Leaving private practice for the golden arches

Jonathan Finney left a top 50 private practice to join McDonald’s as a legal counsel last year. But was this a case of out the frying pan and into the frier? He shares his experience of how fulfilling working for the fast-food giant is.
A white man in a suit sits on a park bench eating a burger.

Just over a year ago, I was faced with a conundrum – do I continue earning my stripes in private practice or do I make the switch to a life in-house? Having just celebrated my post-qualification anniversary of two years, an amazing opportunity to join the McDonald’s legal team arose.

Now, let’s not beat around the bush – swapping private practice for in-house at a relatively early stage of a legal career has traditionally been met with some scrutiny. I, like many others, have been met with: “Is that really what’s best for you right now? It’s too early to make the move”.

Having spent six years in private practice and completing a secondment in-house – I decided that it was the right time for me to make the move and, a year on, I wanted to share my experience of working as a lawyer at McDonald’s and why I have never looked back!

1. What’s on the menu?

McDonald’s requires very little introduction. As one of the world’s largest restaurant chains, with millions of customers visiting our restaurants across the globe every day, telling someone that you work as an in-house lawyer at McDonald’s often invokes lots of interest.

Whenever anyone asks me: “what does a lawyer do at McDonald’s?”, I often say “where do I start?!”. Whilst I always had the impression that in-house would require me to become somewhat of a ‘generalist’, I never quite anticipated what exactly this would mean at McDonald’s.

Now, over one year in, I can quite easily say that two days are never the same. I am regularly involved in working with the business on a variety of exciting projects. A typical day might require me to:

  • review an advert for a national advertising campaign;
  • advise on a commercial contract for a new supplier;
  • provide training sessions to the business;
  • navigate legislation and provide guidance to the business;
  • support on updating and implementing changes in policies/procedure; and/or
  • input on customer facing communications.

The opportunity to work closely with different teams and to guide them on various areas of the law has had a significantly positive impact on my own personal development.

At McDonald’s, the legal team is seen as a business partner from which sound, legal and commercial advice is needed. Sitting on the fence isn’t an option which is a welcome challenge as it has vastly improved my confidence in decision making and carefully assessing the legal position against the commercial backdrop.

2. Beneath the bun

One of the many things that I truly value about being an in-house lawyer at McDonald’s is that it has given me the opportunity to be able to proactively get under the skin of the business (or, using a McDonald’s themed analogy, beneath the bun!), and the commercial drivers behind the business strategy.

Gaining a level of detailed understanding of the organisation, our customers, our people and what we prioritise enables me to provide tailored, concise and commercial advice to the business.

One of the most important lessons I have learned being in-house is to never be afraid to ask questions. The nature of the industry requires us to be fast-paced and, often, to make business decisions quickly.

Learning when to take a step back and to ask questions such as “Why exactly are we doing this?”, “What does this mean?”, “Should we still be doing this?” is pertinent in ensuring that you clearly understand the lay of the land to be able to provide accurate and measured legal advice and are prioritising appropriately.

There is also great value in seeing the real time impact of the legal input I give, and, at McDonald’s, you are able to see your work out ‘in the wild’. Whether this is seeing a TV ad that you provided input on being aired on national TV or seeing the roll out of a new internal system across the business, the results are extremely tangible.

3. We get better together

At McDonald's, there are a number of core values that the business is driven by – one of which recognises that “none of us is better than all of us”.

I have always been a keen advocate for openly collaborating with colleagues to deliver better outcomes. The McDonald’s ethos of being better together was evident within my first week and I was extremely impressed by the innovation and collaboration regularly happening within the business.

Unlike private practice, in an in-house role you are surrounded by your clients every day which, naturally, leads to more open lines of communication, more collaboration and more informal interactions.

Whilst this level of client contact could be portrayed as being overwhelming, I really enjoy this aspect of being an in-house lawyer and have seen my soft skills grow exponentially as a result.

Thinking about it?

My experience of swapping private practice for an in-house role has been extremely positive and has enhanced both my legal skills and my soft skills.

As many others have written previously, there traditionally have been a number of myths surrounding in-house – one of which being that private practice experience is necessary before making the move. Whilst private practice experience may be helpful, it isn’t essential and it appears that the modern view of in-house is vastly different.

Like me, if you are faced with an opportunity to move in-house, I would encourage you to strongly consider it – there’s nothing to lose and an awful lot to gain. Trust me.

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