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Sharon McDermott interviewed by Law Society Gazette

Boasting over 20 years experience in roles spanning sales, procurement, wholesale, retail and the public sector, Sharon McDermott boasts a vast and varied career portfolio. In her recent interview with The Law Society Gazette, she reveals more about the steps that led to her success as co-founder and managing director of Trenches Law. Here’s the full write-up, in case you missed the original…

It was a somewhat unexpected turn of events in my career trajectory that inspired me to pursue a career in law. Initially, I studied for a degree in French, Spanish, and business, with aspirations of becoming an interpreter. However, I soon came to the realisation that my proficiency in only two languages might limit my opportunities in that field. As such, in the early 1990s, I found myself working at Cable North West in Liverpool as a temporary employee. Little did I know, this position would pave the way for my journey into the legal profession.

During my time in this role, I assisted the company’s insurers and their appointed lawyers in defending personal injury claims. It appeared that a significant number of individuals were making claims related to accidents involving cables or trenches in Liverpool. While a niche aspect of the role, I discovered a genuine passion for this aspect of the job, and became determined to pursue a career in law.

As a late starter, my legal education took a somewhat unconventional route. After completing my initial degree, I embarked on a postgraduate diploma in law (PGDL) to convert my achievements into a legal qualification. I then proceeded to undertake the common professional exam (CPE), both of which I pursued on a part-time basis over a span of two years each, while maintaining full-time employment.

During this time, I secured a paralegal position at Telewest Communications — which later became Virgin Media — in Woking. Subsequently, I was fortunate enough to be granted a training contract, which proved to be a pivotal moment in my career, encompassing one year of in-house experience at Telewest Communications and another year at Simmons and Simmons in the heart of the city. In 2002, at the age of 32, I officially qualified as a lawyer.

My experience during my training brought me to the realisation that I was better suited to in-house roles. I relished the opportunity to actively participate in decision-making processes and contribute to the overall strategies of the business, rather than merely offering legal counsel. I took pride in my ability to find creative solutions to contractual challenges, ensuring that both parties involved felt they had achieved a fair outcome. My approach to legal matters has always been hands-on and straightforward; I firmly believe in providing candid opinions and taking a decisive stance.

This appreciation for in-house work led to my 18-year tenure at Virgin Media, during which my responsibilities and role evolved significantly. Initially, I focused on major sales contracts, including a complex deal valued at nearly £100 million — the second largest at the time — which resulted in a well-deserved, all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas for the entire team. 

Following this, I transitioned to working on procurement matters, encompassing a wide array of goods and services. I was promoted to the position of head of legal, where my primary ‘clients’ were the chief operating officer and his senior leadership team. My team and I worked on various deals relating to the service side of the business — such as engineering, interconnect, finance, installations, delivery, and customer experience, amongst others. This role granted me a seat at the decision-making table, allowing me to actively contribute to the company’s strategic goals.

While working in this area, I found I thoroughly and particularly enjoyed working on civil engineering contracts. These projects allowed me to collaborate with dynamic individuals who excelled in their respective fields — typically very big characters — and I gleaned invaluable knowledge.

The business then had a substantial investment injection of £3 billion to expand the company’s network. Although it was a high-pressure project, our management team was united in pursuit of the goal to pass as many homes as possible. After successfully concluding the necessary deals for this expansion, I made the bold decision to move out of my comfort zone and shift my focus away from being a solicitor — assuming responsibility for overseeing the wayleave, statutory, and compliance teams, managing a team of approximately 150 individuals, plus contractors.

Virgin Media provided a remarkable working environment, and I owe a great deal of my professional growth to the experiences gained during my time there.

During this period, I recognised an emerging gap in the market, driven by the rise of alternative networks (altnets) and the UK government’s ambitious plans for nationwide full fibre coverage. I identified a significant need for expertise in wayleave management and associated strategies within the legal domain. I also acknowledged that altnets may require legal guidance and contract terms and conditions tailored to their specific needs, without the burden of city-level fees or intimidation. My extensive experience in this field led me to take the plunge and establish my own firm, Trenches Law, a decision I’m now extremely grateful for. 

Since founding Trenches, I’ve gone on to make further considerable career achievements. The recent awarding of Code powers from Ofcom to the firm is both novel and groundbreaking, allowing us to streamline the wayleave process even further and support operators and altnets in achieving the government’s ambitious full fibre rollout targets. I have also become an advisor to the UK Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (UKWISPA) — lending my expertise to supporting ISPs throughout the country. And while I’ve certainly had a colourful legal life to date, I’m looking forward to what’s ahead – I have so many more things I want to achieve.


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