Did someone say 'Secondment'?
In September of 2014 as I moved into my third seat in Commercial Litigation, I was lucky enough to be offered to go on secondment to the Met Office to work in their in-house legal team. As you can imagine, I jumped at the chance. Not only was this an opportunity to meet new people, which I always enjoy, but also to work in a public sector environment, something I had never done before.
The rationale behind secondments is generally for the law firm in question to build and strengthen relationships with other organisations and have an 'ear to the ground' as to what is happening internally – in essence to establish what we can do to help organisations such as the Met Office (which often have their own in-house teams) when it comes to legal services.
I started my secondment at the beginning of September, after completing several reams of the necessary paperwork. The plan was that I would work Tuesday – Thursday at the Met Office and Mondays and Fridays back in Commercial Litigation at Michelmores. I knew I would be busy and was told that the work would consist primarily of contractual and intellectual property work…I was certainly up for the challenge!
As I arrived at The Met Office on my first day, I was astounded at how big the office is. The Met Office employs over 1000 staff and with a Costa, a restaurant, gym, cash machine and corner shop, there is not much that the office is lacking! To my surprise, in comparison to the number of employees, the legal team consisted of only 7 members of staff, of which I was the seventh. This was a great opportunity to work in a much smaller team than I had previously been used to. I soon got stuck into the work, which was not only complex in terms of the science involved, but also consisted of tricky legal conundrums to which I enjoyed finding a solution.
Over the course of the four months that I was working at the Met Office, I drafted non-disclosure agreements, collaboration agreements, data sharing licences, subcontracts and reviewed numerous terms and conditions. I now realise that I was incredibly naïve in thinking that the Met Office only dealt with forecasting the weather! The top floor of the office is solely dedicated to science and technology and the scientists and forecasters work around the clock to create and develop new models, innovations and ideas.
The Met Office, as part of the Secretary of State for Business, Skills and Innovation also has its own trading platform through which it is able to commercialise the latest science and technology in weather related products. This was often where the legal team come in, as all of the products and services which are sold to institutions and organisations around the world need watertight contracts to be drafted and signed before the transaction is able to take place.
I feel that I have significantly improved my commercial awareness and business acumen working in such a commercially focussed environment. In addition to this, my negotiating skills were definitely put to good use. Often, I found myself negotiating detailed contractual terms with in-house counsel from across the globe. Obviously, we wanted to obtain the best contractual position for the Met Office in terms of intellectual property rights, warranties and liability and I feel that in each contract that I drafted, I achieved this goal.
The team itself are very closely knit and were extremely welcoming - within a matter of days I certainly felt like a valued member of the team. Whilst I was with the Met Office, they held an awards of excellence ceremony (an internal event recognising employees' hard work over the past year on various projects), an internal Christmas market and an internal fair where all the different departments were able to demonstrate and explain their role in the Met Office…often through the use of games and cakes – this immediately got my attention!
As I am sure you are aware, the new £97m supercomputer was big news whilst I was with the Met Office and you could certainly feel the buzz of excitement surrounding this and its potential future uses. The Met Office also had a new CEO, Rob Varley so a period of adjustment and change was underway, to which everyone seemed very amenable.
Overall, I really loved my time with the Met Office and made some great friends and contacts. My advice would be, if offered such an opportunity, seize it without hesitation. After all, I was able to gain far more experience in the first few months of my third seat of my training contract than I ever thought I would have been able to!
On a final note, I still do not know an awful lot about the weather…and had no idea whether it would snow for Christmas. Your guess was as good as mine!