General Counsel working part-time and running Scottish art business

We’ve previously spoken to an ex-lawyer who left the legal world to run his own art business.  This week we spoke to a senior lawyer who is still practising but who exhibits and sells art as well.  For four days a week, Amanda Brock is General Counsel at Canonical, using her 15 years of commercial law experience.  In 2007 she set up Caledoniart, which specialises in contemporary Scottish art and she now exhibits a number of artists several times a year.  We asked her about her legal career and running a business on the side of it.


mtl:  Hi Amanda, please can you run us through your legal career…


Amanda:  I studied law at Glasgow and originally wanted to do criminal law.  However I went off that idea after some work experience at a high security prison!  Instead I decided to try the City and was fortunate to get a scholarship to do a Masters at NYU along the way.  It was the making of me as I come from a small Scottish town and to be exposed to a very international class of older students was a great experience. 


When I got back to the UK I did my LPC and trained in the City.  I didn’t enjoy City work at all, so moved to a specialist IT/IP firm where I went on to do a further Masters in IT/IP at QMW, including the first course on internet law.  From 1997 I specialised in the internet, before being sent on secondment and then deciding to go in-house permanently. 


My first in-house role was at Dixons working on the set up of Freeserve.  It was a perfect match for me as it was an exciting, new area of law and an academic role where I applied existing law to new situations, and it was not a stuffy place to work.  It was a great job and from there I was promoted to be the European Legal Manager, which involved a lot of travel and face to face meetings around Europe in the nine countries that I was responsible for. 


I moved on from Dixons because I wanted to progress my career in a Head of Legal role.  I joined a US company that was not my area of expertise but which allowed me to get on to the Board.  However I then had a car crash which resulted in six months off work.  Being a typical over-achieving lawyer, I worried about the gap in my CV that this would create so I took on a more junior role which was a good first step back into the job market, but not enough of a challenge - thankfully it was only an interim solution.


My next move was back to a General Counsel role at French Connection, where I covered maternity leave.  It was great fun and I enjoyed the different issues that came up.  At the end of the contract I took a few months off before joining my current employer, Canonical Ltd, where I am General Counsel. 


I didn't intend to take a permanent role but it is a fascinating technology company and I’m hooked and am really enjoying myself.  Again I’ve found myself working in a ground-breaking area of law (open source software) which means that I am challenged as to what the law is and how it applies to each given situation.  I am setting up a legal department which is fun, I’ve employed a specialist Open Source lawyer in the US and just concluded a major contract with Dell - they are one of the first companies to distribute netbooks with an open source operating system. 


mtl:  Where does the art business fit into all of this?  


Amanda:  In 1999 I started collecting art by Jolomo, a very well known Scottish artist, and going to his exhibitions.  I also organised a couple of charity events, firstly with someone else and then off my own back.  I began to get requests from Scottish artists asking me to show their work in London.  At first I resisted, thinking that it would be something I’d do when I retired and then I had some time off work and thought about it more. 




Career timeline



LLB, Glasgow



Masters, NYU






Trainee, Lawrence Graham



Commercial Associate, Wright Johnson and Mackenzie



Part-time LLM in IT and IP law at QMW



Commercial Associate at what is now Duane Morris



Solicitor and then European Legal Manager, DSG International Ltd (Dixons and Freeserve)



UK Legal Director and Executive Board Member, Aramark



Interim Legal Counsel, Towers Perrin



Interim General Counsel, French Connection



Set up Caledoniart Ltd



General Counsel, Canonical


In 2007 I set up Caledoniart Ltd, which specialises in contemporary Scottish art.  I started by showing Jolomo’s work once a year.  Having someone so established on my books allowed me to then take more of a risk on other less established artists.  I will always be in John's debt for trusting me with this.


I now have well over 1000 customers on my database and I exhibit three times a year in London.  I have an annual exhibition in the run-up to Christmas, around St Andrew’s night, in May I show Jolomo’s work and the third is flexible, though every two years I show the finalists of the Jolomo Award (the UK's largest privately funded art prize). I’ve tapped into the Scottish ex-pat community in London and I try to use Scottish products at my exhibitions, have a piper at the private view and you soon forget you are in London for the evening. 

mtl:  How do you find mixing a successful legal career with running your own business?   


Amanda:  I work four days a week as a General Counsel. This eats into the time I spend on the art business, but I really enjoy being a lawyer, I love my job and it takes the pressure off having to make an income from selling art.  It means I can afford to only deal with artists and work that I like and makes it more of a hobby that I have great fun with (though obviously I don’t want to lose money doing it).  Knowing myself too, I also think I enjoy both law and art all the more because of the other and the balance that each brings to my life. 


I work four fairly long days and can be contacted on my day off if needed, though my employers respect my time out of the office.  I find that with Fridays, evenings and weekends, I have enough time to run Caledoniart and have a social life, though of course it helps that I’m very organised and I often make use of my lunch breaks to meet people. 


mtl:  Any tips for our readers?   


Amanda:  As far as being an in-house lawyer, you have to realise that you are forming part of the service function of a business and that you are there to make your client’s life easier, to protect the business, to get policies in place and to get on with people so that they want to work with you.  You have to provide the decision makers with what they need and what they want and you may not always agree with what this should be.  Once you get to grips with this and accept that mind-set, then working in-house is great. I spent three years in private practice, which I think is about right to get some good experience before going in-house and would generally not recommend going in-house on qualification.


There were periods of my career when I didn’t love law and I came to realise that I want to work in an innovative and informal, yet driven environment.  I’m at the stage of my life where I’ve also realised that if things don’t suit you then you shouldn’t stay.  I’ve taken opportunities when they have arisen and networked a lot - things have sometimes taken an unexpected path, but they have always ultimately worked out.  


If you aren’t happy being a lawyer, do something else.  Think before leaping but if you have good experience from your legal career then the law will still be there and if you do something commercial for a while then it will be appreciated when you move back into law, if you realise that it is what you want to do.  Life is too short to do something that makes you unhappy.


mtl:  Thank you for your time Amanda.


Click here to see the Caledoniart website.

For a list of artists, click here.

From 8-13 December 2008, Amanda is showing 27 artists at La Galleria Mall, Pall Mall (30 Royal Opera Arcade, London SW1Y 4UY).  Opening hours are 10am-8pm on Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri and 10am-6pm on Tues and Sat. 


If you know any other lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives or who have a great work/life balance then please get in touch.





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