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Sarah Ouis sharing her Career Story

Sarah Ouis, a French In-house counsel now working in the UK shares her Career Story

 

 

 

 

 

What is your background?

 

I qualified as an in-house lawyer in France after graduating from Université Jean Moulin (Lyon III) followed by a master’s degree in business law at Université d’Evry Val d’Essone. There, I was a litigation lawyer for Société Générale as well as an in-house counsel for both Arval and Ipsen. I then worked as an in-house lawyer in the U.K. for 3 years now - first for SmartFocus and currently for mdgroup. My various experiences include technology (Cloud based solutions) and pharmaceutical industries mainly in commercial and data protection related issues.

 

Why did you decide to pursue a career in law in the U.K.?

 

I didn’t originally plan to pursue my career in the U.K., as there is a cliché surrounding the impossibility of lawyers to develop a career in foreign jurisdictions, making me believe that it wasn’t a viable option. Also the French market was still in recession and I also wanted to improve my English which led me to pursue a career in law in the U.K. I then learnt that the stereotype is not true, especially in a market like the U.K. that offers opportunities for various backgrounds (including those with a civil law background) and requires different skill-sets and languages.

 

What were the challenges you faced?

 

My first attempt to get a job in the U.K. was a complete failure. After I graduated, I came to the U.K.  to do what was meant to be an internship; it ended up being a scam. Essentially, there was a post on a French website advertising a legal internship in London. The offer seemed fairly legitimate, as it was a well-drafted publication on a well-known platform that students use. The “company” also had a website, to ensure everything looks very genuine. It turned out that the person orchestrating all of this was looking for a law student to work on his case (pro bono), as he was convicted for harassing his two ex-girlfriends. It became clear that he posed as a solicitor to get some support and help on the case. At the time I had no money or any other options, not to mention that the French market for junior lawyers was unwelcoming. I therefore had to work something out and eventually ended up working in a coffee shop for a few months. Meanwhile, I was applying for legal roles but couldn’t find anything, so I had to go back to France to try getting work experience there. When unemployment knocked at my door again, I went back to the U.K. initially to see some old friends and was there for 10 days. I obviously had nothing to lose at the time, so I went on applying and eventually got 3 interviews lined up and 2 offers in that 10-day window. That’s about it for the 18 months of struggle at the start of my legal career.

 

 What advice would you give to lawyers who are abroad looking to pursue a career in law in the U.K.?

 

When looking back at this 3 years down the line, I now see what went wrong in the first place. I failed to understand the local market requirements and what the U.K. looks for in legal professionals with foreign qualifications. I have recently  supporting legal professionals wishing to begin their global move, with aims of them not facing my initial failures. My key advice is to always be open minded and try thinking like a local in the targeted market. Legal professionals can go as far as their mind allows them, including going beyond their home jurisdiction. They are knowledgeable and their skills are transferable to location of their choice. They just need to understand and believe it.

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