My career story: "I trained at a high street practice and ended up as GC at a legal recruitment company"

Hays general counsel for UK and Ireland Evelyn Styles tells The Lawyer why she chose a role in-house over private practice.

Did you start your career in-house?

I trained at a small high street practice and it gave me first hand experience of dealing with all aspects of legal maters, such as contract and commercial law. Then upon qualification I moved in-house to the REC, the trade association for the recruitment industry, advising on general commercial law matters. During 2003 to 2005 I moved to private practice advising on corporate-commercial law matters before joining Hays in 2005.

Why did you initially move in-house after qualifying?

I moved in-house because I was quite interested in the business side of law and I wanted to work for an organisation but within a niche industry. Just by chance I happened to fall into the recruitment industry and I found it fascinating, because you’re not just dealing with one area of an industry - you’re engaging with so many different industries because of the type of workers that you supply.

You could in one breath be advising on the health care industry, or life sciences, or any matters arising from accountancy and finance, IT or construction and property. It’s such a broad range of industries that you become engaged in. That’s what fascinated me and interested me about it and continues to do so at this time of my life.

What was it that made you leave REC and go back to private practice?

I thought I was perhaps missing something and wanted to get a little bit more of the private practice side as I thought perhaps maybe I’d moved too soon into in-house.

But having gone back to private practice for two years it then really honed in that in-house was really the way for me and how I wanted to spend my career.

Did you go through a recruiter to find these roles?

Yes I did and interestingly I went through Hays Legal. I submitted my CV to Hays Legal and it was great - as soon as I submitted my CV they contacted me and said, “Oh, by the way, we have a role in-house working for Hays, would you be interested?” I said “Yes of course, absolutely”.

What tips would you give to a private practice lawyer thinking about moving in-house?

I think as a private practice lawyer moving in-house you have to be very much solutions-oriented. You have to be very focused but commercial in your approach and be willing to work as a business partner, as well as being technically sound. All of those things you have to think about before moving to an in-house position. It’s about being flexible.

Being a “business partner” – what does that mean to you?

The meaning to me is that you’re not just seen as ‘the lawyer’ but you are embedded within the business. So you understand exactly how the business works and the challenges they face. For example, the values of Hays at the moment are ones I try to embed into the legal department. It’s just reminding them that we’re ambitious, we’re passionate about people, we’re expert and we’re inquisitive. So that’s showing that the value of Hays is also incorporated into its legal department.

When you are hiring a lawyer what skills are you looking for and what impresses you?

Somebody who is technically sound but also has a personality that appears to be quite-easy going and that will be able to work with the business. They need to pay close attention to detail, fair and be able to turn things around promptly.

What level lawyers do you look for?

When I am looking to recruit, generally in the past it has been between three to six years PQE.

Would you consider a more junior lawyer?

Absolutely. We have individuals who’ve grown upwards so at the moment I have two newly qualified lawyers. One qualified in March and the other qualified in October. I have a two-year PQE and a Scottish qualified lawyer who is probably about 8 years PQE. I have a mix of newly qualified and very experienced lawyers.

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