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Thriving beyond your comfort zone: Tips for moving in-house from Lawyers Weekly Corporate Counsel Winner, David Stott
22 June 2022

Thriving beyond your comfort zone: Tips for moving in-house from Lawyers Weekly Corporate Counsel Winner, David Stott

Published on 22 June 2022

If it wasn’t for COVID, Leeds-born lawyer David Stott might never have left private practice. A UK lawyer by qualification, he moved to Australia and requalified as a NSW solicitor in 2006, progressing to a career in private practice. However, during COVID, an in-house opportunity turned up 5 minutes from home, for the NEPEAN group of companies, an Australian-based organisation with global operations. 

Since then, he’s graduated from a College of Law LLM (Applied Law) in Business Law & Transactions, picking up a Certificate of High Achievement in the Capstone Project along the way and won the Lawyers Weekly Corporate Counsel of the Year (Industrial, Materials and Manufacturing) Award.

We caught up with David about his shift in house, recognition from his award, and how his LLM studies helped progress his career. 

What made you switch from private practice to in house? 

Ultimately, it was a blend of factors as to why I moved in-house. The catalyst was probably due to COVID, the desire to do something new and the fact that my organisation’s head office was a 5 minute commute from home. After first qualifying and working as a lawyer in Leeds in the UK (my home town) for a few years in the early naughties, I then re-qualified as a lawyer in New South Wales in 2006. Since then I gained invaluable experience with some really good law firms, with much exposure to property and commercial transactional work. 

I now work for the NEPEAN Group of Companies. NEPEAN is Australia’s largest privately owned engineering mining services and industrial manufacturing organisation headquartered in Narellan southwest of Sydney. NEPEAN delivers high value innovative and sustainable solutions for the world’s leading mining companies, operating globally across six continents. 

The biggest reward is being able to be involved in a Project or matter from inception, and to be able to add value along the way, right through until the end of the matter. Depending on the Project, this could take several years. This is quite unlike private practice, where you tend to get pulled into certain projects and only for certain aspects. It can be a short lived experience before you are on to the next one.

How did your College of Law scholarship for your Graduate Certificate, followed by an LLM, help you towards winning Lawyers Weekly Corporate Counsel of the Year? 

For me it was the mixture of the mandatory and elective subjects taken. The College offers a broad range of topics and after completing the mandatory subjects relevant to the Business Law & Transactions LLM, I had the freedom to choose subjects that were directly relevant to my role. 

I already had acquired certain skills and knowledge throughout my career, but the subjects gave me a deeper understanding of the topic areas. More importantly, studying with the College enabled me to look at my practice through a different and more practical, commercially orientated lens. From this ‘commercial’ approach, I was able to focus on the key commercial terms of a Project or contract, not just from my organisation’s perspective, but also from the customer’s.

This enabled me to deal with what really mattered to get deals across the line which ultimately played a large part in being awarded several large contracts. From the customer’s perspective, being collegiate and easy to deal with when negotiating terms goes a long way and if both parties come out winning, then you know you are on to something. 

How did your writing tasks help you deliver more succinct, practical legal advice?

In Business, Senior Managers, Executives and the Board don’t have time to read lengthy swathes of information or advice. They want to know how to navigate the issues, what the options are and the risks of proceeding with those options. 

My assessments were based upon a variety of tasks, including short writing activities tackling practical problems in business scenarios. The writing tasks are designed to make you think, form a solution and communicate it in a precise way, without waffle. To be an effective legal writer or advisor, there is no time for going around the houses with an issue or not providing effective practical solutions. You have to be able to firstly identify an issue, analyse and critique it and then find the best solution that fits the circumstances. These tasks help put you in that mindset and give you the tools to be able to approach every piece of work that you do in that way. 

Now you're Lawyer of the Year, what's next for you? Where would you like to progress your career?

I am not sure yet – I am really happy where I am. I’m fortunate enough to work for a great organisation, which has operations globally but is also close to home. This enables me to work across a variety of contracts whilst learning about foreign jurisdictions. It’s a real eye opener as to how legal principles can differ and how contracts can be interpreted across various parts of the world. 

Winning the award hasn’t really sunk in yet. It’s business as usual for me and for the teams, managers and engineers I assist. If I had just that bit more time, I would probably like to travel internationally and educate and empower the business teams with their own tools to succeed within their own business communities. 

I always strive to be the best that I can be, to continue learning and to help others. That advice hasn’t led me far astray since law school. I might undertake some further study in the future, perhaps an Executive MBA at some stage.

Checklist: Moving In-House

1. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone.

Moving in-house will definitely push you beyond your comfort zone, but we are lawyers, right? We thrive on this stuff! More and more emphasis is being placed on in-house roles as the value of what in-house lawyers bring to organisations gains traction. In addition, organisations are looking to Legal as business leaders. So you need to hone your commercial skills, think practically and be able to sync the commercial aspect with the legal aspect.

2. Do your research

It goes without saying that you should not only thoroughly research any role but also the organisation. You might be part of a large legal team undertaking a specific function, or to the other extreme, you might be part of a small tight knit team undertaking a diverse practice.

3. Consider your legal office environment.

I think you have to think about what legal office environment you might be suited to. Then, as a close second, consider what your passions and interests are, what you would like to do, and what organisation aligns with those interests. You might not land that coveted position in your dream organisation straight away – but it’s about building blocks and gaining experience.

4. Back yourself.

On a personal level, just believe in and back yourself – you made it this far right? If you want a quick paced, challenging environment ,where you feel like your inputs are actually making a real world difference, what are you waiting for?

Related Resources

Learn about a Career in In-house Practice
How to become an In-house Lawyer
Download the Postgraduate Programs Course Guide


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