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Summer Intern Diary: Cameron Ritchie, Hewlett-Packard

Cameron Ritchie

My Hewlett-Packard internship is unlike any other I’ve experienced, or heard of, in many ways. This internship introduced me to a very specific, but highly rewarding, area of work – information technology services contracting – in an in-house legal team of one of the largest global providers of IT services. It had little to do with what IT law subjects taught at university, and a lot to do with advanced contracting!

I quickly discovered that HP sells a lot more than printers and computers: they also provide a far broader range of IT and business process solutions to corporations, large and small. Myself and three other students were assigned to the two legal teams responsible for Enterprise Services contracting and consumer products. In a nutshell, our task was to assist with current business deals.

Our four weeks spent at HP began very differently to how I had expected it might. While I expected to be sent straight to research tasks, we spent each day of the first two weeks of our internship in tutorial sessions, led by senior lawyers and other HP employees, who taught us the (very detailed) basics of the HP business, its strategies, clients and projects, the IT industry, and most importantly, the key elements of large contracts and how to issue-spot, mark-up, and negotiate amendments to major contracts.

The second fortnight gave us a chance to recap and practice our new skills, and then apply our knowledge to a range of projects the company is undertaking, as well as real contracts in various stages of the deal making process.

We also got to tour HP assets and offices, including a data centre, and received lots of tutoring, which was a nice balance with the hands-on project work we were undertaking. The colleagues I met were friendly, welcoming, and extremely generous with their time and offers for morning coffee!

What I learned

To describe my experience as rewarding is possibly an understatement, but it would be the most apt word. It was rewarding to have extremely busy lawyers take time out of their workday to teach us advanced contracting skills. It was even more rewarding that those lawyers had also arranged for a whole range of experts – contract implementation managers, sales executives, key client relationship managers, and new business managers – to meet with us and discuss the management of a major contract from inception to delivery, and share their perspectives on the role of an in-house lawyer in that process.

Everyday we met different people and were presented with new ideas, which challenged us to think about our tasks from different perspectives. Our thoughts were constructively critiqued, and there was constant interaction, which meant that we were able to contribute to major projects, and were not left to learn by osmosis.

If there was one takeaway…

…it would be the progress I made on understanding the elusive quality of ‘commerciality’. Learning in an in-house context enables you to understand the needs of a commercial client from the inside. I leave HP with a better understanding of the financial, operational, and strategic reasons for pursuing certain positions in contract negotiation, and a better ability to identify, minimise, and explain a contract’s effect on commercial risk, which is more than half of the job of an in-house counsel.

The internship was an incredibly rewarding experience and greatly piqued my interest in commercial law and in-house practice, and the skills I developed during my four weeks with HP are valuable beyond measure.

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