In the two years between completing the LPC and beginning my training contract at RPC, I worked for an international manufacturing company based out of London.
I was initially given a three-week contract, where I was tasked with converting the company’s hardcopy legal files to softcopy. I had recently returned from travelling and was in need of a short-term role to tide me over whilst considering other job options.
My aim had been to gain some industry experience before beginning my training contract, and this role sounded like a good opportunity to get my foot in the door. The General Counsel (GC) travelled frequently for work and I was soon asked to start searching, scanning and sending specific documents to him while he was on the move. Perhaps fortunately for me, the combination of a poor download connection in certain countries and the urgency of the circumstances meant that sometimes I was required to analyse the documents and send summaries of the documents instead of the documents themselves.
Within a few weeks, it was decided that the electronic scanning of documents would be outsourced and I was asked to take on an expanded and extended role of supporting the GC on a consultancy basis. In addition, I worked with the human resources department on budgeting and employment issues, the sales department on supplier and customer contractual arrangements, and finance staff on corporate governance and reporting.
My role also involved working with a number of law firms to assist in these areas. The experience of sitting on the other side of the table as a client taught me a lot about the type of lawyer I would like to be.
Before I left, I had the great opportunity to travel to China and oversee a tender process for the outsourcing of the restaurant and canteen services of one of the company’s manufacturing facilities. It was a chance to experience how business operates in a different culture, as well as to sample lots of Chinese food!
I worked with local management and gained a useful insight into the difficulties faced by companies in balancing the competing interests of its stakeholders. The executive team recognised the potential cost increase of the tender process, but also expected that this could be offset by improvements in the canteen’s efficiency and increased employee productivity from better morale and after producing a report on suggested improvements, we then invited a number of companies to tender for the services.
The tender was successful. The quality of the services was undoubtedly improved and cost increases were partially offset by an increase in efficiency by introducing an ‘Oyster’ card-like payment system.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, my experience in China could prove useful in my current role at RPC as the firm’s ever increasing presence in Hong Kong means that there could be work down the line which has a Chinese element to it.
Working in-house was good fun. There is real sense of camaraderie and community in working for one company and furthering its goals. Lawyers that can demonstrate to their clients that they understand this on behalf of their clients as well as their own firms will be especially valued and respected.
At RPC I have been able to draw on my experience working in-house. As a client, I found that receiving a number of impromptu calls from law firms throughout the working-day was far less beneficial and more distracting than covering everything in one call at the end of the day. Clients are often just as busy as or busier than their lawyers.
A job as advertised can sometimes end up proving more than the sum of its parts. I was lucky enough to get my ‘foot in the door’ on this job and was then able to work in a supportive but challenging environment which allowed me to develop at a speed that suited me and the circumstances of the company.
Work experience is not limited to vacation schemes and shadowing lawyers; law firms are interested in almost all types of experience that provide a commercial insight. Whether it is working in a local business during the summer holidays or a former career in industry, you will pick up skills and experience which will provide you with a better platform to understand the business implications that are faced by a law firm’s clients.
Jonathan Charwat is a first-year trainee currently working in the insurance department at RPC.