Joined nplaw in 2006
Senior Lawyer – Public Law & Standards Team
Tell us about your career journey
I completed my training contract in private practice and joined Norfolk County Council when I qualified in 2006, specialising in commercial law. I progressed to be a senior lawyer and then the Subject Lead for Governance, line managing one half of the Dispute Resolution and Governance Team which covers decision making, commercial law, information, standards and employment. I am also the deputy monitoring officer for Great Yarmouth Borough Council.
Why did you choose to work at nplaw?
I stumbled over the job advert when I was qualifying and admit to not knowing much about working in-house. My university was very good at preparing us for applying for training contracts, and the world of work, but the opportunities outside of private practice were never discussed.
I really identified with the job advert, which focussed on my skills, particularly around drafting. Looking back, I am hugely grateful to have discovered more about the important work that this, and other authorities do. Now, I choose to work in an environment that challenges me every day, but does so with the things that matter – achieving the best for my team, my authority and my community.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Having work that will keep you motivated over a whole career is very valuable, and whilst most people see local government filled with red tape, I see one that is innovative, risk aware and proactive. That is inspirational to me.
However, I think what I enjoy the most is the connections I make. I really enjoy helping to foster a culture where we look after each other and work together to deliver high standards. I love seeing colleagues around a project table that I have worked with time and again and I have made connections here that will stay with me forever.
What is the biggest opportunity you have been given since joining nplaw?
I have been fortunate enough to progress from NQ to Subject Lead, and hold a DMO position, within nplaw. I am grateful to be able to lead a team now, and have a seat at the management table. As a lawyer with a disability, it is important to have that representation and for EDI purposes. nplaw has supported me in that journey, including with mental health first aid training and an Institute of Learning and Management accredited leadership course.
What is your proudest achievement at work?
My proudest moments are the smaller incidents – when that potential you saw in someone is realised, when someone tells you they finally feel at home in the space you create, when you see on social media a scheme come to life that you had a hand in bringing to fruition or when a client tells a colleague “speak to Sarah, I trust her”.
Are there any interesting projects/matters that you are working on at the moment?
Every day is honestly different! That may be the beauty of commercial work but in local government we see it tenfold. We support everything, from the pensions team to social care and from libraries to economic development. Right now, the Government’s levelling up agenda has been really interesting (affecting multiple stakeholders) and has seen the team engaged on matters of powers, subsidy, contract and construction projects.
As Subject Lead it is very exciting to identify new, or developing workstreams, and shape our service. We are looking forward to working with our colleagues to do more employment and standards investigation work in the months to come.
What is the work/life balance and the wider culture like?
I have heard my share of old-fashioned views of local government – but if they ever existed (and I doubt they did), they really need to be called out now as very outdated! The reality is a diverse, busy, hard working community, with exciting opportunities and an environment which develops its own talent.
One of the ways we ensure that it thrives is to have a genuine commitment within nplaw for a work life balance, and to recognise the roles of individuals. Flexibility to meet a deadline, or help others, is important but no one should be working long evenings or weekends and people should be able to fit other responsibilities into the day where they are needed.
I work hard to foster a culture within my team where workload is a team matter – it is equitable, transparent, we can call on each other when needed and we work together to deliver for the client. We also recognise that everyone has a lived experience, and they are important to share for our wider resilience and learning.
What do you do out of work and what is your proudest achievement out of work?
Outside of work I am a director, vice chair and data lead for Leeway Domestic Violence and Abuse Services. I have been lucky enough to work with this amazing charity for a number of years now and do what I can to support the fantastic work it delivers in Norfolk and Suffolk. I am so proud that it goes from strength to strength despite some very difficult times.
I am also (very slowly!) learning French and have recently started an evening course at the University of East Anglia.
What do you think are nplaw’s main selling points to attract new employees?
More people should definitely know what a great career working in-house is. nplaw is at the heart of so many major decisions which affect all of us – from new bridges, to constructing leisure centres and from social care reform to protecting a community affected by a pandemic. I think being part of that is a huge selling point, and to do so with likeminded people is something I would have wanted to know when I was starting my career.
I am really proud of the work my team is doing around understanding ourselves, each other and our collective resilience. Again, I would have wanted to know that when I was choosing a career – to find somewhere where you can be yourself and feel safe is invaluable.