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Career choice: General counsel in-house

Funke Abimbola  

Name: Funke Abimbola
 Level of PQE: Almost 16 years PQE
Current position and immediate former position: General counsel and company secretary at Roche UK – previously managing counsel.

Why did you go into the law in the first place?

I really enjoyed learning about justice and legal frameworks. My love of reading also helped, as did my passion for debating the rights and wrongs with whoever would listen to me!

What was your first job as a qualified solicitor?

As a corporate assistant solicitor for a commercial law firm in Holborn.

What was your reason(s) for choosing your career path?

I chose corporate law because I loved the idea of advising businesses without having to go to court.

At 12 years PQE I was keen to move into industry and the best fit for me was within the healthcare sector (I come from a family of doctors).

What steps did you take to make that move a reality (include details of resources that you found particularly helpful)?

Lots of research to find out which healthcare companies had in-house legal teams. I found out who was hiring and approached companies directly.

How easy or difficult did you find the move?

I was told by several recruiters that, at 12 years PQE, I would be considered to be 'institutionalised' and had left it too late to move from private practice into industry. I chose to ignore this advice and played to my strengths. I had relevant in-house experience, understood the healthcare sector, had acted on a number of healthcare-related transactions as a corporate lawyer and was ranked in two legal directories as an expert in my field.

What do you consider to have been the key factor in enabling you to make that successful move?

Being really persistent, determined and tenacious.

How did you find the transition after you made the move?

Every transition has its challenges, but my passion lies within the healthcare sector and this is what has driven me on in my current role.

I joined Roche as managing counsel in 2012 and have done very well within the Roche organisation.

I was promoted to general counsel and company secretary at the end of 2015.

What do you most enjoy about your current role?

I love working at the heart of the business in a sector that is very close to my heart. Everything we do impacts directly on patient care - this is a strong motivator. I have really enjoyed watching my team develop and flourish under my leadership – I have enjoyed empowering others to succeed, developing my own leadership and the leadership in my team members and colleagues.

In my role as General Counsel, I work closely with other senior leaders across the UK site, shaping and influencing the organisation’s strategy in the UK. Seeing the impact of this on a daily basis is very rewarding.

What did you learn about how to make change effectively and what would you have done differently?

I learnt that only you truly know the potential that lies within you and no-one else. People will always have opinions about what you should and should not do but only you will know where your true passions lie.

The one thing I would have done differently is to make the move into industry sooner than I did.

What are your three tips for a successful change in career direction?

  • Be true to yourself: identify where your true passion and motivation lies and follow your passions.
  • Do your research: find out as much as you can about what area interests you, who is hiring, etc. Information is really important. When moving in-house, you need to demonstrate strong industry knowledge.
  • Start with the end in mind: visualisation is really powerful with any career move. By having a vision for where you want to be, you can then work backwards to outline the steps you need to take to reach your goal.
     

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