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AES Engineering Head of Legal, Naz Shabir

June 14, 2022

AES Engineering Head of Legal, Naz Shabir, shares the influences and experiences that continue to shape his in-house legal career. Since his training with Taylor & Emmett, he’s spent over 5 years as an in-house lawyer and provides us with another great example of someone with a litigation and property background who has succeeded in a general commercial role in industry. 

Our interview with Naz is the latest in Florit Legal’s In-house Legal Journeys® series.

For those not familiar with AES, tell us a little more about the business and what made you choose to work there.

I work for the AES Engineering Group as their international Head of Legal. We are a goods and services company supplying B2B, on one hand specialising in the design and manufacture of mechanical seals and support systems whilst also providing condition-monitoring services as an ongoing offering for increased plant reliability across multiple assets. Our main trading companies are AESSEAL plc and AVT Reliability.

Specialising in litigation before joining the AES Group, I knew that I wanted to diversify to in-house from early on. Manufacturing, engineering and the specialisms involved around this made it an interesting field to be involved with. Within 6 months of joining, I had picked up a good broad understanding of how an in-house lawyer functions within a company and what commercial realities are required to allow you to fit in as a business partner.

Why is AES a good place to work as a lawyer?

Working for an international business, no two days are alike and no two tasks are similar. The variety and range of work from commercial contract to corporate acquisitions, litigation, compliance, governance and employment mean that every day is different and every task makes you question a different part of the law in one way or another.

How has AES helped you develop there and what have been the highlights so far? 

I originally joined as the Commercial Counsel but quickly found that working as part of a small legal team in-house means that you pick up a greater variety of work than just contracts or commercial. The sphere of work you can be involved in is so vast that you can choose to specialise in any particular area or become a generalist in them all. I chose the latter and was promoted to Legal Counsel within a year. I spent two years as Legal Counsel before being made International Head of Legal looking after the global legal function. AES has allowed me to grow as a lawyer, as a person and most importantly as a business head. Working in-house, you quickly realise that you are, or should be, a business asset and work alongside the business to help promote growth in a risk managed and safe way.

Working internationally has been a massive highlight for me. I have been involved in multiple joint ventures and acquisitions across the globe and have always worked closely alongside our local experts to ensure that we are well protected, that the deal is fair and that it is the right thing for AES as a whole. Working on acquisitions whilst still maintaining the day job can be challenging at times but it’s this added pressure that makes working in-house all the more exciting.

What key issues is the industry facing your industry right now? 

One of the big key issues being faced by the manufacturing and, more specifically, engineering industry is the boom of automation and AI across standardised products. From design through to implementation and manufacture, the industry is moving towards an automated procedure and this is something that we have had to incorporate in to our practices at AES with the provision of mechanical robots and automated design calculation tools.

What do you find are the biggest challenges for in-house lawyers?

The role of an in-house lawyer has always involved being a driver of growth within the business to ensure commercial and pragmatic advice is given on a timely basis. The key advantage and differentiator of an in-house counsel is the ability to provide practical, specific advice whilst fully acknowledging the risk profile of the business and understanding what the business can and cannot agree to.

The challenge in balancing a commercial view with the legal opinion is to always remember the reason for your appointment. You are there to act as the barrier when necessary and to ensure that all risks are appropriately highlighted and/or limited in order to protect the business. You must think five steps ahead of the commercial, finance and business development teams to foresee any problems well before they arise.

And what do you feel is most important when it comes to hiring in-house legal counsel? 

I need somebody keen and open to learning. No matter which area you may have specialised in whilst working in private practice, moving in-house is likely to be a big change and therefore the ability to adapt to a new environment is essential. Thinking commercially and being able to explain complex legal issues to individuals across all levels of the business will enable in-house lawyers to develop fruitful connections within the business and give that value-add that the legal function should always strive for. 

How did you find your way into the law? 

My interests in legal began back in high school when I was lucky enough to be selected to undertake a work placement at a local law firm. I quickly realised this was a suitable career for me and I proceeded to revisit them during every summer and Easter holidays until starting University to study law. Being able to shadow lawyers from the age of 14 allowed me to gain a valuable perspective on what the job involves. I was instantly hooked.

What’s the most thought-provoking interview question you’ve ever been asked?

Whilst interviewing for a work placement, I took part in an assessment day. They asked me what two items I would take with me onto a desert island. Thinking outside the box, I quickly said an inflatable raft to take me home and a fishing rod to keep me fed on the long journey home. I like my creature comforts too much and would want to get back to England as soon as possible.

What is the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

Back during my work placement days as a teenager, my training principal quoted something to me which stuck with me throughout my legal career. It is something on which I based my career, my day to day life and my inner moral compass. She sat me down and told me there would always be people who want the same as you, and maybe even want it more. You should always put in 110% no matter what task you are working on because this is the only way you can be the best version of yourself not falling at the first hurdle or allowing yourself to not reach your full potential. You have to put the work in for yourself and not rely on others to push you forward.

And what practical advice would you give to lawyer looking to move in-house?

No matter what your background or specialism, there is always a place for good lawyers to work in-house. The broad spectrum of work available to you in-house will allow anyone who is willing to think outside the box to prosper and to fit in as a business unit within their company. As a former litigator, I was able to easily transfer my knowledge and understanding of the law to be applicable to an in-house role primarily focussing on non-contentious matters. If I can do it, there are plenty of other lawyers and particularly litigators who can also take the leap.

When would you say is most appropriate for a company to hire its first in-house legal counsel?

As early as possible. Not only can lawyers provide that level of protection given by a set of well-drafted terms of business, but we can also help shape procedures and policies to push for growth and to effectively manage the entire risk profile of the business. A good legal function is there to develop, prosper and create business, in a risk managed way. This specialised, local support should be invaluable to any business and allow it to become the best it can be.

What piece of legal tech could you not do without at work?

It has to be PLC – the legal precedent bank. Working in-house, you have to have a broad understanding of all legal areas but there is no need to be a subject matter expert in all of these. Every lawyer needs their niche, an area that they know cover to cover but PLC is a great back-up tool for all other areas especially when you need to create set precedent documents.

How did the pandemic affect you and the business?

AES was categorised as an essential business because we provide in to all major industries including oil and gas, pulp and paper, food, pharma, water, waste and energy. We therefore continued working as normal throughout the pandemic and in many respects, having that routine provided some comfort through the early COVID days. The traffic was vastly reduced and parking was in abundance! We continue to work from the office, having some hybrid working possibilities on an ad-hoc basis.

Movie of choice? 

There is only one obvious choice to this and unfortunately, I live up to the stereotype. It has to be Legally Blonde, the original of course. Elle epitomises every lawyer’s dream of succeeding where others would not think to go whilst at the same time depicting the life of a law student…

Favourite gadget?

I have a relatively new hobby and that is baking. My favourite gadget has to be my new KitchenAid Mixer because I can now bake to my heart’s desire without having to spend hours mixing by hand. I have also been able to venture in to baking macarons and meringues – something that I’m working on mastering soon hopefully!

Favourite place to eat?

There is one remaining hidden secret of Rotherham. An unassuming, small traditional takeaway on the outskirts of the town centre called Pak Hoo offers legendary and iconic Chinese dishes on a lunchtime special for a mere £4 – quite possibly the best lunchtime meal money can buy. I’d recommend their Peking chicken with egg fried-rice.

When not working, what are your holiday preferences and where’s next?

Luckily, I am cheap and cheerful when it comes to holidays. I chase the good weather and sandy beaches – this often leads me to Gran Canaria. The south-east coast of the island offers an amazing mix of party life together with relaxing surroundings. The bright blue ocean and volcanic mountains provide a welcome escape from the busy life of an in-house lawyer. My next big destination is likely to be New York.

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