The Law Society of Scotland spoke to two of its in-house members who started their careers elsewhere in Europe. This article follows the career of Maria Elena Sanz Arcas who now works for Scottish Power. 

Where are you from and what has been your career path?

I was born in Madrid, Spain and lived there until I moved to Scotland. After studying a double Degree in Law and Business Administration in Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, I joined the international law firm Garrigues where I spent almost five years advising corporate clients in the Corporate Crime Department. During these years I also did a Master’s Executive in Business Law in Centro de Estudios Garrigues in collaboration with Harvard Law School.

I came to Scotland in 2011 as a participant of the European Lawyers Association (ELA) Programme organised by the ELA, the University of Edinburgh and the Faculty of Advocates. I am a member of the ELA now. During this experience I had the opportunity of working with Burness (now Burness Paull) in the Dispute Resolution Department. This placement, along with the time I spent in Parliament House, The Court of Session, the High Court of Justiciary and the Crown Office allowed me to gain experience of the court system in Scotland.

Following the ELA programme I was offered a position as Corporate Governance solicitor in the Corporate Legal Department of Scottish Power and decided to re-qualify. I am now fully qualified as a Scottish solicitor and a member of the Law Society of Scotland and of the In-house Lawyers Committee. I am also the Secretary of the Scottish Power Foundation.

What do you really enjoy about working in-house?

It is stimulating being part of a legal team with an international agenda in a multicultural company. This means that you are constantly learning and “challenging your own legal solutions”. When working in-house it is important to understand your organisation’s expectations and sometimes challenge your initial ideas and embrace change. Companies evolve, experiment with new ways of doing what they do and old projects become almost unrecognisable new ones. You need to make sure that things are done in compliance with legal and regulatory requirements and, in order to do so, your preconceptions of the business and your advice will need to adapt. You may need to “unlearn” the legal solutions that do not fit those projects or businesses anymore and bring to the table new ones that are satisfactory for both your stakeholders in the company and your legal team.

What are the current hot legal topics in your sector and how heavily is your organisation affected by European laws and regulations?

European Legislation is at the core of what I do since I work in an environment which includes Scottish, English and Spanish law. Therefore, European legislation is very often directly present by way of Regulations or via Directives that have been transposed into national legislation. It is particularly interesting comparing directives between countries and seeing how each country’s culture has an impact on how these are transposed. The Data Protection Act in the UK and Ley de Protection de Datos in Spain is a good example of this and has now evolved into the EU General Data Protection Regulation. It is also very interesting dealing with national legislation such as the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and trying to implement it in a way that works not only for Scottish Power but also for Iberdrola, the parent company abroad.

How does working in Scotland differ from your previous experience?

From a personal/organisational point of view I’ve learnt the importance of planning ahead in Scotland. Every detail of a project is considered before the project starts, so it is expected that things run more smoothly in Scotland, whereas working in Spain you need to be skilled at improvisation as the project will start immediately after the idea of the new project has been discussed and you therefore need to work out the details and the challenges as they come. I like to think that I have developed a super power now being able to combine both planning and improvisation!

I challenged myself by going out of my comfort zone both from private practice to in-house and also changing jurisdictions and even countries. It was definitely a challenge both professionally and personally (I did not know then how much I had taken the sun for granted!). However, the more time I spend abroad the more I learn about myself and my profession. I firmly encourage any lawyer and in-house lawyers in particular to try this international and multicultural legal challenge that an international country such as Scotland offers.