Ex-City and in-house lawyer now a PLC editor
Helen Hart trained at Allen & Overy before embarking on a couple of in-house roles. After being made redundant in 2005, she returned to private practice for a few years, before moving to be an editor in the commercial team at Practical Law Company (PLC). She leaves early two days a week so that she can do the school run, and works from home one day a week. We spoke to her about her different roles and why her current job suits her.
mtl: Hi Helen, please can you start at the beginning of your legal career…
Helen: I studied Law and German Law at Cardiff and Passau and decided to go back to Germany for a further year of study when I graduated, so I did an LLM in Freiburg. After that I went to the College of Law in York and then did my training contract at Allen & Overy, which included six months in Frankfurt.
I wanted to do something IP-related on qualification but was told early on that there would be no jobs for NQ’s in that area. I looked around at alternatives and moved to Hammonds’ IP and Media team. However it was clear from Day 1 on that it was not the right move for me and I only stayed six months.
My next move was a maternity leave contract at British Gas, which was very early to move in-house. When the woman I was replacing came back to work, she went part-time, so I was able to stay on. I did a mixture of advertising, data protection and consumer law and stayed there for three years.
British Gas is owned by Centrica, which also owned The AA at the time. I heard that they were about to advertise for lawyers and asked for an internal transfer. This was partly because the role was based much closer to where I was living and I also fancied a change. I spent a further 2 ½ years there doing similar work to what I did at British Gas. Centrica sold The AA in 2004 and that was a catalyst for me to move jobs.
My final in-house role was for Palm, which make handheld computers and smartphones. I took the role as it had an international element that allowed me to use my languages. I was happy there doing a mixture of commercial contracts, advertising, environmental, technical and consumer work. However I was made redundant after a year, which took me by surprise but provided an opportunity to reevaluate my career.
I decided to go back to private practice as I had never really had much experience in a firm and joined the commercial team of Stevens & Bolton in Guildford. I did a mix of commercial work and I also went on a part-time secondment. My hours were regular and I enjoyed being in Guildford. However there wasn’t much fee-earning work for me and I found that I was doing a lot of marketing and writing. That led me to apply for my current job at PLC.
mtl: Why was that and how is it going?
Helen: I saw an advert for a commercial PSL role at PLC and applied because I had been doing similar work at Stevens & Bolton for a while and decided that I might as well do it full-time. I moved in March 2008 and initially joined the corporate team before moving on to work for the new commercial service which launched in January 2009.
My main role is to write about what is new and important for a weekly email to our clients and as I’m something of a frustrated journalist, that really appeals to me. I also draft standard terms and drafting notes, practice notes and checklists in relation to consumer law, advertising and general commercial contracts and I have written a couple of e-learning courses on data protection for businesses.
I really enjoy being a PSL, though it is certainly not an easy option. Work is email and computer based, making it easy to work from home and I do one day a week from home. I receive the odd client query but as I no longer have a practising certificate I don’t give legal advice and my client facing work is more likely to be helping them to use the site more effectively.
Most of my colleagues have come from City or well-respected regional firms. Few have worked in-house before joining PLC. I think to work effectively at PLC, you need to have done a decent length of time in private practice as you need to be very strong technically. I am very glad that I had some time in private practice recently as I needed that background to flourish in this role.
We work in open plan offices, which are often very calm and quiet because of the intense work. Some of the services do a daily email to their clients, which can be somewhat frenetic, whereas the services with weekly emails are less so. Many of my colleagues work part-time and some people work restricted hours on some days and make up for it on other days, or work from home, so it is a pretty flexible place to be.
My current role would appeal to people who like law, like writing about it, enjoy research, can work in a team but can also just get on with demanding work. You need to be self-motivated as there are often no urgent deadlines so you have to be good at managing your time and prioritising what you do when. We peer review each other’s work before it goes out.
When I look back at my career, all the different jobs I’ve done make sense and have got me to where I am now. Going back to private practice was unplanned but the move helped me get a job at PLC. I have no regrets about going in-house so early as I went to a large legal department that had specialisms and where I received good training. It would have been harder I think to have joined a small in-house department at that early stage. As a long-term job option, PLC suits me very well and to want to leave I’d have to find a similar role that was near to where I live and which allowed me to work part-time on a full-time salary!
mtl: Thank you for your time Helen.
Law and German Law, Cardiff
LPC, College of Law, York
Training contract, Allen & Overy
In-house at Centrica (British Gas and the AA)
Assistant, Stevens & Bolton, Guildford