Why move from in house back to private practice?

An interview with Anne Todd, who recently made the move

Anne is an experienced commercial lawyer, specialising in telecoms, technology and data privacy.  After qualifying in private practice, her varied career has included a number of firsts.  She was General Counsel of Storm, one of the first pan-European wholesale telecoms companies; the first General Counsel of Sodexo UK, a major outsourced services and PFI provider; one of the first pioneering lawyers to join Lawyers on Demand at its inception; and one of the first lawyers to join the Reignite Academy.

Anne is now a senior associate at Macfarlanes.  I spoke to her recently about her motivations for returning to private practice and how the reality compared to her initial expectations.

You had a successful freelance career, what motivated you to return to private practice?

Working freelance brings all sorts of benefits and was the right thing for me when my boys were younger.  I was able to find work through a number of channels, including my own contacts and also platforms such as Lawyers on Demand.  Throughout this time, I worked in some interesting businesses and gained some great insights.  In time, though, I realised that I wanted more than “work”.  I wanted a rewarding “career”.

Could you say a little more?  What does having a “rewarding career” look like?

For me, it’s the feeling that someone’s investing in my career. Freelance work was financially rewarding and, to some extent, flexible.  However, there was no training, no development and no opportunity for progression or leadership.

Even when I did long term secondments, it often felt as though I was putting things in place for other people’s benefit. This made if feel as though I was building value in the organisation rather than building value in me.  It can also be a little lonely.

How has your experience at Macfarlanes lived up to that expectation?

It’s delivered everything I was looking for, from that perspective.  Partners are out there developing clients and helping me develop my own business plan. The training and business development support has been fantastic. I really feel as though the work I’ve been doing since I came here is helping to re-build my reputation and profile.

It’s also a lot of fun.  The team I work with are quite young and really engaging, there are a lot of initiatives within the team to develop our practice.  Not only that, there are plenty of social and cultural events during the daytime as well as in the evening.  I’m enjoying being back in a team environment.

How has the firm recognised the value you can add, given your previous experience?

The Business Services and Marketing team took me under their wing quite early on.  They realised that my experience working in-house could be very useful to them and got me involved in an annual event they run for the firm’s client General Counsels.  I hosted a panel of GCs talking about the subject of balance, which enabled me to draw on all those years of experience working freelance and in-house.

More recently, I worked with the Learning and Development team, designing a programme for junior associates, to improve their understanding of their in-house clients.  I thoroughly enjoyed being involved in areas that are outside my usual sphere.  It was a good way of connecting with other people in the firm, in non-fee earning roles.

What, if anything, has been the biggest challenge?

It can be a bit strange going from being a senior in-house GC, or working freelance for that matter, to being back in a partnership structure. By definition, partnerships are hierarchical.

That said, the partners here have been friendly and welcoming.  They recognise my experience and see the value I can bring, they have introduced me to their clients and have been open about getting me involved in different areas of work, even beyond my obvious area of expertise.  Which means that the barriers you might imagine to be there don’t exist in reality.

What advice would you give to anyone considering a return to private practice?

Take the leap. It’s a great opportunity to invest in the next phase of your career.  There is much more flexibility than there was years ago and people are genuinely committed to finding ways to improve diversity within law firms. 

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