Leaving Private Practice for Golden Arches

A little over a year ago, I was faced with a conundrum: am I continuing to earn my stripes in private practice or am I moving to an in-house life? Just celebrated my two year post-qualification birthday, an incredible opportunity to join the McDonald’s legal team has presented itself.

Now, let’s not beat around the bush – swapping private practice for in-house practice at a relatively early stage in a legal career has traditionally come under scrutiny. Like many others, I was faced with, “Is this really what’s best for you right now? It is too early to take the step”.

After spending six years in private practice and doing an in-house secondment, I decided it was the right time for me to take the plunge and, a year later, I wanted to share my experience working as a lawyer at McDonald’s and why I’ve never looked back!

1. What’s on the menu?

McDonald’s needs very little introduction. As one of the largest restaurant chains in the world, with millions of customers visiting our restaurants around the world every day, telling someone that you work as an in-house lawyer at McDonald’s often generates a lot of interest.

Every time someone asks me, “What does a lawyer do at McDonald’s?” », I often answer « where to start?! “. While I always felt like the intern would require me to become somewhat of a “generalist,” I never quite anticipated what exactly that would mean at McDonald’s.

Now, after a year, I can easily say that no two days are ever the same. I regularly work with the company on a variety of exciting projects. A typical day may require me to:

  • review an advertisement for a national advertising campaign;
  • advising on a commercial contract for a new supplier;
  • provide training sessions to the company;
  • navigate legislation and provide business advice;
  • support in updating and implementing changes in policies/procedures; and or
  • comments on customer communications.

The opportunity to work closely with different teams and guide them in various areas of law has had a significant positive impact on my own personal development.

At McDonald’s, the legal team is considered a business partner from whom sound, legal and business advice is needed. Sitting on the fence is not an option, which is a welcome challenge as it has greatly improved my confidence in decision making and careful assessment of the legal situation in the business context.

2. Under the bun

One of the many things I really appreciate about being an in-house lawyer at McDonald’s is that it gave me the opportunity to be able to proactively step into the company’s shoes (or, using a analogy on the theme of McDonald’s, under the bun!), and the commercial levers of commercial strategy.

Gaining a level of detailed understanding of the organization, our customers, our people and our priorities allows me to provide personalized, concise and commercial advice to the company.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned internally is to never be afraid to ask questions. The nature of the industry requires us to be quick and, often, to make quick business decisions.

Learn when to step back and ask questions like “Why exactly are we doing this?” “, ” What does that mean ? “, “Should we continue to do this? is relevant to ensuring that you clearly understand the lay of the land in order to be able to provide accurate and measured legal advice and that you set priorities appropriately.

It’s also very helpful to see the real-time impact of the legal input I give, and at McDonald’s you can see your work ‘in the wild’. Whether it’s seeing a TV ad you helped air on national television or seeing a new internal system rolled out across the company, the results are extremely tangible.

3. We improve together

At McDonald’s, the company is guided by a number of core values, one of which recognizes that “none of us is better than all of us”.

I’ve always been a strong advocate for open collaboration with colleagues to achieve better results. McDonald’s philosophy of being better together was evident from my first week, and I was extremely impressed with the innovation and collaboration that regularly occurs within the company.

Unlike private practice, in an in-house role, you’re surrounded by your clients every day, which naturally leads to more open lines of communication, more collaboration, and more informal interactions.

While this level of client contact can be described as overwhelming, I really enjoy this aspect of being an in-house lawyer and have seen my soft skills grow exponentially as a result.

Thinking about it?

My experience of exchanging a private practice for an in-house role was extremely positive and improved both my legal skills and my soft skills.

As many others have written previously, there have traditionally been a number of myths surrounding residency – one of which is that experience in private practice is necessary before taking action. Although experience in private practice can be helpful, it is not essential and it seems that the modern view of residency is very different.

Like me, if you’re faced with an opportunity to move internally, I encourage you to give it some serious thought – there’s nothing to lose and a lot to gain. Trust me.