Croda’s European GC, Laura Thornton
Croda’s European GC, Laura Thornton talks to us about life as an in-house lawyer in the Yorkshire based FTSE 100 company. We discover what factors attracted her to the company, some of the personal highlights over the last few years and advice for those contemplating an in-house legal career.
What is Croda?
Croda is FTSE 100 listed company with our headquarters in Yorkshire. We have sales offices and manufacturing sites across the globe, employing more than 6000 people.
Croda creates, makes and sells speciality ingredients used by industries and consumers around the world. By the time most of us arrive in to work in the morning, we will likely have used a number of products that contain a precious Croda ingredient – cosmetic products, cleaning products, healthcare products.
Our purpose – Smart Science to Improve Lives™ – perfectly sums up how we use knowledge and innovation to create products that have a positive impact on the world.
What attracted you to the company and why is it a good place to work?
I was drawn to the variety of work. I was ready for a new challenge. I sensed very quickly that I would get this at Croda. When I joined, part of my role was to travel around my region to help to implement the first phase of our ethics programme. This was something very different for me and I knew I would find the travel and the challenge motivating.
I know you shouldn’t base any decision on the team as teams change, but I really liked the team when I interviewed. I knew I would enjoy working with them. You also can’t help being quite intrigued by Croda. It is such an interesting company.
Work-wise, there is no chance of ever being bored! It is fast-paced and dynamic. Every day presents a new fun and interesting challenge. I really enjoy the diverse nature of the work and how every day you learn something new. The people also make it a brilliant place to work. As a team, we really do embody our core values of Responsible, Innovative and Together. There is a great team spirit at Croda.
How has your professional development been supported?
If you are keen to learn and develop, Croda will support you in doing that. I can raise my own suggestions as to courses / trainings I want to attend, and I have always been supported. Similarly, my line manager Tom Brophy will identify development areas with me and suggest coaching / training etc. I have taken part in various leadership courses which I have found to be really beneficial.
Any particular highlights so far?
A highlight for me was the Pfizer Agreement. Croda supplies key ingredients into Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine. I assisted with the contract drafting and negotiations. It felt amazing to be involved in something that would truly change lives and was great to be a part of something positive during a really difficult time for the world.
How do you work with external lawyers?
As an incredibly busy in-house lawyer, you need simple, practical, commercial advice. We are looking for options / solutions and not 50 pages of detail with no helpful route forward. Every day is about problem solving and we need our law firms to help with that, not just tell us what the law says. We do work with a number of brilliant law firms that really get this balance right.
What’s most important when adding further resource to an in-house legal team?
Technical ability and commercial awareness in equal measures. Someone that understands the strategy of the business and is a practical problem solver. Enthusiasm, drive and the ability to communicate well. We would also look for a good team player. Without sounding like a dating ad, a good sense of humour is important. We deal with serious stuff, but we have a lot of fun with it.
What’s the most memorable interview question you’ve been asked?
I have never been asked this myself, but I was preparing to interview for a new role in the team and ahead of the interview, I was discussing this with one of my colleagues. She said, “I like to find out what really annoys people in the workplace”. I always ask this question now. I think you can learn a lot about a person from their response.
What influenced your decision to become a lawyer?
I would love to say I know what attracted me to the profession but I made the decision at primary school that I would become a lawyer and it is too long ago now to remember why. I decided this after a good report at parents evening and just stuck with it. I really liked (and still do like) reading and so I think I thought it was an easy option as I could just stick my head in a few books.
What advice would you give to someone in practice looking to move in-house?
Be prepared to not know the answer! In practice, you have the luxury of knowing your specialist subject inside out. In-house, you need to know a little bit about a lot of things. Something new will cross your desk on a weekly basis that you have never handled before. You need to get comfortable with not always knowing everything immediately and learning quickly as you go.
I would also say that you need to be very comfortable with knowing you will never empty your inbox! Learning how to prioritise is key.
What makes a good in-house lawyer, and how should someone approach their first hundred days as legal counsel?
A good in-house lawyer should: (i) be technically able; (ii) be a good communicator: (iii) be a good team player; (iv) be able to cope with a really busy workload and prioritise well; (v) know the business and strategy well; (iv) be practical and commercially minded.
It is very important initially to get to know the business really well. It is also really important to get to know the people and get a good sense as to how to work with them. A busy in-house lawyer needs to be able to persuade and influence the business and making good connections and understanding how people like to work / their key priorities and motivations is key.
What pieces of legal tech have you used and where do you stand on AI?
Docusign proved to be incredibly useful over the last couple of years during lockdown periods!
Artificial intelligence is something we are discussing now as a team. We do see a place for it. For businesses that look at a really large volume of the same type of contract, I think contract review tools can be great. You need to have an appetite to take a bit of risk and know what types of routine contract you are prepared to review in this way, but these tools can free up a lot of time that can be spent on other more valuable tasks.
How has work changed at Croda since the pandemic and how did it affect you?
We work much more flexibly now as a result of Covid. I tend to spend 3 days a week in the office and 2 days a week working from home. I enjoy this as I can manage my diary so that I can have meetings / interact when in the office and have some focus time when I am at home.
As Croda is an international company, I tended to travel a lot prior to Covid. That is one thing I really missed over the last couple of years. It is great to be getting back out to see the business now travel is becoming easier again.
I really missed taking a holiday. I am a person that does need to stop work and get away from it all for a couple of weeks of the year to wind down. As things move back towards normal, it really makes you appreciate those things you took for granted.
What do you enjoy outside work?
I really love to travel. I try to pick a new place to explore every year. I also love music. I go to a lot of gigs. It is great to have gigs back post Covid. I have a few lined up this year. I am especially looking forward to Arctic Monkeys – it has been a while since I last saw them.
I had an administrative role at a doctor’s surgery in Hull. I covered the emergency surgery on Saturday mornings. This included doing the filing from the week, data inputting, answering telephones and doing the bacon sandwich run for the on-call doctor.
What’s the most enjoyable book you’ve read in the last year?
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. You go through a rollercoaster of emotions reading this book. I was so invested in the characters. If you don’t shout through the book at Agnes Bain, you are not human.
Do you have a favourite movie?
It’s hard to choose just one but I’m going with The Lost Boys. Me and my sister used to watch it on repeat when we were way too young to be watching it. Grandpa is brilliant. I did a road trip around California and Santa Cruz boardwalk was a highlight. Nothing has changed since the film was made. It was like walking along the actual set. For fans of the film, it’s such a good experience.
Favourite place to eat out?
I love eating. It is definitely my favourite hobby. I am a massive fan of Michel Roux Jr. I really like Roux at the Landau.
I’m going with Nando’s though – Nando’s extra hot chicken. If I could go every day, I would. Sorry Roux.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
At the moment it is Cobra Kai on Netflix. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it. Just when you think it can’t get any better, they bring Terry Silver back…absolute genius. Sorry for the spoiler!
This feature coincides with us having been exclusively retained by Croda on a search to appoint a construction law specialist. Anyone who feels they might be interested in joining Croda’s in-house legal team should to get in touch with Miguel Florit by email.
Please subscribe to our mailing list for more in-house legal recruitment market insights.