How to facilitate a sector switch – part one

August 12, 2022

Changing industry sectors, particularly at the senior level, is often perceived as being extremely difficult due to the scarcity of opportunities and the sheer number of highly suitable senior lawyers. However, it is possible if you are tenacious and tap into your network. Our team of in-house consultants had the opportunity to speak to five senior lawyers from across the world who have successfully facilitated a sector switch.

In part one of this series, we speak to John Rowland, Legal Director at Elysium Healthcare, as he discusses his move from the Transport sector to the Pharmaceuticals sector.

 “If you’re going to move sector, be
prepared to not know stuff and be
prepared to be totally outside of
your comfort zone.”


Briefly describe your career history.
I trained at Dentons and moved on qualification to Stikeman Elliot LLP where I stayed for 2.5 years. I then moved in-house to DRS Data and Research Services plc which is a listed manufacturing business, then to Keir Group. In 2014 I moved to Network Rail and remained for almost seven years, including seven months on secondment as Financial Controller. I joined as Senior Legal Counsel and was promoted to Head of Legal in 2019. In June 2021 I joined Elysium Healthcare as Legal Director.

How did you facilitate a sector transition?
In 2014 I attended a networking dinner facilitated by The Lawyer on ‘Lessons from General Counsels’. I met the Elysium’s General Counsel there and we got along very well and I kept in contact with her over the years. I then noticed a post on LinkedIn to say that she had changed roles internally so I followed up to say congratulations and found out that she was looking to replace herself. The process was being managed by an external agency who told me that on paper I would not have got through the process due to my lack of healthcare experience, had it not been for the outgoing General Counsel wanting to put me in the mix.

How have you found the change and what challenges have you experienced?
There are things that I was expecting and things that I wasn’t expecting. In terms of what I was expecting; I knew there would be a steep learning curve. I was in meetings initially where I was not aware of what people were talking about and had to come up to speed quickly and ask very inane questions. In terms of what I was not expecting; healthcare is a regulated industry so there are similar relationships with the regulators which I wasn’t expecting. If you are in a regulated industry and move to another regulated industry then there will be a lot of similarities. Also, I had questioned my ability to make a move out of my comfort zone, but I have had to really back myself. COVID-19 has been a huge challenge because I massively underestimated the benefits of being
with colleagues early in a job. I have really missed that interaction which has undermined my ability to build up the bank of goodwill. I’ve always built-up relationships to the point where people really trust you and then value your advice, but that has been really difficult to do in a new role because of the environment that we’re in.

What advice do you have for any lawyers looking to move sectors?
If you’re going to move sector, be prepared to not know stuff and be prepared to be totally outside of your comfort zone. I moved because I wanted that challenge but I didn’t appreciate how much that would impact my thought process. Tap into your network. I was told as a very junior lawyer to network and it’s bang on. Not only to open up opportunities, but to hear from people who do things in different ways, or who cover different areas of law. You never know where those networks might take you. My networking took seven years to pay off but it was worth it. Make sure you are quite picky about who you cultivate relationships with. Much to the amusement of my colleagues, I keep a networking spreadsheet and make sure I keep in touch with certain contacts regularly (i.e. every three months or once a year).

The next article is with Patrizia Carrozza, General Counsel at Valentino, who discusses her move from the Manufacturing sector to the Retail sector. To continue reading click here.

This article appears in our global in-house market report 2022 – click the link to download.

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