At Crafty Counsel, we regularly focus on getting to know more about a member of our in-house legal community. This week we speak to Laura Todd, Head of Legal at Utility Warehouse an award-winning, FTSE 250 multiservice utility provider.
Laura is a member of our FTSE and Friends – our community group for in-housers working in large organisations and government which meets regularly for virtual and in-person events.
Birmingham-born Laura’s interest in law was sparked after seeing Mark Darcy – human rights barrister – in the iconic early 00s Bridget Jones’s Diary. As fate would have it Laura was then selected to take part in a “magistrate’s court competition” at school – where the magistrate took her aside to ask if she’d thought about a career in law? Laura describes how something shifted at that moment, knowing instantly “that’s what I’m going to do”.
With this path now firmly cemented, Laura studied Law and Criminology at Sheffield University. Then following a year of travelling, Laura qualified as a corporate lawyer at Clyde & Co LLP. Laura made the jump in-house at only 18 months PQE. Given that she was relatively junior at the time, Laura explains how this resulted in questions, with some fellow lawyers suggesting it would “ruin your career”. However, Laura remained firm, knowing this was what she wanted to do.
Moving in-house was a baptism of fire
Beginning her in-house journey at a former FTSE 100 company, Interserve PLC, Laura says the experience could only be described as a “baptism of fire”. But not in a negative way! In fact, Laura loved the “weird and wonderful things that come across your desk in-house.”
Laura’s next move landed her in a role with the Ministry of Defence GOCO which plays a crucial role in the UK’s nuclear deterrent and sadly as much as we were curious to learn more that is all Laura could tell us.
What’s your favourite part of your current role?
In her current role as Head of Legal at Utility Warehouse, Laura shares that working for a multi-service (and multi-regulated) provider can feel like a juggling act. However, this broad practice was one of the attractions and something Laura believes “is really unique and makes my job a pleasure to be honest”.
The culture at Utility Warehouse has also proved to be “an added bonus”, in fact, the business itself was “born out of a conversation in a pub in Henley”. The way that the company works is that it is “one big conversation where everybody’s ideas are truly heard and valued”.
What’s one of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career journey?
During the uncertainty of the UK energy crisis and just weeks after starting her role at Utility Warehouse, Laura shares that she “suffered a sudden and completely devastating bereavement” when her dad passed away. Bereavement is a topic which often gets skirted around in the workplace and Laura’s fear about the potential reaction to her absence threatened to add to the stress and worry.
However, Laura feels very fortunate that she was surrounded by a “really supportive team” who rallied around her, continuing to support her over the last year whilst she navigated her grief.
Laura says conversations are becoming more open in the workplace, and it’s important to remember we’re human beings who need to support each other through personal challenges.
What is something you are really proud of?
Stepping into her role at Utility Warehouse at the beginning of the energy crisis meant working to help customers struggling to afford their energy bills whilst putting into place support schemes set up by the Government. Laura explains that “the implementation of these schemes by suppliers involves a huge amount of work behind the scenes, often in quite short timescales, and I’m really proud of how we pulled together at UW to deliver those schemes to our customers.”
What’s one cool thing you have seen in legal recently?
Laura spoke to us about how she’s glad to see a “growing number of social mobility charities and schemes working to increase access to the profession.” Laura relates how, after a state education and being a first-generation university student, she found the application process for training contracts “completely bewildering and, at times, honestly brutal”.
“From buying and wearing a suit, travelling to London by myself for the first time to attend interviews. And then you turn up to these huge glass buildings… I remember the panic when I got a vacation scheme in a city and then realised that they didn’t offer accommodation and I didn’t know where I could stay or how much it was going to cost”.
Following her experience, Laura is grateful the journey into law is opening up and is herself helping this as a mentor for GROW Mentoring. Similarly, after their presentation at Crafty Fest, Laura introduced UW to the Social Mobility Business Partnership who they have since partnered with.
What is a unique talent or hobby of yours?
Laura’s first love was dance and became a competitive dancer at just three years old! Performing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London twice and as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in Birmingham were two of Laura’s highlights from her time as a dancer. Laura “really lived and breathed” dance until she was twenty-one, and now instead focuses on attending festivals and admiring other people on the stage.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
“I wish I could go back and tell myself to relax”.
During her time in private practice, Laura explains “I always had this feeling that I was let in by mistake, and that somebody would finally discover they’d let me in and kick me out”. Fighting that feeling each day rather than making the most of every moment stopped Laura from joining in with the “more fun and social sides of being a junior lawyer”.
Therefore, Laura would have told her younger self to remember that you “deserve to be there, have confidence in your abilities, and have some fun”.
As a mentor, some of the advice Laura gives to her mentees to prepare them for life as a lawyer is:
- Don’t try to morph yourself into something that you think is expected. Laura seeks diversity of thought both as an employer and a client – she says “this can’t happen if lawyers are trying to fit into some sort of mould”.
- When you interview for a job, remember it’s absolutely a two-way process.
- Be (and celebrate being) your authentic self.