Will Luker is general counsel for litigation at RBS, and the winner of The Legal 500 UK in-house award for litigation.
B U S I N E S S T H I N K I N G
EDITOR AND FEATURES WRITER
GC: Did you always know that you wanted to be a lawyer?
Will Luker (WL): No, not at all. For me it was a case of not wanting to pursue any of my A-level subjects and not really having any idea what I ultimately wanted to end up doing. It’s an approach I tell my children: keep as many doors open as long as possible. But in fact for me, there weren’t many doors I wanted to go through, so it was almost by default I steered towards law. But when I’d become a lawyer, there was a moment when I knew it was the right decision: when I worked for 12 months as a clerk for the magistrates’ court, which was a fantastic experience. Just the high degree of responsibility, running a court when you’ve just qualified, in your early 20s – it was a remarkable opportunity. I knew at that stage that I was going to do contentious work over and above anything else.
GC: What made you want to go in-house?
WL: I worked in private practice for a few years. I think it was dealing with clients who were in-house lawyers and just observing how proud they were to be part of a brand - that really stood out. So rather than the rather transient experience of working in private practice, moving from client to client, having what is, in effect, a single client struck me as quite attractive.
GC: You’ve been at RBS for a number of years. What is the best thing about working there?
WL: Being involved in all the enormous changes that have occurred at RBS; it’s really been like working for a series of different businesses over the years. It’s quite high octane for obvious reasons. We’re very much in the public eye so that brings challenges and it means that every week is different - you can never ever predict what any particular week is going to be like.
GC: Are there any elements of working at RBS that you don’t enjoy?
WL: The ongoing opprobrium that is thrown at the financial industry, and particularly the banks, can sap your energy. But you’ve just got to play the long game and know that we will get through the current cycle.
GC: What part of your daily work do you particularly enjoy?
WL: I do rather enjoy, strangely, putting together a punchy and well-reasoned written briefing. I do find that quite satisfying.
GC: What is your top professional achievement to date?
WL: I have to say, qualifying - actually going to the Law Society with a proud mum! And any win, any sensible pragmatic commercial solution or settlement to a dispute is highly satisfying and that is why we all do it. It’s difficult to pick a single one.
GC: Is it more satisfying to get a settlement, or do you enjoy the cut and thrust of litigation?
WL: It absolutely depends. I sometimes think if both sides go away happy it often means that we’ve reached the right outcome. But saying that, if there is an important principle of law or you’re dealing with an incredibly unreasonable opponent, then sometimes it can be very satisfying to get some sort of adjudication.
GC: What legal issues or challenges are you gearing up to face in the near future?
WL: It’s the ongoing challenge in managing issues that are emerging from the past and resolving those, because ultimately I work for a business that needs to focus on the future.
GC: What do you expect from an external lawyer - what’s your ideal private practice lawyer?
WL: The crucial thing is for them to understand what is required, what our objective is, and almost to think like a member of the business. The best relationships that we have with external firms are where the boundaries between the internal and external lawyers and the business are almost seamless.
One of the attractions of having a panel is that we are regularly working with the same people, and so are building that relationship and instilling what is required, and by the same token, understanding how individuals at our external firms work. That ensures that overall we can build a combined resource and serve the business better.
GC: What are you reading at the moment?
WL: I do enjoy a novel but it’s just impossible: there is no time. I also think that when your job involves vast amounts of reading and looking at a computer screen, it’s sometimes quite difficult to open a book when you go home.
GC: Do you have a favourite film?
WL: The last one I saw was Interstellar. The plot line is so bewildering, there was a turning point for me because I had to get an explanation from my 12-year-old son on the way home. He was all over it.
GC: If you weren’t a lawyer anymore, what would you be doing instead?
WL: I think the truthful answer is that in all likelihood I’d be unemployed - my range of alternative skills are yet to emerge. I am however quite good at decorating, so maybe that could be something.
GC: So you really are a dyed-in-the-wool lawyer, then?WL: Well, I think so although I do consider myself to be part of the banking industry. It could be a case of never knowing anything else – it’s a bit sad really! Maybe one day.
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