Christel Liasi - Legal Counsel HS1 Limited
Tell us a bit about your background and intro to law.
Believe it or not, I was a music teacher before I decided to join the legal profession! After five years of teaching I decided to go back to school and studied the GDL and then the LPC at the University of Law (Guildford). The flexible nature of peripatetic teaching meant that I was able to continue teaching many of my students alongside my studies. I remember transitioning from an arts background into the legal profession was quite daunting and at times very challenging.
Straight after the LPC I got my first “proper” legal job as a paralegal at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE Euronext). I spent the next 4 years working as a paralegal in the finance industry before moving into rail. I am currently employed as a Legal Adviser at High Speed 1 (HS1 Limited).
How did you find your role in-house?
Whilst I was studying, I imagined myself working in a traditional law firm setting. I think this was mainly due to the fact that whilst I was at law school much of the focus was directed towards what private practice could offer, and emphasis was put on finding vacation schemes and applying for training contracts at law firms. Very little was said about what opportunities could be found in-house and what life could be like as an in-house lawyer.
It was quite by chance that my first legal role was in-house. Whilst searching the University of Law’s careers website for paralegal jobs, I found an advertisement for a role at NYSE Euronext. I was intrigued to find out more. I started at the very beginning by typing into Google “what does an in-house lawyer do?”, and the more I read the more I could picture myself in that environment. I also researched the company itself to understand the business, and I was really excited about the opportunity to join an exchange group.
What do you enjoy about working in-house, and when you first started the role did you envisage this being a part of the role?
There are many things I love about working in-house. My client is also my employer, which means I am very much a part of the company and have a vested interest in its success. I
really get to understand the business, its stakeholders, its strategy and its objectives. My client’s staff are also my colleagues, and I enjoy great working relationships with extremely talented people from all manner of backgrounds, from engineering to retail property.
I enjoy the variety that my in-house role affords. There is no average day – in any one week I can I find myself providing legal advice in respect of a whole host of issues, from regulatory matters to construction contracts.
Being in-house also means that I don’t focus purely on the legal work. My job is not just about advising my client of the law. I am much more a part of the decision-making process, and I’m required to think about my advice in the context of the business’ appetite for risk, its culture and its processes.
Tell us about your route to qualification.
My ambition was always to secure a training contract once I had finished the LPC. I lost count of how many applications I made for vacation schemes and training contracts, all without success. I found the whole process very disheartening, spending so much time completing the application form, only to get an automated rejection (at best). I was never certain of the reason, but I suspect that my education choices and career path to date just did not suit the one-size-fits-all application process.
I qualified through the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s “Equivalent Means: Period or Recognised Training” route.
This is quite different to a traditional training contract. Instead of working through a structured training programme, you qualify through experience you have gained in the workplace. This qualification route recognises that the breadth, quality and duration of the experience you have gained is equal to, if not better than, the work of a trainee.
Completing the application itself is hard work and very time consuming. The SRA requires you to demonstrate that you have gained the equivalent skills and experience that you would have gained had you completed a period of recognised training (e.g. a training contract), and you achieve this by writing about how the work you have done to meet the requisite work-based learning outcomes and Practices Skill Standards. You also have to provide a dossier of evidence in support of the application, which can include (for example) appraisal notes and references from previous employers.
In writing about my experience, I drew on the work I had done during my employment and also pro-bono work experience which I had undertaken. Many times whilst I was writing the application I wondered whether I had done enough to prove to the SRA that I had met the requisite standards and was worthy of admitting to the roll, but I persevered. It was all worth it when I received the email from them to say they would grant my application! The SRA also sent a very complimentary report summarising the reasons why they had thought me worthy of qualification.
"This qualification route really is a fantastic way for those talented and aspiring solicitors, who are working within the legal profession but who have not been able to secure a training contract, to be considered for admission to the roll."
What are your top tips for our members looking to pursue a career in the law, and specifically in house.
Research: At an interview, a company will want to see that you have taken the time to gain some knowledge of their business and the wider industry, understand who its key stakeholders and the company’s strategy and objectives are. Understanding the business in this way will also help you to provide pragmatic legal advice once you have secured your in-house role.
Commercial awareness: Yes, you are employed to give legal advice, but a company will not be interested in understanding the letter of the law. Instead it will want to know the answer to the legal query, the risks involved and the cost implications. As an in-house lawyer you will be expected to tailor your advice to take into account the business’ strategy, culture and practices.
Work Experience: If you can, secure some legal-related work experience. This is a great way of demonstrating your interest in and commitment to pursuing a legal career, whether you want to work in private practice or in-house.