Network Rail Infrastructure Limited
I have had a relatively traditional route into the profession before obtaining my Training Contract ("TC"). I studied Mathematics, Further Mathematics and English Language at A Level in West Yorkshire, before obtaining a 2:1 LLB (Bachelor of Law with Honors) from the University of Chester.
Following my graduation in 2016, I enrolled onto the Legal Practice Course ("LPC") at the University of Law. Alongside the full-time course, I worked as an insolvency paralegal at a regional law firm and as a customer assistant at Tesco to fund my postgraduate studies. In 2017 I obtained a Distinction in my LPC alongside a MSc in Business Law and Management.
I managed to secure Network Rail Infrastructure Limited’s first training contract since 1995 and I began my first seat in September 2017 based in London. The two years with the company (and time with Dentons UK & Middle East and Addleshaw Goddard) far exceeded any expectations I had at the outset of my period of recognised training and I will qualify as a solicitor in a few weeks’ time (September 2019).
"I was never informed about the opportunities to train in-house, and from speaking to other in-house juniors within my network this is a common theme."
Were you told about in-house whilst you were studying? If not, how did you hear about working in-house? I was never informed about the opportunities to train in-house, and from speaking to other in-house juniors within my network this is a common theme. Universities are increasingly cognisant of the need to promote a broad spectrum of professional roles within the legal industry, however there is more that needs to be done to encourage discussion around the myriad of opportunities that training in-house can offer.
To support this, since starting my TC I have sought to support and create platforms to raise awareness of in-house opportunities for graduates. An example of this being the partnership I set up between Network Rail and Aspiring Solicitors (an initiative looking to increase diversity in the legal profession) to deliver the in house equivalent of a vacation scheme. I have volunteered as a professional ambassador for AS since 2017, and when asked by Dan Kayne (Network Rail’s General Counsel for the Regions) to support a work experience scheme I saw an opportunity to introduce the two teams to work collaboratively to increase awareness of the in-house route into the profession. The scheme has been a success and has just completed its second year in August.
How did you find your role in-house? (recruitment agency, online, headhunted, university etc.)
I was in the fortunate position that I had secured a training contract offer from a private practice firm when I came across the advert for Network Rail on LinkedIn. As discussed, I wasn’t aware that training in-house was an option and once I had received the offer I had a difficult decision to make. To help make my decision, I sought to speak to as many people with experience in the role as possible. I reached out to legal counsel on LinkedIn and discussed my reservations with the Network Rail team during my interview and assessment centre. I chose to take the in-house role – excited by the prospect of encompassing the dual role of commercial and legal advisor.
"I have learnt a plethora of skills and ... I have had exposure to far more than four areas of law (in comparison to a traditional private practice seat rotation offering)."
Any distinctive features going in-house?
In-house has many positives including gaining a greater depth of knowledge about commercial drivers, being given more responsibility earlier in your career and having more opportunities to develop management and leadership skills.
It is important to “speak the language” of the client. The company doesn’t want to know that you know chapter and verse of the Companies Act; it wants to know the answer, the risk, and the associated cost (if any).
What you have learnt since going in-house?
I have learnt a plethora of skills and certainly in my experience at Network Rail I have had exposure to far more than four areas of law (in comparison to a traditional private practice seat rotation offering).
In-house, the client is with you – they can (and quite frequently do) drop by your desk on the way to the office kitchen to discuss a matter. The more time you spend with people, the better they understand what you do and how you do it and in turn how it can help them. It means you can build up a really good rapport with your clients – a key skill to have whether in-house or in private practice.
What challenges you have faced?
One of the challenges I think most juniors will find (depending on the size of the in-house legal team) is that you are usually one of very few at a junior level. Building a network of peers is more difficult than if you joined a city law firm that immediately has a cohort of 20+ other trainees.
However, I do think this helps you to develop your networking skills much earlier in your career – as you are faced with the option of accepting you are the only trainee in the team, or you grasp opportunities to meet others across the profession.
If you are interested in exploring in-house opportunities further, I would encourage you to sign up to 'Aspire' via the website https://blogs.lexisnexis.co.uk/aspire/. Aspire is a free networking and professional development group for in-housers in the early stages of their legal career (up to 3 years’ PQE). It is a fantastic forum to discuss any myths and/or misconceptions you may have about this route to qualification. Since starting my training contract at Network Rail, I have joined the Advisory Board and this too is a fantastic way to network and continue to build my network.
What advice would give to anyone looking to go in-house (your top tips)?
My top tips when looking for an in-house role would be:
Network as much as you can – come to an Aspire Event, reach out to legal counsel on LinkedIn – knowledge is power and going into an interview with an understanding of the nuances between a private practice solicitor and legal counsel will help enormously.
Look on company websites and LinkedIn for opportunities. Unlike law firms, many in-house teams are LEAN and do not have the resource to sift through 100’s of applications and therefore will not advertise the positions widely.
Research the company you are applying to, the key internal and external stakeholders and the sector it sits within.
"Working within an organisation gives you much greater exposure to how the business works and its functions including governance and regulatory landscape."
What did you wish you had known before you went in-house?
One thing I was nervous about before making the decision to train in-house was the thought of ‘will I be pigeon holed’ into a certain sector or as I have started ‘in-house’ will I be ‘stuck’ in-house for the rest of my legal career.
Coming to the end of my two years I can confirm, in my experience, these preconceptions were complete myths. I have had the opportunity to explore numerous sectors, both in-house and whilst on secondment, ranging far greater than transport infrastructure/rail. In no way has my in-house training contract hindered me from achieving different experiences and in many ways the level of responsibility and client contact I have had whilst at Network Rail has contributed heavily to me securing NQ offers both in house and with two large corporate city firms.
Chris Benn, Danielle Sharkey and I (members of the Aspire board) featured in a video on Crafty Counsel last year seeking to dispel other misconceptions about this route to qualification.
What do you love about being in-house?
One of the most attractive things about working in-house is the proximity to the client. Working within an organisation gives you much greater exposure to how the business works and its functions including governance and regulatory landscape.
You are part of a small team that makes a big impact, and quite often your colleagues are ex Partners of law firms and are always willing to share their knowledge with you.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my two years with Network Rail and I am grateful for all the opportunities the role has afforded me.