Sky is not the limit for this lawyer
Denise Nurse started her legal life at Charles Russell, before going in-house at Sky. After 3 ½ years in the legal team there, she won a staff presenting competition which has led to a second career as a presenter on Sky News and Sky Travel. However, as she enjoys it and didn’t want to waste her training, she continues to also practise law. This year she became a director of Halebury, a legal services company which allows lawyers to work from home for a pool of clients. She therefore combines fee-earning work and management of the company with her TV presenting. We spoke to her about how it all happened and about her plans for the future.
mtl: Hi Denise, please can you start with your background in private practice?
Denise: After studying law at Liverpool and doing my LPC at Store Street, I trained at Charles Russell and qualified in 2000 into the company commercial department. A year later I decided that it wasn’t for me in the long-term. I didn’t like the politics or the hours and although we were paid very well, I felt that the job meant selling my soul and that I lost out on too much by working in the City. I looked around for in-house jobs and was offered a great opportunity at Sky. As a media lawyer there it was perfect as it was possible to get involved in all the different types of broadcasting.
It was a great jump for me, and in reality was my ideal job. The downside was that the offices are in Isleworth and I missed the social aspects of being in the City. We worked very hard and intensely, but the hours were regular and weekend working was rare. My colleagues were lovely, I was in a great team with lots of autonomy, and the fact that it was a meritocracy meant that if you were good you were given more work and progressed. There was a lot of contact with the commercial teams and I found that I had more control over my work than I had done in private practice.
mtl: So how did you go from being in the legal team to being in front of the camera?
Denise: Since I was young I have always danced and in my spare time I was involved in a youth group. I sometimes hosted events for it and people used to say that I was good at it and should try to do it professionally. So presenting was always at the back of my mind… Then, over three years into my legal job at Sky, I saw a “Sky Talent” poster advertising an internal presenting competition. Along with other members of staff, seven of us from legal entered it for fun, and I progressed through the various rounds until I ended up winning it.
My prize was a one-off opportunity to go to the Dorchester hotel to interview the cast and director of the Phantom of the Opera movie. At that point I didn’t imagine that it would change my life. However, as a result of my interview, I was put in front of the channel heads, who looked for options for me to do some further work in front of the camera. It transpired that Sky News was looking for a maternity cover weather presenter. I was offered a screen test, which I found very amusing as I still saw myself as “just a lawyer”. However I gave it a shot for fun, to get a DVD of my attempt for my mum if nothing else.
A few weeks later, and having not taken it at all seriously, I was offered the chance to do the job for six months. I pointed out that I already had a job at Sky, but arrangements were made with the legal team to keep my job open and I was on the air six weeks later. I was given some training by the Sky team, but it was also very much a case of swotting up on my UK geography at home in the evenings and reading the Rough Guide to weather!
I have now been working full time as a weather presenter for over two years. I also present Sky Travel now and this year I did the weather from Glastonbury, which was fun. I am looking at presenting some legal programmes in the future, to try to make the legal system more accessible to the average viewer. The fact that I only do three or four seven hour shifts a week means that I have plenty of time during the rest of the day to do something else. As I now feel completely comfortable with the job, it was time to go back to my other major interest, which is law.
mtl: And how have you done that?
Denise: One of my friends, who I trained with at Charles Russell, set up Halebury eighteen months ago. The company offers legal services to clients and back-end infrastructure to lawyers. It provides a network and takes care of invoicing and billing, as well as obviously providing work from a pool of clients. Lawyers can introduce their own clients and then they bill them for their hourly work through Halebury. It is up to each lawyer how much they charge. In return the company takes a fee from each lawyer to cover the cost of bringing them on board.
I joined as a director in January 2007 and now split my time between managing the company, about 20 hours a week of fee-earning work and my shifts at Sky. For me this is absolutely ideal. I have seen a different side to life as a presenter but after all the years of training and enjoying law, my current position is a great way to remain involved in the profession. I do projects as and when they are required without being committed to a client or firm.
mtl: What sort of lawyers do you work with?
Denise: Originally we were just an employment practice, but now we do corporate and commercial work and we will extend to property in the future. We look for entrepreneurial, practical and self-motivated lawyers who are looking for quality of life. They need to be able to work independently and ideally have some clients to bring with them. Private practice experience is necessary, but so is an in-house approach where solutions are offered rather than just black-letter law.
Our lawyers work from home (or from abroad etc), so must be flexible. They must have their own practising certificates, are generally 7+yrs PQE and are looking to take the next step in their careers. We find that our lawyers really enjoy their work as they are doing it directly for their own benefit and are being paid by the hour as opposed to a salary. Our aim is for lawyers to be able to enjoy law more while also doing other things, whether that means living abroad, studying, looking after children or trying to break into a new career. The company enables people to follow another dream without letting go of law altogether.
mtl: Having moved away from law yourself, yet now combining it with something else you enjoy, do you have any advice for other lawyers?
Denise: If you have an itch to do something different, don’t be afraid to explore it. At the time I won the presenting competition, I was already volunteering in that field anyway, so I was in the right position to win and it wasn’t just luck, but rather preparation meeting opportunity.
Don’t be afraid to ask for time off at work to do different things. They may enhance your legal skills as they could give you a better understanding of the outside world. Above all, remember that law can be fun! You don’t have to leave it altogether as it is possible to have the best of both worlds. I enjoy practising law and I enjoy presenting – I just like to use both of these different sides of my personality during a working week and I have made it work.
mtl: Thank you Denise.
Law, Liverpool University
LPC, College of Law, Store Street
Trainee, Charles Russell
Assistant, corporate/commercial, Charles Russell
In-house legal, Sky
Director of Halebury