Outsourcing has grown increasingly more prevalent in both the public and private sectors since it emerged in the 1980s. It involves the transfer of projects and functions to specialist third-party providers in return for a fee. Among the most commonly outsourced areas of activity are IT services, human resources and facilities management, legal processes and customer care via call centres. The agreements that document outsourcing arrangements are vast and complex, attempting to anticipate all possible situations. When things go wrong and the third-party supplier fails to perform its contractual duties, in come the litigators.
Sarah Pearce found her perfect undergraduate match in the form of the four-year combined English law and French law degree, which involved two years in London and two years in Paris. "I knew I always wanted to study law, but I also wanted to do something international and a bit different to the average degree," she recalls. "I’ve also always been a keen linguist and love French, so it seemed a great opportunity."
Not only did Sarah have the chance to experience a totally different culture, she was exposed to an entirely different legal system and mode of teaching: "Studying in France ensured that I learnt about the differences between the common law and civil law jurisdictions, which has come in handy in my career. As for the teaching style, in the United Kingdom as a student you are encouraged to be creative and think outside the box – in France, it is the complete opposite! If what you’re claiming isn’t written down in a textbook, then you can forget about it. But it was all great experience and a good way of toughening up!"
Sarah was a trainee at Simmons & Simmons, moving on to Bird & Bird at three years PQE. She spent around seven years there, working in both the London and Paris offices and qualifying as a practitioner in France, before moving to Edwards Wildman in September 2013. As of January 2015 she is now at Cooley. She describes the outsourcing elements of her practice, beginning with a general description of what outsourcing involves: "Outsourcing is when a company decides that a service it provides internally - eg, catering - would be improved, practically or economically, by being provided by a third party. It is usually done with a view to taking it back in house or looking for another provider when the contract ends."
She has witnessed big changes since she started to specialise: "The deals (both outsourcing and beyond) that I have worked on used to relate primarily to the tech sector, usually application development and the like. More recently, the types of industry has broadened; although I still work heavily in the global tech sector, I am also involved in transport, fashion and beauty, among others. My field of law is of course constantly changing, but there are other changes afoot, including those related to data protection - there is a new EU regulation coming into force later this year - new legislation on cybersecurity, and significant technical developments in areas such as wearable tech."
There have also been changes particular to outsourcing arising from and relating to a new economic reality: "There were fewer instances of outsourcing in the financial downturn, where companies decided to take things back in house to save money, although that wasn’t always the result. The state of the economy and the way industries approach outsourcing continues to have an impact on the outsourcing industry generally."
Sarah’s expertise is still primarily dominated by IP and tech related matters, but with some branching out into other sectors, as evidenced by a recent example "of a luxury brand owner that wanted to outsource its ecommerce function to a third party".
One of the biggest deals that Sarah has been involved with - in terms of both monetary value and length of time - was BT’s outsourcing of its application development services: "It took about nine months to complete and I closely worked with BT’s in-house legal and commercial teams to ensure that all elements of the contract matched up with the services to be delivered. I love working alongside in-house teams, helping to develop a project; you are often the one guiding negotiations for weeks on end, all day long - your social life can definitely be affected! But you also know that you’re adding commercial value to the client, something that is really important to me and one of the main reasons I got into this area. You get to be part of the decision-making process in some very interesting companies."
The variety and pace of outsourcing work is what keeps Sarah engaged: "It is so fast moving and constantly stimulating; there is always something new and different going on. Private practice provides great variety, which is not something that you get everywhere. You can come in to the office in the morning with a certain idea of what you’re going to be doing and then something happens to completely change that, and it’s all hands on deck." She also gets a big kick out of her "interactions with clients and working as part of a team" and the travelling, which means that "barely a month goes by where I haven’t been abroad".
If this all sounds exciting and like something that you’d want to pursue, Sarah suggests keeping on top of current affairs, with a focus on economic and business stories, but also seeking out specific material on outsourcing: "There is a lot of information available, such as specialist newsletter blogs, so it’s worth tracking that down. There are also related events to attend, such as those held in Tech City and the Google Campus in London. Tech start-ups often look for interns during the holidays, so that’s another way to get a feel for the industry. General commercial experience is great, but we’re always particularly impressed by tech-related experience on a training contract application."
One thing that Sarah advises keeping in mind is the need to be adaptable and apply to firms that will be a good match for you as an individual: "I hadn’t appreciated that there was this element to being a lawyer, but the firms I have worked for have given me the opportunity and encouragement to be entrepreneurial - many firms don’t! - and that suits my personality. Make applications to firms that seem like a good fit for you."