Every week at Crafty Counsel we focus on getting to know more about one of the members of our in-house legal community. This week we speak to Emily Garvey, General Counsel at the Westcoast Group. Westcoast distributes some of the best-known global IT brands to resellers, retailers and other organisations in the UK, the Republic of Ireland and mainland Europe. Emily is also a member of Lean Legal, our group for sole counsel or those working in smaller legal teams, which meets regularly for virtual and in-person events.
Emily’s legal career started at Pitmans, now known as BDB Pitmans LLP, where she qualified in 2009 in commercial dispute resolution, and corporate and individual insolvency. Her final year at the firm was spent on secondment to Westcoast, where she has been since 2015. She was promoted to General Counsel in 2018.
Starting an in-house career
Her path into law started with a natural sciences degree, followed by part-time jobs while she was training with England’s national lacrosse team. Eventually, her mother suggested a career in law and she decided to dive straight into the legal working world.
“I just applied to some local law firms and managed to get a job as a paralegal with absolutely no experience. I didn’t have a law degree and had never stepped inside a law firm in my life, but just happened to fall into it,” Emily says.
She joined the litigation team at Pitmans and after a few months, the firm offered her a training contract. Emily qualified and worked as a solicitor at Pitmans for nearly sixyears.
Emily had returned to work after a second period of maternity leave and went on secondment to work for Westcoast, while the company was expanding. They did not have an in-house legal team and after a year they asked her to join as the first in-house lawyer.
“I really enjoyed being an in-house lawyer. It was very different to private practice and I felt it suited my personality and skill sets slightly better. I haven’t looked back.” says Emily.
Favourite part of your current role
Emily notes that her favourite part about her role as General Counsel is that she gets to work with every aspect of the business. “There’s nothing that legal doesn’t touch,” she says, adding that this has allowed her to learn a lot about the business itself alongside being an in-house lawyer.
Something you are proud of in your career
Westcoast’s legal department recently launched a ticketing helpdesk-like system for those in the business to direct queries to Emily’s team. The team implemented the system as it had been “chaotic” to manage the requests coming her team’s way. “There’s a lot more visibility between the business and the legal team now,” she said.
The ticketing system is a nine-month-in-the-making collaboration with the company’s in-house IT department, which allows the legal team to keep those in the company updated on the progress of their queries. They use an agile project management tool that is widely used by IT professionals and software developers. “A lot of the frustration that I guess the business used to feel was that we’d say: yes, we can do that, but trying to keep them updated all the time as to how we were progressing with the request work was really hard work,” Emily says.
A cool thing recently seen in legal
For Emily a cool thing in legal is the new route to qualification for solicitors in England and Wales. The Solicitors Qualifying Exams (SQE) and qualifying work experience will replace the old regime. In the past aspiring lawyers would complete a qualifying law degree or a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and a Legal Practice Course (LPC) before commencing a two year training contract.
Emily is specifically excited about the SQE route to qualification as her team of three has recently expanded to include a fourth legal team member, who will be qualifying via the new route. Her new team member has a lot of business knowledge already, which is particularly helpful as she was part of Westcoast’s customer services and operational team before deciding to further her studies and qualify as a solicitor. She now works with Emily as a trainee.
The SQE has the potential to open up the qualification for a diverse range of people, and is more flexible than the traditional LPC and training contract route. Emily says a lot of her work derives from common sense and can be taught to trainees as they work. “I think enabling people to qualify into the profession in this route is fantastic because they are literally learning on the job and into the business that hopefully, they’ll qualify in”.
Biggest challenge Emily has faced in her in-house journey
Emily says one of her biggest challenges is that there is only one client when you work in-house. “You live, eat and breathe your client and there’s no getting away from it”.
She adds that knowing the people you are giving advice to on a personal level, especially when it’s senior management and they do not like the advice you’re giving them, can also be a challenge. “It can be quite tense to stand your ground sometimes,” she says.
But she adds that building both good personal and professional bonds with others in the business – including senior members of the team – is a challenge that she is happy to take on.
Advice to your younger self
Emily would have asked more questions in her early legal years, letting go of her pride when she could not work through an issue. “It is always much more efficient to ask a question early on rather than sit there and struggle,” she says, adding that this is advice she passes on to her children, too.