Rachel Sandby-Thomas has recently joined the University of Warwick at the very highest echelons as Registrar. She has a fascinating work history which has qualified her for this important role and she started out as a law student. Here’s Rachel to talk about her journey and what she’s loved about it.
“I studied law by accident. I wanted to read English but my mother said all I could do with that was be a teacher and I was too impatient to do that. So I chose Law instead. Luckily for me I rather liked it. And at the end of my degree I ended up, sheep-like, following my fellow law students into the City, despite the fact that my instincts told me otherwise.
A City Law Career
I trained at Linklaters and stayed there for another 3 and a half years. In many ways it was very glamorous: shiny buildings, 6 months in Paris, 9 in Hong Kong. Good pay and many good friends. But ultimately I was bored…there wasn’t actually that much law involved and I really quite like law. So with the help of happenstance, I escaped into the Government Legal Service.
The Government Legal Service
I stayed for 23 years and loved every moment. Superficially it is not glamorous: no shiny buildings, bring in your own coffee and milk (tax payers can’t be buying coffee for those with “servant” in their name) and, in comparison with the City, derisory pay. But, putting all that aside, deeply glamorous… sitting behind Ministers in Parliament as a bill goes through, conducting a seminal case on a Member States’ liability in damages for breach of EU law, advising the Attorney General on anything difficult or politically sensitive from any department on any subject involving EU or human rights law. And in comparison to the City where the move is towards greater and greater specialism, in government you get moved into new jobs every few years.
On the legal front, I had worked in 8 different departments and had 10 different jobs. No danger of ever getting bored and my judgement maturing with each new experience, Meanwhile, many of my well paid friends were still in the City, trapped by the glittering remuneration packages, their many other skills withering. Miserable, wanting to escape, but not knowing how to extricate themselves. I am always amazed by now many other talents lawyers have, especially in drama and music.
And onwards in the Civil Service
After becoming Director General of the Legal Services Group in the Department of Business in 2008, my other skills began to be tapped. Eventually I was given responsibility for People and Communications as well as Legal and after a couple of years of doing that, I took on a massive policy portfolio, as well as Legal. What had previously been 3 former Director General posts wrapped into one, a bargain by any standard! What it made me appreciate was how much more logical and analytical the legal mind and way of thinking is. A super transferable skill.
My skill was a rigour lacking in most policy makers and I think others found my propensity to ask forensic questions quite scary. To be fair though, they were often more creative and strategic in their thinking than their legal counterparts. However, when you get someone with the best of both, who has the ability to combine analytical and creative thinking, who is able to combine an attention to detail with a mind which can also think strategically, boy, is that a powerful combination. Unbeatable.”
Want to hear more? If you’re at Warwick come along to Rachel’s talk next Wednesday at 5.00pm, book here.