My career story: “I nearly left law altogether”

Talk Talk legal director Nadia Hoosen nearly left the profession entirely at 5 PQE but her move in-house reinvigorated her appetite for law.

You always knew you wanted to work in-house and did so at 5 PQE when you moved to Carphone Warehouse. Do you regret not making the jump sooner?

It was always my intention to go in-house but I think in those days it perhaps was frowned upon to start your career in that way. I had taken advice from a number of people to spend a few years in private practice and I did my time.

I felt I had a straitjacket on me. I couldn’t be creative and give cutthroat advice, even if you knew answer you had to caveat it because of the risks in every decision. The minute I landed I knew there was no turning back. I nearly left the law at five years PQE; I didn’t really want to spend my time doing BD and billing. As soon as I left private practice I wondered why I didn’t do it earlier.

But I do think you need to do two or three years in private practice and I would still give that advice today. It’s a very rigid environment and you develop good set of skills that you wouldn’t develop in-house.

What sort of skills?

It’s good rigour: you learn really good drafting and writing skills. When you come in-house it is often a free-for-all. Private practice makes you a perfectionist in the type of work you do and it gives you a house style. It is really good to have that grounding and being able to flip easily from one matter to another and deal with different personalities.

What one thing have you learned as an in-house lawyer that you would share with those in private practice?

Businesses switch off when lawyers sit on the fence. I know that you are taught to do it in private practice and that you have to protect your position – no one ever wants to be accused of giving bad advice after all – but a business just wants to know what to do. I think firms are in a very hard position there, whereas in-house, people trust you and if something does go wrong you get the chance to fix it.

What do you look for when you’re recruiting more junior lawyers?

We have done fair bit of recruitment in past couple of years and it’s been tricky, despite the good talent out there. Those who have had experience outside the profession are very interesting. Every lawyer is trained to say they are commercial but if they have never been in a business they can’t be.

I want someone practical and who isn’t scared to be a team player. You don’t have the support staff in-house that you do in private practice and if you aren’t prepared to do the less glamorous work as well as the exciting stuff then you are not who I’m looking for.

What makes a good in-house lawyer?

You have to be very confortable with being uncomfortable. The pace of change is very fast. I am 13 PQE and every week I come across something I have never seen before.

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