Life as a lawyer from both sides of the fence
Rachael Davidson joined Halebury at the end of last year following a career that started out in private practice and then moved in-house, where most recently she was General Counsel at emergency services network provider, Airwave. She tells us about her experiences from both sides of the fence.
You’ve worked in private practice and in-house, which do you enjoy more?
I’ve held a number of roles in large traditional law firms both in my native Australia and briefly in the UK but, decided early on that traditional private practice wasn’t going to be a long-term career option for me. After I took up my first in-house role at Exxon Mobil, I was immediately attracted by the true sense of ownership you have in-house and the empowerment you feel to be able to ask the difficult questions about why the business is following a particular course of action.
I also think being in-house allows you to operate with a higher tolerance for risk because you have a greater sense of what the business is facing. It’s the difference between being able to say “here’s the advice” and “these are the recommendations that will deliver the value the business needs.”
Given your preference for in-house why did a role with Halebury appeal?
The Halebury model is clever; it meets perfectly the needs of General Counsel and in-house teams. The firm knows its market and has created a niche by offering senior practitioners who combine the best private-practice and in-house insights to drive real value in legal services. The whole service is about utilising the skills of some of the most senior practitioners on higher-value work at a fraction of the cost of instructing a traditional law firm. It is quite a different and attractive proposition, not just for General Counsel but for the Halebury consultants too.
Another reason for joining was Janvi and Denise, you can’t fail to be impressed by them and we share a real synergy in our views and approach.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve only been at Halebury for three months and I’m already into my second secondment with a blue-chip client. It’s been very rewarding to be working in the heart of some experienced and inspiring legal teams.
As a General Counsel, what was the biggest challenge you faced?
One of the biggest challenges was being able to operate in a way that meant sales and business risks were managed in such a way that didn’t prevent or hold-up sales. Understandably, when you have sales teams, who by their very nature are focused on numbers, your modus operandi has to be as a sales enabler rather than the sales prevention force! It’s not for the feint-hearted but you have to ensure that all sales, contracts and decisions are right for the business whatever the risk.
One of the themes we talked about with BT’s Dan Fitz in an earlier blog was how you can drive value through legal services delivery, how do you do that at Halebury?
Our approach allows us more thinking time and we can bring our vast commercial experience to bear on a client’s business. In an age where it is the norm to do more with less, Halebury is completely focused on delivering outputs for clients, rather than billing hours. It’s very much a quality over quantity approach.
There’s been lots of change in legal services over the past five years, what do you think will be the next emerging trend or challenge for the sector?
There will be greater divisions among those providing legal services: firstly, we’ll see a rise in volume players where a legally qualified person isn’t necessary to carry out the work, such as in lower-value conveyancing or slip and trip work.
The magic circle firms and the layer below them will undoubtedly still be in demand by the FTSE100 who can justify using a gold-plated service. The old adage you never get fired for buying IBM, certainly applies here. However, that’s not to say that they can carry on as they have done. My experience is that those that are brilliant at the law often lack the client relationship and people skills required; this is something they will need to address if they are to build more fruitful client relationships. I was particularly struck by what Denise said in a previous blog about chemistry, it requires real time and effort and is not achievable by all.
I think the biggest impact will be on those mid-sized firms who will need to find new ways to add value in services beyond the law, such as business consulting. Lawyers need to become so much more than mere advice givers.