Sarah Ouis, an expat lawyer and passionate about legal design to the point of creating content on social networks, is a UFO in the French legal landscape. In this discussion, she reveals her career path, from university benches to her position as a lawyer in London at MDgroup, and gives her vision of the legal profession and the transformations she considers necessary.
Hi Sarah, can you tell us about your background? Did you always want to study law?
I am an in-house lawyer, working in the UK for almost 4 years. I have a Master's degree in Corporate Law from the IUP in Evry. Before that I did a DUT in Legal Careers at the University of Lyon III.
I originally wanted to study law so that I could then work in human resources until business law caught my eye.
When did you decide to go abroad?
Professional integration after studying law in France was very complicated at the time, so going abroad was a potential career development opportunity, especially as I needed to improve my English.
My first job in the legal sector, particularly abroad, was not an easy task and did not happen the moment I dropped my bags in London. I often describe myself as a legal fiasco to describe my journey in building my legal career.
Can you tell us about your different experiences?
I had the opportunity to develop experiences in companies of different sizes and in various industries, which is a real opportunity when you start your career.
The profession is practised differently according to these parameters and it is important to be able to adapt to the economic environment of each company. You also have to find the right compromise between the technical aspect of the profession without losing sight of the need to effectively support the business, which operates in an increasingly competitive environment.
I realised that you only become a real in-house lawyer with practice. You discover the other side of the coin, the positive aspects of the job (such as developing real practical business expertise, working with professionals from different fields) but also the more disappointing aspects (low value-added tasks generally take up a lot of time, lack of awareness of our job and our added value by some operational staff).
These first years in the world of work helped me to identify the type of structure that best suited my profile, but also the type of functions in which I would like to evolve in the medium/long term.
Finally, the fact that I was able to discover this profession in two different countries really helped me to realise that the practice of the profession is largely influenced by the business culture of the country in question. The Anglo-Saxons have a much more business-oriented and flexible approach than the more process-oriented continental approach, for example.
Are you happy with your job as a lawyer today? What do you like the most in your day-to-day work?
I don't think that any other job in the legal sector could have suited me better.
It's a job in which I can really add value to the business. I like the idea of being able to contribute to the decision-making process, to the strategy, to measure the benefits of a transaction against the potential risks and sometimes even to bring a fresh perspective to the table.
Finding solutions and compromises that work and helping the business to move forward is really what I like most about this job.
What are the problems you're trying to solve in your legal department?
The company is growing exponentially, thus justifying the need to manage demand differently and more efficiently. I have recently put in place processes to centralise requests, monitor their evolution and train new arrivals in Legal (yes, I am not bored!).
Do you have any good anecdotes to share with us?
One day, an operational person wanted to help me speed up the signing of a contract by suggesting a clause aimed at granting a commercial gesture to the client, the proposed clause looked like this: "The client will have the right to a joker" (the capital J was missing 😂!).
It's often said that the legal profession is changing. Do you agree?
When I started to discover the profession, I was disappointed to see that our added value was hardly noticed and that the legal department did not always have a good image in companies (often described as the "department of no").
I would like the profession to modernise and to be able to communicate and collaborate more effectively with stakeholders, and perhaps one day remove the label of being a 'hindrance' to the business.
This will require a change in positioning, the development of a much more accessible approach by lawyers to operational staff, in particular through the use of clear language and innovative and unexpected forms of communication.
I think it is also necessary to remember that doing business is about taking risks and that the lawyer does not make decisions. They guide and advise but the final decision remains in the hands of the business and the fact that the business does not follow the Legal's recommendations is also part of the game.
Have you tried to put things in place at your level?
It is necessary for lawyers to modernise their practice, to position themselves as an integral part of the business and to show collaboration and empathy with business partners in particular, who are often subject to great pressure. At my level, I try to do this through different tools:
Collaboration tools: especially for projects requiring the involvement of several departments such as tenders.
Legal Design: I would define it as all the communication tools and innovative support aimed at facilitating access to the law with the use of:
- Visuals: such as infographics / tables / diagrams
- Methods of transmitting knowledge through different channels, to give some concrete examples: my training courses include playful scenarios: I have done a GDPR training which included a game on the theme of Mario and Luigi
- I make parallels between law and everyday situations: such as comparing the relationship between the parties to a contract to a love story
The confidentiality agreement could be compared to the 'dating' period between two people, the two parties are talking but want their conversation to remain private and confidential. The framework agreement would represent the 'marriage' between the two parties.
Use innovative communication methods: humour, sarcasm, self-deprecation can be used to convey strong messages effectively. I sometimes use the same, notably that of Gandalf for all the followers of the Lord of the Rings with the famous 'You shall not pass' when I find myself unable to approve a contract.
It seems like you have several things going on! Can you tell us more?
I develop a lot of content both on being an expat (especially for lawyers / law students) and legal design. This content is available in different formats (visual with infographics, audio with podcasts, written with articles and video with videos that I post both on LinkedIn and more recently on YouTube).
I also do business English quizzes (and more recently legal quizzes!).
Finally, I had the opportunity to speak at the French Association of Corporate Lawyers to talk about my experience.
Outside of work, where can you be found?
At the Elan Cafe in London probably enjoying a Caramel Latte with a Paris Brest.
What do people still not know about you?
I'm the eldest of eight children, in other words, I'm the mother of children I neither made nor chose.
Can you give us one of your recent readings?
Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk (Book published in 2009, very ahead of its time giving advice on developing a parallel activity, developing personal branding, creating quality content and developing visibility on social networks).
Also, Influence by Warren Cass: I have read it twice! This book gives advice on how to develop your influence and visibility, and master the art of networking.
A word to the readers of the Tomorro blog?
"Change is now" (any resemblance with existing or former people or situations is purely coincidental).
To find Sarah on social networks...
LinkedIn: Sarah OUIS
- For expat content: @expatomnes
- For Legal Design: @verylawyerproblems
Facebook and Twitter: @expatomnes