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Clipper Logistics General Counsel – Julia Dettmar

November 10, 2021

Clipper Logistics General Counsel, Julia Dettmar was inspired to work as in-house counsel the day she heard a GC being interviewed on the radio, back in her school days. Fast-forward to now and after several years managing a legal team in the telecoms industry, and some time in retail with Asda, Julia tells us about her current role within the fast-moving retail logistics sector and what she feels are the keys to success in a small, evolving in-house legal team like hers.

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

This coincides with us having been exclusively retained by Clipper Logistics on a search to appoint another in-house lawyer. So anyone who thinks they might be interested in joining Julia’s in-house legal team at Clipper is invited to get in touch with Andy Balmer by email.

For those not familiar with the logistics industry, tell us more about Clipper.

Clipper Logistics is a business that was founded in 1992 and floated in 2014. It now has a market cap of over c£700M and has been a leader in retail logistics for more than two decades.

The company operates across more than 45 sites in the UK and mainland Europe, and employs a workforce of over 10,000 employees, which rises to 15,000 during peak activity times.

The business is known for its consultative approach to retail logistics, constantly evolving to meet the rapid pace of change through an innovative and collaborative process. The business works with some of the biggest names in retail including Asos, Asda, John Lewis, M&S, Pretty Little Thing and Shop Direct.

The company has won numerous awards for its range of multichannel solutions; including a bespoke returns service: Boomerang™, which deals with the retail headache of returned goods and provides a service that can cope with evolving consumer habits; and more recently its new retail focussed Click & Collect solution.

What factors made you choose to work there?

It’s rare to find General Counsel opportunities in listed PLCs with their headquarters in Yorkshire, and Clipper is a fast-growing company which has prospered during the COVID-19 pandemic within an increasingly relevant industry.

There is a fantastic range of work available including corporate transactions, which had a distinct attraction for me as someone who trained and practiced as a corporate lawyer before moving in-house with Vodafone’s Enterprise business.

The legal department is well integrated and there is lots of scope to transform and continue to innovate at the heart of the business.

Diversity and inclusion is important to me and I knew that the business had won a number of awards in this area. For example, Clipper won the Impact Through Innovation Award at the 2019 ENEI Awards for its Fresh Start initiative, which is a program aimed at the 11 million people across the UK who struggle to secure employment, despite their desire to work.

Clipper also won the award for Best Future Skills Project at The Logistics Awards 2019 in recognition of the company’s apprenticeship degree programme in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University as well as its 18-month graduate scheme.

Why is it a good place to work, from your perspective?

In addition to the huge variety of work on offer to me and to the legal department in general, what struck me immediately is the company’s culture. It has a real can-do approach to the work it does with clients and an agility which can be seen at all levels in the business. There’s such a lot going on.

It’s also a very people-centred culture which is always looking for new ways of doing things and fresh ideas in the way it supports staff – an example being the use of Perkbox and Wagestream.

The group’s approach to diversity and inclusion was something I was impressed with.

I’m proud to be part of such a forward-thinking organisation.

What’s happening within the in-house legal team?

We’ve already created another legal role within our team and there may be other opportunities to join the team in the future as there is so much activity for lawyers to assist with, particularly as we have recently grown into new territories within Europe.

The role is hugely varied and will definitely appeal to someone who’s already worked in-house, or someone whose role hasn’t focused on just one thing.

Whilst a commercial contracts lawyer from another industry sector would feel quite at home straight away, with a learning curve on different types of work we undertake, we’re the kind of environment in which someone can take their first step into working as an in-house lawyer.

We’ll look at people from a range of backgrounds. You need a good business brain and an inquisitive personality as well as the ability to make decisions.

Highlights for you so far?

I’ve only been with Clipper for 3 months but I’m already involved in a huge amount of strategic business projects.

In the legal team, we have launched a new contract storage and reporting tool and we are about to launch some new precedents.

I have loved visiting some of our warehouses too – they are huge, busy places and its brilliant to see the work that goes into getting our orders delivered for customers.

What are the issues facing the business and the legal department?

Labour shortage is a challenge that many industries are facing which our fantastic HR team are tackling in a variety of ways, including very flexible working opportunities, apprenticeships, Freshstart and the Sheffield Hallam logistics degree.

ESG is also hot on the agenda at the moment and the legal team is supporting a number of initiatives, including sustainable sourcing, environmental efficiencies in running the warehouses and operations and encouraging diversity of employees, especially at the senior end of the business.

Automation of logistics services is also becoming more commonplace, and the legal team is playing a key role in ensuring these services can be provided to customers.

When you’ve recruited in-house lawyers, what are the key things you’ve tended to look for?

Attitude is by far the most important thing.

Here, that means someone who is keen to learn, get stuck in and is constantly on the lookout for ways of working better.

People like that are always an asset to any legal team.

Why might now be a good time to join the company or your department?

Our contribution as lawyers is highly valued within the business and there’s so much going on that it really does give someone joining us the chance to work across a variety of areas and to really make their mark.

What made you choose law as a career and why did you move in-house?

When I was at school, I actually heard an interview on the radio with the General Counsel of a large company talking about her job and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.  So being an in-house lawyer was always my intention.

I loved the sound of advising businesses across a wide range of issues and being central to key decisions.

That steered me in the direction of qualifying into the corporate team at Herbert Smith, and later doing a secondment with Brewin Dolphin whilst at Addleshaw Goddard. It wasn’t long afterwards that I started my in-house legal career.

How should a new in-house lawyer approach his or her first few months?

Try and see as much of the operational aspects of the business as you can. Chat to people, be inquisitive, get stuck in. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to make changes immediately.

How has your work changed as a result of the pandemic?

Not much. I’ve worked flexibly and outside head office for a long time, and Clipper allows a good deal of flexibility in the legal team.

Remote working has become easier now that more people are using technology, and now I’m not the only one dialling into a room.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

Walking the dog, exercising, spending time with friends and family.

Cooking – especially plant-based recipes.

What was your experience of lockdown?

I look back on it a bit like childbirth!

I seem to have blocked out the agonising part (home schooling) and mainly remember the happy family times.

I’m trying, but failing, to block out some non-busy weekends.

What was your very first job?  

I feel that I’ve come full circle since, like a lot of people, I started out in retail. I had a Saturday job in the lingerie department of Binns (now House of Fraser).

What’s the most interesting/enjoyable book you’ve read in the last year?

I finally read The Tatooist of Aushwitz this year- which was gripping.

I am currently reading Wintering – A Season with Geese which is a much more gentle read!  

Any hidden talents? 

I reached Grade 2 playing the organ!

Favourite gadget.

It has to be my iPhone.

Restaurant of choice?

Sora at Malmaison in York is a current favourite.

What constitutes a good holiday for you?

Ile De Re in France – great cycling, beaches, restaurants and a very chilled atmosphere. I can’t wait to go back.

Next holiday destination is Lapland next month.

Spoiler alert: it’s a surprise for the kids, so I am really hoping they’re not secretly on Linkedin already or following you on Twitter!

If you hadn’t listened to that radio interview with the GC, what would you have liked to have done instead of being a lawyer?

I’d like to have been a fiction writer or wine buyer – or maybe both.


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