The legal side of publishing

Senior Counsel at CUP Rachel Richards answers our 5 questions about her career

Name: Rachel Richards

Degree course: LLB Law (Birkbeck, University of London)

Graduation: 2001



Tell us about your role at Cambridge University Press

I’m Senior Counsel for Editorial and IP, which means I lead the team providing day-to-day legal assistance to our global commissioning teams for Academic, Editorial and ELT. I’m also team lead for our IP Programme, an initiative established in 2015 to develop and implement best practices for content acquisition, rights management and anti-piracy work within the Press around the globe. I line-manage 7 people within the 30-strong Legal & Business Affairs department, and also work with 7 other staff (outside of Legal & Business Affairs) who provide contributions and support for the IP Programme.

How did you get to where you are today?

I don’t have a traditional publishing background, nor did I take a direct route to qualification as a solicitor. At the beginning of my career, I spent almost 10 years as a paralegal within the Legal teams at BBC Worldwide and Capital Radio. I did my training contract with a US city firm which afforded me the opportunity to work in both Moscow and New York, and stayed in New York when I moved in-house to a role within EMI Music as part of the legal team advising Capitol Records, Virgin Records and Blue Note. Having moved back to the UK, my career took me to roles with Associated Press and The Elton John Group (advising Rocket Music Management, Rocket Sports Management and the Elton John AIDS Foundation). I’ve been incredibly lucky to have such a broad range of opportunities within IP and media law, and always with great teams.

My decision to move to Cambridge was prompted by lifestyle changes and my desire to start a family. I was very fortunate that as I was looking to move out of London and find an exciting and interesting role in Cambridge, I was introduced to the (then) General Counsel at Cambridge University Press who was in the process of putting together a multi-discipline legal team and had some great plans for the areas of IP and creative content rights management.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

IP is an area of law where analysis of a legal issue or query is rarely black-and-white, so every day brings the challenge of helping the business to navigate the many variables which arise from creative content and finding pragmatic solutions for them. Work is always interesting and, as with other media industries, the world of publishing is developing fast to keep pace with technological progress, so we’re always advising on the legal aspects of new opportunities against an ever-changing industry landscape.

CUP is the oldest publishing house in the world, but it’s developing fast

What other roles are there in the Legal & Business Affairs team? – do they all require law/business related degrees?

Less than half of the Legal & Business Affairs department at Cambridge University Press are qualified solicitors or barristers. Within my team, I have a mixture of legally-qualified and non-qualified staff and I’ve found it a really effective mix. Within the IP Programme, for example, we have 3 non-legally qualified IP Managers who manage global initiatives, training programmes, budgeted resources and strategy proposals and their work brilliantly complements the excellent legally-qualified staff who are advising our clients within the business around the world.

What key pieces of advice would you give current students interested in a job like yours?

  • Don’t expect it to be easy – I have enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) some absolutely amazing opportunities, but I’ve also made some fairly significant sacrifices along the way. Legal careers can be brilliant, challenging and rewarding, but you have to be prepared to work hard and accept that, in some instances and for particular roles, the kind of work/life balance available in other professions won’t realistically be part of the equation. Also, remember that in-house roles can be as demanding or challenging (and rewarding!) as any job within private practice.
  • Use your differences to your advantage – I didn’t complete my law degree until I was 27 and started my training contract at 30, having worked full-time whilst completing my LPC part-time. At the time I was applying for training contracts, I was filling in forms which kept asking which sports teams you’d captained at school, or whether you’d completed a Duke of Edinburgh Award – neither applicable for a working woman of 30! Some firms, however, allowed you to elaborate on your experience and I was able to explain my non-standard approach to qualification as well as explain the benefits of hiring a trainee lawyer who already had a decade’s working experience in a relevant field. I “sold” my wealth of experience at interview stage and, ultimately, chose the firm I felt really appreciated that whilst I was an atypical trainee, there was a lot I could bring to the table that a traditional trainee couldn’t. Don’t ever think because you don’t tick every box on a job spec or a training application that it’s not worth going for what you think you’d be good at, or with a company who inspires you.
  • Work on your people skills – The value of good people skills cannot be underestimated. I’ve worked alongside hundreds of individuals on numerous legal teams during my career and those people who can bring ideas to life, drive your business forward and rally a team are like gold dust!… Every candidate will tell you they are a good team player (!), but those people who are truly able to play a collaborative role (rather than being ambitious only for themselves) are those, in my experience, who will ultimately climb the ranks and be successful. Many of my great working relationships have led to other opportunities years later – you never know where today’s colleagues are going to end up within the legal industry, and being a great junior member of a team can pay dividends long after you (and your colleagues!) have moved on.

If you would like a job like Rachel’s, head to the Careers Service website to find out more about the publishing industry and careers in intellectual property.

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