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What it’s like to do a secondment with Google as a junior lawyer

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Ahead of ‘The skills future lawyers need for the new digital world’ tomorrow, Legal Cheek Careers meets RPC’s Stuart Harris

“In-house secondments put you inside the mind of the client and make you understand what pressures legal teams are under.”

So says Stuart Harris, an associate solicitor at RPC who is currently on secondment to one of the most well-known brands on the planet, Google. He believes the in-house experience is an “invaluable tool” to becoming a better lawyer.

Embedded in Google’s sixty-strong legal team, Harris is working on the legal side of new products and services. So when Google recently launched a number of new pieces of hardware (including its Pixel 2 phone, Pixelbook and Home Mini), the legal team were drafting commercial contracts supporting the launch and reviewing copy to ensure compliance of the relevant ads with advertising and consumer regulation.

“It is incredible to have this experience of what life is like on the inside of a tech giant like Google,” he tells Legal Cheek Careers. “You have the opportunity to learn valuable lessons on the business, its processes, as well as getting exposure to exciting areas such as AI, machine learning, wearables, big data and adtech. Above all, the Google legal team is fantastic. They’re smart, fun and very supportive to secondees like me.”

Google’s London office

“But wherever your secondment, you are seeing legal services from the other side, from the client’s perspective,” continues Harris. “An in-house lawyer is often the interface between the external law firm, such as RPC, and the actual client business, such as the marketing, engineering or product teams at Google. Being seconded in-house means you can see what both the business and the in-house legal team needs from its external legal advisers.”

In particular, clients want unfussy, to-the-point and commercial advice, explains Harris:

“Google’s lawyers do not want a legalistic eight-page document on the various risks and challenges of a particular course of action. They want a pithy, straight-talking email which they can take to the company’s business teams directly. They want you to summarise the risks and, crucially, make a judgement call. You have to make their lives easier.”

Spending time in this environment has helped Harris to appreciate Google’s wider aims and objectives as a business. He expands:

“You also understand the pressures the business is under — a new product may need to launch at a certain time because of competition in the market. The legal team has to help make that happen, and has to appreciate the appetite for risk: in some situations, the business will be more willing to take risks. You need to be alive to these subtle shifts.”

An in-house legal team builds relationships with other parts of the business, from marketing to product teams, which is also a learning curve for lawyers who are used to working with, well, other lawyers. “You learn to work with these different teams and build on the ‘trusted advisor’ idea,” says Harris.

Not that this is the Warwick Law and Business graduate’s first taste of the in-house life. His latest six-month stint at the tech powerhouse is his fifth assignment since joining RPC as a trainee in 2014. As a member of the firm’s Commercial, Technology & Outsourcing team, Harris has also been seconded to a broadband company, two insurers, and a consumer brand conglomerate.

“Not everyone will get the opportunity to go on secondment, which is fine; there are other ways to get close to clients, meet them and understand their world. But if you do, I recommend that you jump at the chance,” he says of the experiences.

Find out more about vac schemes and training contracts at RPC

Recently voted number one in the Top 100 Best Companies to Work For (for the sixth year in a row), Google is well-known for its progressive and positive working environment, including all its staff getting MacBooks. It’s an approach that RPC can relate to, with the firm operating a fully open plan office environment and boasting an informal culture that has seen respondents to the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18 liken it to a tech company.

Harris elaborates on the Google culture: “It is an incredible place to work, it’s relaxed and supportive plus the work is really interesting. You can opt to do yoga at lunchtime or you can join one of the legal team for a collegiate lunch. Then at the end of the week, we have ‘Thank Google it’s Friday’ where we all meet for a drink and ‘prepare’ for the weekend.”

The RPC associate says it is too soon to say where he sees his career path taking him in the future, but believes that junior lawyers are living in exciting times: “I see the emerging digital world as a huge opportunity for junior lawyers. By embracing new tech, young lawyers can advise on disruptive ideas and concepts that present new and complex challenges for businesses — and regulators — on a daily basis.” As Harris concludes, “it’s there for the taking — you just need to appreciate that the world is changing and ensure that you prepare yourself as best you can for the opportunities which this brings”.

Stuart Harris will be speaking at ‘The skills future lawyers need for the new digital world — with RPC, Google and Uber’ on Tuesday. Apply to attend.

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