In this episode of Lessons I Learned in Law, Scott Brown speaks to Sara Scott.
Sara is Senior Counsel, Regulatory Counselling and Litigation at British American Tobacco.
Sara shares the three lessons he has learned in law including:
Sara also talks about her role in the Military Wives Choirs charity, and recognises the inspirational people in her life that have helped her in the course of her career.
Presented by Scott Brown of Heriot Brown Legal Recruitment.
Follow Heriot Brown:
Scott Brown (0:03)
Hi, and welcome to Lessons I Learned in Law, a new podcast from Heriot Brown In-House Legal Recruitment. I'm Scott Brown, Managing Director at Heriot Brown. And I describe myself as a recovering lawyer. I worked in corporate teams in private practice for a little bit longer than I should have done. And it's fair to say I lost my way in the profession and didn't really know what direction I was taking. Fast forward 10 years and having founded Heriot Brown In-House Legal Recruitment, I've learned so much about what drives lawyers and what helps them succeed through the conversations that I've had along the way. At Heriot Brown, we've made it our mission to help lawyers lead fulfilling careers. Now, on this podcast, you're going to hear from people at the top of their game from all across the law, you'll find out what influences shaped their careers that they've got today, and of course, the lessons that they learned in law. So I'm thrilled to introduce my first ever guest. And I'm delighted to be joined by a familiar face, to ease me into the podcast with Sara Scott, who I met a couple of years or a number of years ago. Sara is currently senior legal counsel at British American Tobacco. And prior to this, she started her career as a commercial litigator with Herbert Smith Freehills in London, and also has worked in a fast scaling world of jewel labs. But before we get into asking Sara, here's three things that you might not know about her, as well as being a lawyer. She's a qualified scuba diving instructor. She has a number one album under her belt, and she once got presented by Arne a metal. So we'll hear a lot more about those facts later on. But welcome to the podcast, Sara.
Sara Scott (2:03)
Hi, thank you. It's lovely to be with you, and congrats on the new podcast series.
Scott Brown (2:07)
Thank you, Sara and I have had a few technical issues in in recording this session. So we're hopeful that, that there'll be no further hitches. But yeah, definitely a baptism of fire in in both of both of our cases of recording a podcast, but on each on each episode, we're going to learn more about your life and career in law via three lessons that you've learned. So tell me about your first lesson, Sara.
Sara Scott (2:37)
So my first lesson would be to always build a team. And that's whether you're a leader or not. And I think it's really important to invest in people and get to know them properly. And that goes beyond just working with them.
Scott Brown (2:54)
The word team, what does that what does it mean to you?
Sara Scott (2:58)
So I think it doesn't have to be just your immediate team, it can be your wider team, cross functional teams, just somebody that you bump into, and have a great chat at the coffee area with from time to time. And I actually think the wider you can spread that net, the better. And I think I've always found that, you know, it's really, it's always been worthwhile to invest in people personally, one of the main reasons being that it just makes life more fun, and work more fun. And we all spend far too much time at work, or have done at various points in our in our careers. And actually, if you're doing that with people that you get on well with, and you can have a laugh with, I think it helps ease, difficult work, it helps get things done, it actually makes everybody more productive, but it makes it far more enjoyable to and I think you feel more supported.
Scott Brown (3:57)
Excellent. Tell me a bit about some of the teams that you've been a part of.
Sara Scott (4:02)
One of the main things when I moved in house that I was looking for was a really strong team with everybody pulling in the same direction. And I think you can get into environments that can be quite competitive. And I think that that really doesn't help. It doesn't help anybody. I mean, some there's some healthy competitiveness, but actually, you've got to have each other's backs and try and work towards one solution is in everybody's interest. And I wanted a really good team and when I was a jewel and subsequently, I've really found that speaking to everybody has helped with, you know, having to get work done over the weekend and I totally ruined one colleagues football match. She didn't see the second half of her you know, her favourite team play on a Saturday when we had to have a call about you know, deep technical science that I didn't understand at all, but obviously desperately needed her expertise. Season. And, and that network actually that I think it's also worth investing in that when even when you leave a place of employment, and wherever you meet these people building that network which will help you you'll be surprised when it will pop up and help you. Yeah, when I have my interview for jewel, I turned up at a we work up near Paddington. And I had and I walked into this sort of glass office where I was sort of setting the table to sit down. And I sat down and as I looked up, my old boss for my SIR comedy easyJet and do was sat there looking at me from the telephone, telephone booth across the way, and just waved. And obviously, I burst out laughing, but then said to him, there is no way you are sitting there, sitting there, eyeballing me the whole way through my interview, so you're gonna have to move I'm afraid, at which point my well to be boss, Elaine turned up and said, What's going on here? Because there's all this hilarity in the in the corridor. And she subsequently I'm sure she did hunt him out on the other floor later on, to get feedback. But she did say it was one of the best interview intros to an interview she'd seen. Yeah,
Scott Brown (6:21)
they used to have they used to have a personal recommendation or a referral to someone to talk to your background. Nice. And yeah, that's definitely the power of the power of a team and an a network as well, more generally. Did you find that? Was that a lesson you learned in private practice? Or was there much did you find there was much teamwork, within practice,
Sara Scott (6:43)
I think you can see it in in a well-run team. I've seen it more subsequently, because I've been in really fast growing quite dynamic environments. And also, I've really tried to generate it myself. Because, and so I've seen the benefits it has for me, and, you know, as a team to really share information as well and share knowledge and opinions and to work together in that respect. And, and I think in house, I've seen the cross functional teams that you can build, really helping, because there's so many different considerations, your perspective needs to be so broad to pick up different issues that crop up, you know, you always have that curveball thrown at you often at like four o'clock on a Friday, and to be able to know who to call or is great. But similarly, you know, for me to invest in them. And I think particularly at the moment in in COVID times as well, everybody's working from home working really long hours. I think that teamwork is really important because people are stretched. And I think this week's mental health week as well. So you know, it's so important to, to have those outlets and that support and really get to know your people.
Scott Brown (8:04)
Absolutely. not to dwell on the comparison between in house and practice. But I guess in a cross functional environment, you're not always the expert, You're the lawyer, you're filling a function in a team versus private practice team pulling in the same direction, but quite hierarchical, I guess, in terms of the where the knowledge comes from? Yeah. Is there comparisons there? Do you think?
Sara Scott (8:30)
I think there's comparisons and contrasts. And I think you've, it is a very different environment. And I think when you get to the more senior levels, I think when you're training, you're very nervous, and you don't necessarily, it's useful to have some sort of sounding board. But you don't necessarily want to be found out as not knowing something or that sort of thing. So it's about backing yourself a little bit. But, but I think you get to a more senior level, and actually, people look at wanting to get partnership and that sort of thing. And people can get quite focused on that. So I think I think I've found that in a sort of in house environment is potentially everybody, particularly if they have shares in the business. I would say what wants to see the business do well and succeed and there's slightly less direct comparison then perhaps in private practice when it's billable hours and the clients and that sort of thing. Yeah.
Scott Brown (9:35)
And maybe less internal competition amongst associates, perhaps,
Sara Scott (9:41)
I think I think people are different. There's and that that differences. I think, in private practice, you find that there's maybe more expectation around what you're supposed to look like and what you're supposed to know, and the experience you can bring to the table and I think what I found is that the diversity by working as a team whenever possible, brings different perspectives. And I think that is maybe recognised and appreciated more in in, in house environments because you have that broader array of expertise as opposed to purely legal advice. Yeah. Yeah,
Scott Brown (10:19)
It's a good point. I was just reading actually, rebel ideas, Matthew, Matthew sides, and if you've read it, but it's all around cognitive diversity and not having that one dimensional everyone being everyone being the same, just leads to the same the same outcome. And yeah, this sort of speaks to speaks to that. I think it's obviously an issue within law within law firms, and then other professions as well. But have you seen it as it been? Is it been a driver in some of the organisations you've been in? In terms of creating a diverse team?
Sara Scott (10:54)
Yes, I mean, I've seen and I don't want to steal my points from my later lessons. But there's crossover? No, it's I think you can see a driver were actually getting the experience from either the work experience, or that the specialisms from a variety of different areas can kind of mean that you get that injection of knowledge as to build a more complete answer or recommendation to the business. So I think that is, that is what I've seen, but I mean, that's your that's your technical, helping the business to achieve as much as it can. And, and the collaboration side, I think there's a far more personal element to this, which is actually, if you just invest in people, they feel better, you feel better. It might take more time, but I think you will have a much more enjoyable time at work by saying hello to people asking how their weekend was, and actually caring, listening. And, and when we can all go for a beer again, going for big and after work. Yeah,
Scott Brown (12:07)
Yeah. Not long.
Scott Brown (12:17)
Let's move on to lesson number two, what's your what's your second lesson?
Sara Scott (12:21)
My second lesson is don't accept bad behaviour. And that sounds maybe more critical than perhaps it should be. But I think you can get such a variety of environments. And people behave in all sorts of different ways with all sorts of different pressures. And people can have good days and bad days. But personally, I found that if, if something if somebody snapped at me, or they were having a bad day, I might well find that I would do and dwell on that, or, and it would take up the whole of my day thinking about that. Whereas, although it's been harder to do, trying to address things, you know, head on quickly, before you stew on it, or escalates or anything like that means you can actually address it and move on.
Scott Brown (13:12)
How would you advise addressing bad behaviour? If it was from a leader or a senior, a senior person within your team? How would you, how would you address that, if it's something that you're not accepting,
Sara Scott (13:25)
I think it's about finding the right time to say something in the right mood and try to, again, if you know if you know people, and you can read them a little bit better, you might be able to tell if they're trying to rush out of the door to get to pick up the kids or to do something that's not going to be the right time. But put a marker down and be polite. I mean, he doesn't have to be, it could just be politely calling it out. And there are times that I haven't, and I you know, with more experience and being longer in the tooth, you know, I would I would have called it out. But I think if you just be polite and say, Can I have a word? Or can we just discuss because, you know, I wasn't happy with the way this went. And I think that it could doesn't have to be accusatory it can be it, could we try and approach this differently? Because that doesn't really work for me. And some people will be receptive to that. And some people won't. Yeah, so give it a go. I think if it really doesn't work, then have a look and see whether that's the right place for you. Because there are some environments that might you know, that won't acknowledge bad behaviour or seek to correct it or pull people up for it. And that's, well, I got to the point that I said, that's, you know, for me, that's not acceptable, and I wouldn't stay somewhere. Now, but that's taken me some time to sort of have that strength to maybe feel that I could do that. But genuinely, I think also Having been in an organisation for 10 years and realising and find it quite scary to move, having moved, realising that people do move regularly and often and, and the experience you get from different companies and different organisations, there is a real range of cultures out there and much better to find one that suits you.
Scott Brown (15:25)
Absolutely. So you have to, it's going to lead to more contentment, I think, for people, if there is happiness in their job that you touched on earlier. I find it quite difficult personally, to bite my tongue in that situation and not deal with something in the here and now versus reflecting and coming back to it. Do you? Do you have any tips for that? Or is it something that you would address? In the moment,
Sara Scott (15:53)
I would take yourself away bit to the loo or outside for a walk or whatever, just to give yourself that a little bit of space and think it through and try to reflect on it and then come back in and deal with it. But I don't think it's something that was worth leaving a week or two. I think it needs to be proximal. Yeah. But yeah, I think give yourself that time because otherwise you're not thinking straight and, and be read missed or upset or whatever it is. I think just think it through and try and think it through from their side as well. To give them the benefit of the doubt, you're still going to address it. Let's try and give them the benefit of the doubt the first time at least.
Scott Brown (16:38)
Yeah, that's good advice. Just interested to know a bit more about your background in terms of getting into law. How did how did they come around?
Sara Scott (16:47)
So I always make mistakes, maybe? Because I think you talk to people coming into it now. And it depends on whichever legal series is on TV at the time. So I'd go back to Ally McBeal and I think other people since probably say Suits or something like that. Obviously, that is not what you say in an interview. That's why you want to become a lawyer. But, or the fact that somebody you know, will say, Oh, well, you argue well, so you'll become a lawyer. It's not like that. But I always have had some law in the family. And so I was always interested in it. Yeah, my uncles are sort of in the criminal law firm. So I'd had and my grandfather had had been doing similarly, and being coroner and things like that. So I had some experience. But I think might for me, I sort of followed that route. But then the, the fork in the road, I suppose came when it was did I want to become a barrister or become a solicitor? And somebody wants told me at that point, they said, Well, do you like dealing with people? Or do you like, do you like sort of picking up a case dealing with it on your own and putting it down? And moving on to the next one? I said, Well, no, I, I like dealing with people. And they said, well, then you want to be the solicitor or not the barrister? Because you're the one that works with the client in in the case. And so, yeah, it was I said, Okay, fine. That's, you know, not knowing very much really about it. And then yeah, and then I did my training contract with Herbert Smith, Freehills. Smith, as it was then. And then and stayed there for some time, I do a couple of comments, which were great. And also made me think that at the right time, I would probably want to go in house. Yeah. And so that was at easyJet and at bat, and then can then I left and went to jewel, which was a crazy roller coaster retirement and brilliant, really great people, and really exciting times. And, and I learned a huge amount, and then I've moved to bat and a huge amount again. So yeah, what's fascinating is I think every time I move how much you learn in such a short period of time,
Scott Brown (19:10)
yeah, and having to having to move on from those teams that you've built.
Sara Scott (19:14)
But you don't, or you don't, I mean, I found that, you know, it's sad to leave those teams, it's really sad to leave those teams behind. But I have, I definitely invest in in maintaining those relationships on that network. And so, you know, we'll still be sending messages and arranging to meet up for a bit and supporting people and, and that sort of thing. And, yeah, sometimes I have to remind myself to find time for it, but it also makes me feel much better to have that. You know, that relationship with people on that strong network and it's great to catch up so
Scott Brown (19:52)
great. Next question is around the fact earlier a number one album, tell us about him.
Sara Scott (19:59)
So Yes, I would definitely caveat this with the fact that I it is not me performing any sort of solo act it. I'm a member of the military wives choirs, which is an amazing organisation, and I've been involved with for some time, they are a network of about 75 different choirs throughout the UK and overseas, principally in the places where there are military bases to support sort of the wives, girlfriends, children, mothers, and people connected with the forces in those areas, to form a choir and sort of be stronger together through the vehicle of singing. Yeah, and provide support to one another. And so I've been part of four different choirs as I've moved around the country with my husband. And I've also been a trustee on the board for six and a half years and vice chair of the board say really got to sort of help shape its direction and, and its albums, which was, would be quite excited. And recently the film, which, which is being really exciting. So it's been a lot of hard work. But it's been really rewarding to, again, working with people and really seeing the difference that it makes people and getting to achieve some amazing things.
Scott Brown (21:24)
Yeah, amazing how accurate the film
Sara Scott (21:28)
it is, there are some bits that are absolutely spot on like, and I found it very hard to watch the deployment scene where they actually all leave because, you know, the charts kicking off the day, is there a way that, you know, they always seem to leave in the middle of the night and actually filmed it in houses. So you know, the Magnolia the Magnolia walls were very familiar. So that was all spot on. I think there was some big stereotypes that that reared their head, which I think were maybe less accurate. Having just been a commanding officers wife, I was a lot younger than Kristin Scott Thomas was in the film, and I didn't wear twinset and pearls and tweed and go into the Nafi and ask for olive oil and something like that. Yeah. But it was it was. Yeah, there is a lot in there that is absolutely spot on. And the camaraderie and the you know, also, I think it's so important for a lot of the women to be known as something other than, you know, Captain so and so's wife or that sort of thing. It's about giving the women something for them as well, which is really important. So yeah,
Scott Brown (22:39)
awesome. That was awesome. And what did your daughters think of the whole the whole thing the movie in the albums
Sara Scott (22:49)
so my, my girls haven't might have or three and six. So watching me languages is to walk us for that. But no, they haven't seen that. But they do like the songs. And I've obviously, over the years been practising some of the songs that I've been singing in, in the car or in the kitchen and that sort of thing. So they do sort of sing along. And actually both of them have been at performances with me when you know, husbands been away or that sort of thing. So I think Florence was strapped to my stomach when I sang at the Tower of London. And Jessica came, Jessica met when we went and recorded for the album actually with Laura rights. So she came to that recording. So yeah,
Scott Brown (23:36)
good. Yeah. Great.
Scott Brown (23:44)
So on to lesson number three, then.
Sara Scott (23:47)
Yes. So the third thing, and it's probably not a huge surprise after the first lesson, but it's that you won't know it all. And that's okay. And I think there's a real issue. In some respects with confidence. I think you've got to try and it's something that a lot of people have to work on I've had to work on. And I've seen it done in a lot of different ways. But I think it's I've realised it's absolutely fine that you won't know at all, actually, good bosses and managers and people that you will work with stakeholders won't expect you to know it all. A lot of the time. It's about issue spotting and coming back to it. And I think that everybody will bring differently. I sort of said this earlier, bring different experiences to the table. And you do have some experience even if you don't know the answer to that particular point, you'll know how to go and get it and you have something don't just because you don't know the answer to that doesn't mean that you don't have anything to bring to the table.
Scott Brown (24:53)
Yeah, it's good advice and for juniors in particular. Like you said, it can often be hard to Get your head around that, that that you're not considered an expert. What advice would you have for them in their shoes for just being more aware that they don't know.
Sara Scott (25:11)
So I think I think this is a is for leaders as well in that is to remember this, that, whilst you will have a manager that is across a lot of different things, and will have had a lot of experience, it's likely that you know, the more junior people in the team will be closer to the detail. And so this is why how you work together because they will have to detail and there's an element of trust there. And that will also be helped by getting to know people a bit better. And building those relationships. And so you can be honest to say, you know, I don't know, I don't know that bit, or I'm pretty sure this is the case. But let me check. I think that's fine. And don't if you do want to check, say, I think this is it, but let me check or if you say I just I can't recall that point. I think it's better to say you'll come back to it, then then worrying about it or coming up with an answer that you're not sure on. Yeah, I think I think that for juniors, you know, remember that you're closer to the detail. And that you really add value in that respect. And, and I'd also say that you see the strongest the, you know, the managers, leaders, people that have big teams, you'll find juggling so many different matters, different issues, different things coming up that that very often they will not be able to be across the detail, they will, you know, be a deadline could creep up without being aware of in those sorts of ways people can really add value. And by tracking those issues, and just, I just wanted to flag this. I'm not sure if you remember that this is coming up. Yeah. And I think that is invaluable. I found that invaluable. When people I worked with say, Well, you know that this comes in or this this timing on this happens to coincide or? And similarly, you know, well, I couldn't do at all what I do without, you know, my wider team, and particularly the more junior members in my team who have who do a brilliant job and can Yeah, really make things so much easier for me.
Scott Brown (27:24)
Yeah, yeah. When I was in private when I was I just remember being a trainee and just feeling that the learning was very much through red line, I felt as if I was sort of feeling my way around, particularly drafting, like a contract, do system alien, quite an alien thing out of university, because it isn't really the thing that I don't feel you're taught the corporate law in that way. And at university, I found that very quickly lost confidence, I think, in practice, and then that then stopped me speaking up, I think and make me I think, probably develop an imposter syndrome of I should know this, or why don't I know this?
Sara Scott (28:05)
I know I fully sympathise with that I and that sounds very similar to my experience. And I can only hope that I am I am better with the people that I work with. And then sometimes I found in when I started, because it does take time to sit with people and really bring them on without knocking their confidence. It's far easier just to redline something or change something without explaining why. But I've always tried to find that if you can, sometimes it can take a lot of time, you know, to sit and explain things to people. But if you do invest that time now then then hopefully the next draft and the draft after that, they will know why you're changing things and then they will get that bit right next time and, and they'll be something else. But that's fine, because that's the learning for the next draft. Yeah. But I probably still suffer with it. I know I still suffer with imposter syndrome. Yeah. And it's something that I think a lot of people battle with. I would also just say that you'll be surprised. I think how, you know most senior people probably have some of these some of these same doubts. The strongest some of the strongest leaders I've seen her surround themselves with acknowledge that they don't know everything and surround themselves with people that are experts where they're not. And that's okay. And I think it's been quite insightful to see some people openly say well, I don't know about that which is exactly why I've hired so and so because they do know about that. Yeah. And similarly I'd also say I mean now in private in in house, you know there's you don't know what's happened behind the scenes. So when you can see something at one point Wow, how is centre getting through all of this stuff churning it And then you realise the support that they have behind them. So their teams, the external counsel that helped with things as well. And I think that that makes you, to some extent realise you don't need to be superwoman. And know it all. And do it all yourself either. Yeah. And I think everybody's always learning. We have been learning about how to get a podcast, recording to work.
Scott Brown (30:25)
Yeah, no, there's been. There's a steep learning curve, that's for sure. Hopefully, we're there.
Sara Scott (30:33)
I also think that, you know, as far as I, it hasn't exhumed me, I think it's really important to support people when they make mistakes, because I think that can really damage people's confidence for years and years. And yeah, and that will keep happening. Unfortunately, it has happened and it will happen, you know, but wherever anybody that can stop it happening to somebody else, I think that's really important, because we're all learning. And if you don't, people won't stretch themselves. If they fail, there's a real risk of pointing the finger and a blame culture. Yeah. And somebody somewhere has to stop that
Scott Brown (31:09)
is acknowledging as well, that there's a, there's a risk of making a mistake, but it's very rarely that that's a repeatable damage. I guess, particularly at the junior level, and they make mistakes, I think it is, in some ways, there's some of the best lessons are learned along that way.
Sara Scott (31:26)
And again, it goes back to make building a team as well, you know, there have been enough times where I've sent an email out and in a rush or late or something like that, and not caught attached the attachment, you know, and as a trainee, I would get so screwed up. Oh, my God, it's so stupid. How did I read it? You know, what are they going to think? Oh, can I recall it? recall it? No, no, see me everywhere. And you know what? It happens all the time. And, and actually, the team would might mean that, you know, somebody on my team, or my team or somebody that I just have a good relationship with send me a message, sir, I think you forgot to attach the attachment. Thanks very much. And then say, oh, and now with the attachment. Yeah, we've all we've all seen that.
Scott Brown (32:12)
Yeah. Yeah. At the time. Yeah. The first time you do it, you're just hoping wishing the ground would just swallow you up, as I felt when we've had to rerecord parts of this podcast. But yeah, another lesson. So just to wrap up, can you talk about an always recognise people that have had an influence as well as lessons that you've learned along the way? I think mentors are really important in that. And so is there. Is there anyone in particular who you felt? or have there been a collection of people that have been the most influential to you? And
Sara Scott (32:47)
what's a good question? I, I think probably the one person I would point to for all round, mentorship was probably my sister in law. Bobby Davis, because she is a phenomenal person and has done a lot of coaching, which she's done herself and taken herself through that sort of process. And then as done coaching courses, which I've been on and sort of to pick up some of those skills and be more aware. And I think I've seen her look to really balance work and life and what is important and deal with people build the teams. In fact, one of the things that she with this sort of development coaching playlist that she has shared with me and I listened to regularly, one of the tracks on there is from Matilda, as called naughty. And I think that is everybody should be a little bit more naughty, mischievous at work, and I think it would improve life dramatically.
Scott Brown (33:54)
Yeah, yeah, definitely. Definitely a good tip. My daughter absolutely loves that song. And loves, loves to play great advice.
Sara Scott (34:03)
I mean, I think I think we need more mentors, I think we need particularly more female mentors in big in big organisations. And, and I think that is something that in everywhere I've been can be, you know, enhanced. But I think you'll also pick up, you know, good bits and bad bits from lots of people along the way. And I have had worked with some brilliant people that have sort of, you know, really shown how they've invested in people built a team. And, and similarly, you know, also shared the credit with their team where credit is due. And I think that sort of those sorts of examples are, are really good ones to set and if we can take on the good bits that we see from all the different people then then that puts us in a really good space.
Scott Brown (34:52)
Yeah, and it's not it's not copying, it's pulling the different it's pulling different parts from everyone and finding what's right for what Try it for you what works but Yeah, amazing. Well, thank you. Thank you so much for bearing with me with the technical, technical issues. And being our first guest. It was great to sit down and chat with you. So thank you.
Sara Scott (35:15)
No, thank you very much and no, it's a great, great and Steven always pleased to help out.
Scott Brown (35:25)
That was Lessons I Learned in Law, episode one. If you've enjoyed listening, please subscribe. And to find out more about us, visit heriotbrown.com. Thanks