ultimately owned by a FTSE 100 company (DCC Plc) and, having grown through acquisition, continues to pursue an acquisitive path. I’ve been in this role about 12 months. All of the above attracted me to the company, but fundamentally it was also a first Head of Legal role for me. The chance to head up a legal department whilst having the support of other lawyers within the group was particularly attractive.
Unlike the previous day! In this past month I’ve presented at board meetings, participated in our Isle of Man business’ strategy session, spent time with customers and suppliers negotiating with my commercial colleagues, worked on a number of projects developing new offerings and presented a number of training sessions on compliance and legal matters.
The diversity. I love knowing that each day is different and each day is going to test different skills. Being in-house – especially in small departments – requires you both to have a wide knowledge base, but also to analyse positions and give practical advice to the business. I also feel that I do get a lot of support from my commercial colleagues, and sitting within a business means that I get a real feel for the performance of the business as a whole and how my role can impact on that performance.
The diversity. It’s great having such a varied role, but there are times that decisions need to be made or documents need to be drafted urgently and it does force you to learn quickly and realise the value of taking expert advice when needed. Beyond that, time pressures are often more severe in-house than when working as an external lawyer. The phrase “I’m about to sign this with the customer, can you confirm it’s OK before 3 o’clock please?” does seem to get uttered slightly too often…
Embrace being part of a business and get involved in absolutely anything you can do. Some of my most valuable experiences in house have had very little to do with ‘legal’. Spend time in your business, seeing factories and warehouses, talking to people who actually make the business succeed on a day-to-day basis. It’s the best way to understand your business and your role in it, but it’s also the best way to meet people and develop relationships which you will need to really make a success of your role.
For more insight into in house lawyer roles, why not take a look at our other case studies:
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