Jodie Flowerday, Senior Policy Advisor at the Vice-Chancellor’s Office at the University of Canterbury, discusses how she made a strategic early career move to use her law degree to work in-house for an insurance company.
Working in-house: The benefits of starting out in a non-legal role
Upon graduating in 2011, I had to answer the question, “What do I do now?” I wasn’t interested in going through the application for internships or graduate roles in law firms that most of my fellow students were going through.
I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to practice law in the traditional sense either. I knew I was interested in business (despite not doing a commerce degree) and that I wanted a work life balance where I could have a 9-5 working week and 2 day weekend.
For me, employment opportunity presented itself in the form of the Canterbury earthquakes. Insurance companies at the time were looking for staff. My thought process was “here’s a large New Zealand company that has been around for a while, maybe I could find a role where can use my legal skills”.
I was less concerned about whether there was an existing “in-house’’ role, and more with what type of work does the business did whether I could showcase my legal skills. In this regard, my rather uneducated guess worked out.
Because of my legal education and skills, my career was fast-tracked and I was put into the dispute resolution team, provided assistance on property titles, deed of assignments and other legal documents such as powers of attorney.
These roles saw me deal with lawyers letters and demands, propose strategies to achieve claim settlement and gain an invaluable insight into how a large business and world-wide industry operates. I spent the last few years of my employment with that company providing practical advice and opinions (legal and non-legal) to senior management and front line staff.
My time with that employer may not have been short by today’s standards (5.5 years) but the variety of roles that I had in that time exposed me to situations and different personalities that I may not have experienced in a comparable time in private practice.
I still feel that choosing to work in a non-legal role at the start of my career accelerated my communication and presentation skills as well as pragmatism and providing practical solutions in an uncomplicated and concise way.
For the last 22 months, I have been working in the tertiary sector providing advice to a tertiary institution on compliance documentation, governed by legislation. While I still may not have “in-house lawyer” in my job title, my opinions on legislative compliance and other legal issues are sought out and my position in the company allows me to have some influence over many aspects of the institution’s operations.
The law has wide-reaching application. Legal skills such as analysis and problem solving are transferrable to many non-legal roles. If you have recently graduated, or even if you have been in private practice for some time but want a change, there are other ways to use your very useful and unique skills.
Look at your skills and interests, and find a company in an industry that interests you where you can see your skills being well utilised. You may find that opportunities present themselves.
Jodie Flowerday has been working in various roles since 2011. She currently works at the University of Canterbury in the role of Senior Policy Advisor-Vice Chancellor’s Office. Her current work is in the area of governance, more commonly in the area of compliance. Contact Jodie at [email protected]