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Solicitors' practice areas

Company & commercial

Jocelyn Paulley

Gowling WLG (UK) LLP

University: Jesus College, University of Oxford
Undergraduate degree: Modern history
Pronouns: She/her

Commercial lawyers help businesses trade and work on a wide range of commercial agreements dealing with the manufacture, sale, supply and distribution of goods and services, as well as identifying and establishing the best routes to market, which could be via an agency, distribution or franchise model. Recently, there has been increased focus on e-commerce, online sales and software agreements. The work involves advising clients on the best trade arrangements, drafting, negotiating and signing off contracts, assisting with the day-to-day running of commercial business and advising on new products. Commercial law is often a key component in other projects and touches many areas of law, making it a highly varied legal arena.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” says Jocelyn Paulley, describing her role as a technology and data lawyer. With no background in software, technology or data prior to her training contract, a career in these areas of law may have felt like a distant dream to Jocelyn or, perhaps, one she’d not even considered when starting out. However, after completing seats in Gowling WLG (UK) LLP’s commercial, IT and outsourcing team during her training contract (including experience in data protection), it quickly became apparent that this was exactly the type of work that appealed.

“I enjoyed learning about how technology works, its legal implications and how it’s reflected in contracts”, as well as the fact that data protection was still very much in its “infancy”, she says, reflecting on her training at the firm. Jocelyn is now partner,  co-head of the firm’s retail and leisure sector in the UK, and co-lead of its data protection and cyber security sector.

Deciding on a route

Before selecting a specialism, however, Jocelyn had to decide which route to take – was her skill set more suited to a career as a solicitor or barrister? “I preferred the idea of advising on more commercial arrangements, being close to clients and building a relationship with them,” Jocelyn says.

“My strengths were more suited to drafting documents and giving advice, rather than the advocacy aspect of a barrister’s work.”

Now, the work Jocelyn gets involved with provides her with “the opportunity to understand advances in technology and how it supports and influences the world around us. A great example right now being AI” – a topic that’s dominating the legal and business world (as well as this conversation).  Plus, while the other side of her practice had little (if any) regulatory guidance when she was training, “the landscape is now very different” and includes more “sophisticated legislation, a well-developed regulator and lots of guidance”. It’s certainly been an interesting few years in the practice, meaning that lawyers like Jocelyn must have their finger on the pulse at all times.

Sharing the types of case she works on, Jocelyn gives an example: “We might be acting for a retailer that’s been selling products on the high street and is looking to expand its e-commerce ability.”

Explaining the team’s role in cases like this, she outlines: “We advise the retailer on the contractual agreements that support the software. For example, to run a website you need lots of different software, and each requires a contract between the retailer and the software licensor. The contracts cover the licensing of the software, the operational aspects regarding how it works, the support and maintenance, and hosting.

“We advise our clients on whether the terms presented by the supplier are reasonable and whether there are any additional protections that the client might need.”

To summarise: “We review the terms, advise our client on them, mark them up and negotiate them with the other side to end at a finished piece of work and an agreement that can be executed.”

Big-name clients

Working in this commercial sphere means Jocelyn has been exposed to some high-profile clients over the years, one of which being Marks & Spencer (M&S). In fact, Jocelyn cites a long-running matter she worked on for the multinational retailer as a highlight of her career so far.

“We were advising on putting in place a new e-commerce platform at a time when M&S was in the process of refreshing all its legacy IT systems so it was built on more modern architecture, would deliver content quicker and would be a smoother customer journey” – the latter being a particularly vital aim with load times crucial to maintaining a customer’s interest.

“We were heavily involved in a whole programme of work and procurement, advising M&S on multiple software licenses that had to work together to build up and support its new website,” she explains.

Other elements of the matter that made it a particular highlight for Jocelyn include the people and relationships built with M&S’ internal teams, as well as the very nature of the work itself – the fact that technology and the use of people's data “underpins everything we do”.

The power of AI

Given the breadth of this practice area and the fact that it impacts every aspect of our lives, there are always many developments and challenges involved in working and advising in these areas of law: AI being one of them.

Jocelyn currently works with a specialist colleague who leads the AI team and supports them from a privacy point of view, which involves “understanding what AI is, how it works and how to advise clients on building or using AI systems in a way that’s going to avoid or mitigate potential issues”.

As well as coming to terms with AI regarding its impact on her clients, the legal profession is also grappling with the influence that AI could have on the future of work. Jocelyn’s own concerns relate to the “quality of training”, with tasks typically given to trainees now being completed by AI instead of providing junior lawyers with learning opportunities.

Although AI takes up a lot of space in discussions about the legal profession, another current issue central to the world of law is diversity. While it’s essential that the industry works hard to continue to remove barriers, Jocelyn also calls for support from the education sector: “You need to have a diverse stream of students entering into law, rather than one type of person coming out of the education system.”

“We’re a service industry and people buy people”

Enthusiasm and communication

Creating environments in which everyone can thrive enables more collaborative, successful and inclusive working environments, and building a strong team is crucial to providing better client service. But, to be part of these strong teams, Jocelyn believes all lawyers require two key skills: enthusiasm and communication.

“We’re a service industry and people buy people.” The personal chemistry and relationships that trainees and lawyers at a firm build “counts for an awful lot”, and the success of these relationships relies on enthusiasm and communication. “So much can be lost or gained through the way that something is communicated,” Jocelyn explains, before highlighting the importance of active listening, responding articulately and conveying meaning appropriately. On top of this, Jocelyn laughs, is also “knowing when to just be quiet!”.

But that’s not all: Jocelyn also outlines the importance of properly understanding “that the type of law you end up practising can have different consequences for the opportunities that are open to your career”. In fact, this is something she wishes she’d fully realised at the start of her own career. To explain, she offers an example: “If you end up specialising in disputes or litigation, it’s more likely you’ll have to respond urgently, while other projects could go on for years. In my line of work, it’s very quickfire – I have lots of matters on my desk all at once that need moving along.”

Life in some areas of law also opens opportunities for solicitors to become in-house lawyers, and Jocelyn has seen commercial lawyers “cross over and become pure commercial advisers to businesses”. However, for those who qualify into more niche areas of law, these prospects might not be as readily available. As a partner, Jocelyn is keen to pass this awareness onto the next generation of lawyers so they can embark on a career with a greater understanding of what to expect as they grow and develop.