Christopher Skinner is an Engineer and Lawyer who has established a commercial law consultancy in Norway. Having developed his career at Rolls Royce, he completed a GDL and LPC at ULaw.
I chose ULaw as it has a reputation for providing consistent quality in teaching. I studied at the Moorgate, London campus, which was a great opportunity for me to leave the calm of Norway and return to the hustle and bustle of a metropolis. While I did not use the Employability Service directly, ULaw were extremely helpful in providing information on the various alternatives available to LPC graduates. While I maintained focus on my goals, this gave me confidence that there were alternative routes open via the LPC.
One of the greatest assets you will have is the counsel and guidance of the ULaw tutors. Many of them come to ULaw with vast experience and varied backgrounds and can be great sounding boards for any thoughts or concerns you may have about you plans or career choices. While you are at ULaw, use the opportunity to talk to them to learn from their experiences. Some of the best teaching will happen outside of the classroom. Every opportunity is only the fruit of the labour you put into it.
Utilising a mentor during both your studies and working life is incredibly important and a strong indicator of professional success. In my case, this was someone back at Rolls-Royce who believed in the continued development of employees and gave them the space to do this. Their counsel was invaluable and continues to guide many of my decisions even today.
Even though I originally studied engineering, the impact of the law on every aspect of my work has become more and more apparent over time. Realising that I enjoyed this field, I studied law part-time and aimed to further my career in the commercial law field, particularly focusing on assisting early-stage technology companies through the challenges of start-up growth.
As a person who transitioned into law later in my career, I spent my early days working as an engineer with world-class companies such as Rolls-Royce, CCAM, and Kongsberg. This gave me the opportunity to travel the world and work with some of the best and brightest in the field. Over time, my attention has been more drawn to the underlying policies and principles that governed our relationships with customers and regulatory bodies. This is where my change started and I have continued with that process one step at a time. Rolls-Royce were unsurprisingly open to granting me the time to do my LPC. Continuous learning is vital to their employee development strategy.
My current job working with start-ups was based on me spotting a gap in the services available to companies here in Norway. While this work is considered law adjacent, I had the confidence to follow through with it after completing the LPC. My role as a Commercial Consultant is focused on providing sound and pragmatic commercial advice to early-stage companies for all aspects of their business operations. This can range from how they contract international clients, to the internal governance policies needed to maintain any licenses for operating. There is a very wide range of skills and knowledge needed for such a role and I have had to pull on every facet of my working and educational experience to support my clients.
The work is very rewarding - firstly, because of working on major product liability cases and defending the company from significant financial risk associated with those cases. Being able to see your contribution to the company’s bottom line reminds me that every cog in the machine has a role to play. Secondly, it is rewarding to see those young students and early professionals that I have mentored go on to take successful and enjoyable steps in their careers.
Given that the world is still dealing with the challenges of the pandemic, we have seen businesses go through a rapid period of digital transformation. Flexible and remote working will probably be here to stay, although maybe not to the extent as during the peak of the pandemic. I currently live and work in Norway where work/life balance has always been a core part of the culture. Unsurprisingly, you find yourself being more productive during work hours as you can focus and operate more creatively. Having regular opportunities to rest and refresh your mind, doing the things you love, is an underappreciated tool in maintaining a healthy office environment.
As a commercial consultant it is your duty to provide pragmatic and effective solutions to the client’s needs. Extreme, almost to the point of obsessive, customer focus and insight is a huge part of this. I cannot emphasize this enough. There isn’t really any time or opportunity to wax lyrically about your in-depth knowledge of a specific area of law. You must understand the client’s business needs and constraints and focus on targeting and resolving those pain-points.
After working with several of our smaller suppliers and clients, I realised that there was a clear gap in the provision of affordable commercial advisory services to start-ups here in Norway. Very often they do not have the resources and funds to retain commercial lawyers for practical and targeted advice. With my engineering background I was well placed to offer such services to technology start-ups to give them the confidence to operate in an increasingly complex and connected world.
If you are interested in this work, I would say - be curious about the clients and industry you are dealing with. Often the answers your clients are looking for are not hidden in the depths of legislation or case-law. While you must have a good understanding of those to succeed, you also need to be able to apply those in a real-world setting. The speed of modern commercial transactions means that indecision and delay can often be devastating traits.
Over the next few years, I anticipate changes in the democratisation of access to the law. The days of having to go to a legal expert for answer to your legal or commercial issues are dying. New service providers are taking advantage of digital tools and platforms that aim to address the knowledge gap between lawyers and clients. The value proposition is changing, and lawyers are the one who will need to adapt.
If I could offer advice to my eighteen-year-old self, I would say - do not think that you have it all figured out already. You are still learning and need to remain flexible and open to new experiences and opportunities to learn. And if you want to make a change in the direction of your career, have the courage to take that decision. What you have learned up until that point will never be wasted.
There is a good chance that I will pivot back towards pure law at some point. But being able to use tools provided during the LPC in their most practical sense as a consultant helps put everything into context. Thankfully, Rolls-Royce is a very understanding business and has a strong focus on developing the skills and competencies of its employees. They saw the value in having someone with that experience embedded within their business and they offered me a great opportunity to put my skills into practice.
My biggest note of advice to students would be - studying and working with law truly is a marathon and not a sprint. No matter what you do in life remain curious and look for opportunities to grow in both breadth and depth of knowledge. Whatever you do, never stop asking questions and never stop learning.
To study for the GDL and LPC like Christopher, find out more here.