Heriot Brown

In this week’s edition of the In-House Scoop we chat to Will Scrimshaw, General Counsel at BenevolentAI on the importance of trying new things, broadening your social network, drugs tech, reflection and Tony’s Chocolonely!


How did you land your first role in-house? 

I was working in private practice at Norton Rose Fulbright and had a friend who worked in BT’s in-house legal team. She was making an internal move and vacating a really interesting position in BT’s litigation team, focussing on IP matters. So she told me there was a job being advertised which sounded ideal – matching perfectly my practice area and interests. It felt like a really good way to make the transition from private practice to in-house.

How did you get to GC at AI drug development and discovery company, BenevolentAI?– was it a leap or climb?

Definitely a bit of both, reflecting the non-linear career path of most in-house lawyers. Since BT I have been lucky enough to work at Skype, Microsoft and now BenevolentAI. Each job has been almost entirely different from the last, which has reinforced to me that it is possible, and even desirable, to keep trying new things in order to broaden and build on your existing skills.

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

This comes up on almost a daily basis. I’m not a scientist by background so am on a continuous journey to learn about the drug discovery process and the technology that underpins our approach to it. 

As GC is there anything wish you didn’t have so much knowledge about?

Not really. I think having a comprehensive overall view of what is going on in the company you work in at any one time is key to the effectiveness of a General Counsel – much better to have too much knowledge and filter it than not enough and miss things. In-house lawyers do face the perennial issue of balancing demands on their time from internal clients that are not directly paying for the advice they seek and therefore aren’t necessarily incentivised to use your time sparingly. One of the (few) benefits of a private practice hourly rate is to focus attention on how you are using external counsel time, although in-house counsel can and should use internal performance metrics to a similar effect.

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

I don’t remember specifically who it was, but early on in my career I was encouraged to always try to build in time for reflection before sending out a piece of advice or responding to a challenging topic or client – i.e. draft your response and sleep on it. It’s easy to respond to things too quickly in the moment and things nearly always make more sense when you do this and it’s surprising how many new things you think of in the intervening period. It’s not earth-shattering advice but in an age of widespread use of messaging and increasingly informal channels of communication, I think this still holds good, perhaps even more so today.

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

Go for it! I am biased, but I think in-house legal careers have becoming hugely more varied and interesting in recent years and offer such a great career path for anyone making the jump today. I’d encourage people to be honest about what sorts of work they like and what sorts of work they are really good at. Seek lots of honest input from friends, colleagues and your wider network to guide your decision-making.

What do you miss about private practice?

Having lots of very different clients in different industry sectors.

Do you have a work-life balance?

Yes. I would say that I have a really fulfilling and interesting job and for the most part manage to fit this into and around my overall life. There has been lots of discussion about a blurring of work and life in the post-pandemic era – and while this can have negative aspects in terms of less-clear boundaries than in the past, I actually find that on balance it has been enormously positive for fitting everything you want to achieve into each day!

And finally, what is your favourite ice cream?

Anything Ben and Jerrys – I particularly need to try their new Tony’s Chocolonely collaboration!