Mark is General Counsel of Azimuth Group, an upstream oil and gas E&P player. He trained and qualified in the London office from 1999 to 2002 then rejoined the firm in Singapore in 2006 for 18 months.
Q: Describe your role. Is your in-house General Counsel role very different from being in private practice?
A: My role encompasses the compliance function, corporate governance and operational matters, overseeing negotiations of farm-in/out activities, joint operating agreements, production sharing contracts/petroleum agreements and all M&A activity. There are certain obvious parallels with private practice work but mostly the role is more commercial in nature than the pure advisory role of an external counsel. Running the legal function also entails a significant amount of administrative work including managing relations with external counsel.
Q: What do you enjoy about your role? What do you dislike? What is a typical day?
A: Being a part of the business team is rewarding; something I found mildly frustrating in private practice was the lack of opportunity to be able to experience the effects of a transaction to clients’ businesses post-completion. I like that no two days are ever the same but I miss the collegiality of private practice where colleagues are generally like-minded people following similar career paths (acknowledging some very notable departures from that rule of thumb!). The in-house legal function can often be regarded as an in-built speed bump on the road to success.
Q: What motivates you?
Q: Did you always want to be a lawyer? If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you have been?
A: Once I’d come to terms with the grim reality that I wasn’t going to make it as a professional footballer – having been dropped from Burnley FC’s youth squad in my early teens, I looked for another career path. At that time, the lawyers on TV drama “LA Law” seemed to be living it up on our screens, so through my naivety and decent school grades I decided to become one and, surprisingly, continued in this goal despite my first exposure to the profession; during school work experience in Burnley I enjoyed numerous visits to the cells at the police station with the duty solicitor – certainly not the glamour promised by LA Law…
Q: What are the best and worst decisions you have ever made?
A: There are multiple candidates for both best and worst decisions, depending on whether I choose to answer from a personal, financial or career perspective. Purely in terms of the latter, the worst decision was probably opting to qualify into WFW’s nascent IP team in London in 2001 as this ultimately resulted in my departure from the firm. The best was definitely re-joining the firm’s Singapore office in 2006 which was professionally fulfilling, introduced me to my future wife and eventually led me to my current role, as I left to join a client of the firm, PGS, which is a strategic investor in my current employer, Azimuth.
Q: What were the most valuable lessons you learnt at WFW? How do you think this experience helped you to succeed in your present role?
A: Typically a career in a large private practice firm teaches a strong work ethic (which includes the ability to prioritise and delegate when working on multiple matters under time pressure) and a good eye for detail. These qualities will hold any in-house counsel in good stead and have certainly helped me to succeed.
Q: How would you describe the culture of WFW?
A: I had two stints at WFW. The firm was 17 years old when I first joined as a trainee in 1999 and in my first seat I felt privileged to sit next door to Martin Watson and to work occasionally with Alastair Farley. There was a sense that the firm was still a relative new kid on the block and thriving amongst long established competing practices and that engendered a close-knit workforce. It was alone in the market in its policy to offer all trainees a seat in an international office and competed toe-to-toe with the Magic Circle on pay, so it attracted quality candidates. The second stint (2006-2007) in the Singapore office was very different to the first – in the four years that had elapsed since I’d left in 2002, the firm had developed into a more mature practice with a wider network of offices yet had retained its close-knit feel.
Q: Do you keep in touch with the firm? And fellow alumni? What value do you see in this?
A: Social media has made keeping in touch easy and I’m in contact with many WFW people past and present online. I see Chris Kilburn whenever I’m back in the UK and Kay Kian Tan and Andy Nimmo when I’m in Asia. Oh, and I’m married to Sharilyn Koh who was once a paralegal in the Singapore office! Hopefully the WFW alumni program will lead to contact with many others in the network – maintaining a strong network helps during a career and a common interest in a shared employer on a CV is a great touch point.
Q: What do you enjoy outside of work?
A: Family time and supporting Burnley FC. We relocated earlier this year to a golf community in Dubai after three years in Bermuda (where there are nine golf courses on an island of 21 square miles) but I still haven’t had time to swing a club in all that time. Hopefully this time next year I’ll be able to truthfully add golf to my out of office activities.