Heriot Brown

We chatted high-school breakups, daytime TV, lunchtime dog walks and greyhounds. We also talked about our love for plain English over verbose legalese, the importance of always customising your CV to fit the job and remembering that the next step in your career does not mean it has to be your last!

How did you land your first role in-house?

I trained in private practice in the City at  Clyde and Co. Although I did enjoy my training contract, I knew from my first seat that building my career from inside a law firm wasn’t going to be for me and I soon realised that I wanted to move in-house. I spent most of my first seat working for one particular client for an acquisition. I loved being so close to the business and thrived when working with non-lawyers. I believed that in-house life would be a better fit and started to research industry roles straight away, even though I’d really only just started training. In fact, the recruiter who  placed me into my current job in 2018 is the one I first spoke to in the middle of my second seat in 2006 (note to recruiters- keep in touch with your candidates!).

I left Clyde & Co the day I qualified- I didn’t even apply for an NQ position. Instead, I used the next few months post-qualification pre-employment to go travelling with my (now) husband. Whilst I was away, a friend of mine from Clyde & Co who had since moved in-house told me there was potentially a job going at her new company- ITV! As a total tv addict this was not an opportunity to be missed. I interviewed from a youth hostel in Wellington, New Zealand (great city!).  I got to the final round but they then froze the process so my application stalled. When I returned from my travels, I got back in touch and asked (begged really) to go and work for free just to get some experience in-house. I did that for a while, working on the side doing mystery shopping and promotions jobs to earn some money. And after 3 months, ITV unfroze the hiring process and I got the role. It was literally my dream come job. I still can’t believe I got it!!

How did you get to Senior Legal Counsel– was it a leap or climb?

It wasn’t a leap or a climb. It was more of a gamble- let me explain! In 2017 after almost 8 years at ITV, it was time to leave. It had been the best job for so long. Working in an industry I loved with the most wonderful colleagues- I’d had a ball. I’d had both my kids whilst working there and id come through the existential crisis that follows the return to work. But after such a long time, it wasn’t going anywhere for me and I needed a change.  Leaving was like breaking up with a high school boyfriend- you know it’s the right thing to do but it still hurts. I moved into legal recruitment, lasting 6 months in what I still say is the hardest job ever (hats off to all recruiters- I still shudder when I think about how challenging it was- I didn’t make one placement!!). I then worked freelance for 18 months, doing general commercial legal work and heading up operations at a media law consultancy. It was great but also not quite right for me. The truth is that freelance life isn’t for everyone-  in my head I thought I’d be working on my laptop in a cool coffee shop making friends with creatives but the reality was that I missed the financial security and certainty of employment.

 When I heard about the job at my current employer, Sports Information Services,  I wasn’t sure about it. It was a totally new industry for me (horseracing, greyhound racing, numbers and e-sports), and whilst recruitment and freelance life hadn’t worked out, I wasn’t sure about moving back in-house either. I was asking myself if I’d miss my newfound freedom.  However four years down the line, I couldn’t be happier to have made the move and I absolutely love working at SIS. In many ways it’s the best job I’ve ever had. 

What is the most interesting piece of information you have realised you didn’t know you didn’t know about SIS?

I’m embarrassed to be writing this knowing what I know now. But I really did used to think that horseracing only took place in UK, and Australia (I happened to have been in Melbourne for the Melbourne Cup- before that I didn’t think it happened in Oz either), and the USA (solely because id watched Sea Biscuit the film!). I had no idea of the breadth of countries that have horseracing tracks, or how popular it was internationally.

As senior legal counsel, is there anything wish you didn’t have so much knowledge about?

From doing so many international rights acquisitions deals, when someone tells me they’re going on holiday I can nearly always tell them the name of the horseracing or greyhound racing tracks in their destination. It’s a v random party trick and I think something like walking on your hands is a bit cuter!

What piece of advice has stuck with you since your TC days?

Not a piece of advice but some training- I did a fantastic course at Clyde and Co about writing in plain English.  https://www.plainenglish.co.uk/services/training.html

I learnt so much from it- always writing in short sentences, not using legalese etc etc. It was great and definitely made me a better lawyer.

What advice would you give to someone looking to make the jump now?

  1. The next step doesn’t have to be the last step. It’s just a step, so if it doesn’t work out, don’t worry about it you can always move on.
  2. Make sure you’re moving for the right reasons. Is it because you don’t fancy private practice life or because you don’t like being a lawyer? Because if it’s the latter, working in-house won’t help resolve that. Have you thought about career progression? Have you considered the potential financial differences between the different ways of working? What do you really want in life and from your career (big deep questions but important ones!!).
  3. More practical considerations- amend your CV and covering letter to be suitable to the specific in-house role you’re applying for. Give examples of when you’ve worked closely with clients, research the company you’re applying for and make sure you show that you have done so. We used to get so many generic CVs at ITV and you don’t do yourself any favours by not tweaking your CV/cover letter for each role.
  4. This isn’t really specific to in-house life, but treat everyone you come across at  work with the same respect and interest,  from an apprentice in the post room to the CEO. There’s really no reason not to, and it helps break down the perception of lawyers being stuffy and unapproachable.

What do you miss about private practice?

Literally nothing. Oh, a well-stocked stationary cupboard.

Do you have a work-life balance?

I have an incredible work life balance. I work 4 days over 5. I drop my kids off and pick them up every day and I walk my dog at lunchtime on the 3 days I work from home. I couldn’t have dreamt of this kind of balance when I was coming up through the ranks- it certainly wasn’t the case at ITV. Both post-Covid changes to ways of working and the culture at SIS are to thank for these privileges.

The sacrifice for this amazing balance is that, however happy I am with my personal career choices, it’s important to acknowledge that I’m not on the same trajectory as my peers at law firms many of whom are now partners. It’s not the fault of the in-house career path. There are amazing partner-equivalent roles available in-house- from progressing to Director/GC level or leap-frogging into non-legal board positions- the roles are there if you want to go for them. It’s just not the direction I’ve chosen to take for my career right now. The work-life balance is more important to me. Whoever says you can have it all is lying. You have to make choices.

And finally, what is your favourite ice cream? I have a Salted Caramel Coconutter every evening. It is heaven on earth and I bulk buy from Ocado as if its toilet roll on the cusp of lockdown. I also love Ben and Jerry’s cherry Garcia. Plus Ben and Jerry’s Jamaican me Crazy, plus anything marzipan flavoured