Career choice: Senior associate

Katherine Gibson

Name: Katherine Gibson
Level of PQE: 10 years' PQE (October 2005)
Current position and immediate former position: Senior associate, DLA Piper UK LLP. Formerly senior legal counsel at Coca-Cola Enterprises Limited (CCE). Inaugural chair of the Law Society Junior Lawyers Division from 2008 to 2010

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

At the age of 11, a teacher made an off-hand comment to me that I’d done a good job in playing a lawyer during the reading of a play in an English class. This comment planted a seed, which slowly grew over the years as I found out more about the profession.

Ultimately, I was attracted by the use of language, the rules of justice, and the interesting stories.

What was your first job as a qualified solicitor?

I worked for a firm in Southampton called Paris Smith & Randall (now Paris Smith LLP) in the employment team.

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

I’m an employment lawyer and always wanted to handle both contentious and non-contentious work. Thankfully, employment law allows you to do this, as well as working in an area of law which affects people's businesses and lives.

In addition to simply enjoying the practice of law, I like assisting my clients to solve their immediate problems and plan for their future. As a result, I wanted to get involved in business strategy and add commercial value to it.

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

I decided that a move in-house would help me become more commercial and practical as a lawyer, and to become close to a business. To do this, I considered the transferrable skills and competencies that would be useful in this, and concentrated on these when making applications.

Eventually, I moved jobs and began to consider long-term aims. Having moved in-house, I enjoyed being close to the business and advising on strategy and commercial planning - so much so that I initially considered  my career trajectory was now in-house.

I began to diversify and advised on commercial law matters. However, I discovered that I did not wish to lose my specialism, and I began to consider how best to retain it and progress my career.

As a result of this 'existential crisis', I decided to return to private practice. Again, I considered what skills and competencies I had to help this move. Moving from in-house to a private practice means you can bring a new level of commerciality to the table, as well as keen insights into what it means to be a consumer of legal services. I left CCE for DLA in March 2013, and have not regretted the decision.

How easy or difficult did you find the move?

Each move has brought its own challenges. However, overall, they have been fairly easy to adapt to.

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

Understanding what your transferrable skills are, and how you can best use these for your new employer.

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

It was a culture shock coming back to time-recording after around six years without, and the flexibility in private practice is much decreased. However, it has been a smooth and successful transition process.

What do you most enjoy about your current role?

Working on high value, challenging, international and varying work, for a number of different clients - I enjoy not knowing what each day will bring (but knowing it will always be an exam question!).

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

I think, with hindsight, I should’ve made the move sooner. I enjoyed in-house so much that I agonised for ages before leaving, when I should have taken the time to interrogate my feelings and assess my choices sooner.

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

  • Take the time to figure out what you actually want from your career. Don't allow yourself to just be swept along by time and circumstance
  • Consider what you have to offer or what you need to get to take that next step
  • Be brave! You can do it - the only thing holding you back is you

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