Name: Helen Selby
Firm: Asda Group Limited
Role: General Counsel and Company Secretary
Trained at: Finers Stephens Innocent
Year qualified: 2007
What’s your most vivid memory from your early time in the legal sector?
Law is a second career for me, having joined the RAF on leaving University. In my thirties I decided to retrain as a solicitor so enrolled onto the PGDL at BPP part-time. I was desperate to get any form of legal work/experience, and saw an advert on BPP’s notice board for a two-week placement during the Easter holidays in the Legal Department of Blue Arrow (recruitment company).
It was unpaid and I had to pay all my travel expenses – initially they were just looking for somebody to do the legal filing, however, on arrival there was clearly so much work I was thrown in at the deep end and asked to review NDAs etc. I loved it and they offered me a full-time role.
That was the beginning of my legal career, and I have never looked back. I am hugely grateful to Blue Arrow for giving me that opportunity.
What is the wisest thing anyone ever said to you (and who said it)?
I was introduced to the poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann – and it sums up so much about all aspects of life for me.
Who (for better or worse) has been the most influential person in your career? Why?
My mother – she brought my sister and me up on her own, working full time throughout. She provided me with an incredibly strong work ethic, a true sense of self and genuine courage.
She also never batted an eye when I announced I was resigning my commission and leaving the RAF with nothing to go to or much of an idea about what I would do. She never crushed my adventurous spirit or the drive I have had my entire life to try new adventures – in fact, she gave me my wings.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?
I came to law late and without the traditional academic background that most solicitors have. (I left school at 16), and I would encourage anybody to follow a career into law, in a heartbeat.
Don’t worry if you don’t look perfect on paper – drive, determination and a little bit of risk taking will take you places you never thought possible. Look for every opportunity you can, don’t worry if you do not have legal contacts or can’t get onto vacation schemes – there are many ways into the profession.
I also knew I wanted to go in-house so I took the decision to move early in my career out of a law firm and into business. Never be afraid or embarrassed to show ambition – a lot of people talk about how ambitious they are, but have never left the comfort of their firm or business. True ambition is having the courage to pull up everything you have worked for and start afresh, this builds resilience and adaptability – and never allow other people’s fears cloud or suppress your own dreams or ambitions.
What’s your best friend from university doing now?
Flying for British Airways. I joined the University Air Squadron while at university, which was the main reason I subsequently joined the RAF on leaving university. The vast majority of my friends from the Air Squadron also joined the RAF, but have now left and many of them have gone onto fly for the commercial airlines and now fly me on holiday!!