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Emily Aldridge
In-House Legal Counsel, NEC Group

Emily Aldridge is the Legal Counsel for the NEC Group. Prior to her role as Legal Counsel, she worked at a private practice law firm, Anthony Collins Solicitors LLP. Emily completed her training contract in-house with a secondment at a law firm and then began her qualified career in private practice.

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What made you look for training contracts in-house and how did you go about the search?

I didn’t really look for a training contract (“TC”) in- house, I stumbled across it. I took a voluntary role as an administrator for a few months within the legal team at a housing association whilst I was in my final year of university. The main driver being that I had wanted some work experience on my CV for my TC applications. That role eventually turned into a permanent role elsewhere within the business but still quasi legal admin and then I secured a permanent role within the legal team and was offered my TC. It certainly wasn’t the most straightforward of routes to a TC but it worked really well for me.

Now you’ve worked in both private practice and in- house, how would you say the two differ? Pros and cons of each?

For me, the main difference is that working in-house gives you the opportunity to be involved at the heart of the strategic decision making process. You aren’t just providing legal advice, you are also advising the business on the commercial application of it and that’s something I really enjoy. It also gives you the opportunity to get to grips with the way the business operates, it’s risk appetite and drivers for growth etc.

In-house Pro: the opportunity to really understand a business, develop good working relationships with internal clients and the opportunity to advise on the commercial application of technical legal advice.

In-house con: perhaps I’m biased but for me there aren’t any.

I enjoyed my time in private practice (“PP”) and it was invaluable for my development as working with a larger team of lawyers as an NQ allowed me to develop a more in-depth technical knowledge then perhaps I would have if I’d have stayed in-house as an NQ. I was also fortunate to have a large amount of client contact and with some of those clients I gained an insight into the decision making processes and a great understanding of the different risk appetites. Whilst I really enjoyed my time in PP it quickly became apparent to me that having more of an understanding of how a business operates and having an input into the decision making process was what I most enjoyed and where my interest really lay.

PP Pro: working in a large team of lawyers and being able to draw on their experiences to aid your own development.

PP Con: for me it was working with a lot of different clients and not necessarily having the time, or enough repeat instruction from a client, to really get to understand the client’s business and not always knowing the outcome of the advice you’ve given.

How did you find the transition from each role I.e in-house trainee to private practice back to in-house?

When I first transitioned into PP as an NQ I was really nervous, it was so daunting as I new it would be very different from what I was used to. Once I had got my head around the need to time record each six minutes of my day I found the transition to working for multiple clients to be quite a natural one. I was fortunate as the firm I worked for really encouraged NQs to go after the work they wanted and to have as much, or as little, client contact as they would enjoy. It meant I was able to have a lot of client contact from day one in the role which was something I had thought I’d sacrifice moving in to PP.

Transitioning back in to an in-house role has also been quite easy for me. I certainly feel that my time in PP has helped to prepare me to be a more well rounded in-house lawyer and I feel very confident in my role and in working in a small team of three lawyers, one paralegal and insurance lead. The biggest adjustment has been losing my secretarial support, you don’t always appreciate how invaluable a good legal secretary is and I was fortunate enough to have had a fantastic one in PP so that has been a big change!

What does a typical working day look like for you as an in-house lawyer?

A typical day for me is not too dissimilar to that of a PP lawyer. I still have multiple clients, they just all happen to work for the same business, and I still carry a case load of a similar size to that of PP. As I transitioned back in- house in the middle of a pandemic, a typical day for me at the moment is 75% on video conferences and 25% of trying to turn around the work from those calls! I suspect that when we finally get back in to the office I will spend a similar amount of time in client meetings and on work delivery.

What advice would you give those looking for a career in-house? What skills do you think they need / should develop?

The advice I would give is to consider the size of the team, the resources available to that team and what your ongoing development and progression will look like. If you are looking to qualify in-house or move into an in-house role as an NQ you want certainty that the team can facilitate your on going development as there is a lot to learn upon qualification and so you want to make sure, just as you would for a PP role, that the role and the business is going to be a good fit for you.

I think the key skill to develop is your confidence with client contact. As an in-house lawyer you are more likely to be approached by colleagues with ad hoc queries and you need to be able to think on your feet to deliver the advice or have the confidence to tell them you need to take it away to think about or to run it by a colleague for a second opinion. If the query is an entirely different practice area you may, if no one in the internal team has the skill set, need to have the confidence to push the client to outsource that advice to an external firm of lawyers. This can sometimes be a bit of a tricky conversation as the client will be cost conscious and will view their in house advice as “free” and external advice as an expense.