Case study

Working as a commercial lawyer in the Government Legal Department

Janet Lewis talks about her work within the Commercial Law Group at GLD

Photograph of Janet Lewis


Janet Lewis is a solicitor in the Commercial and Property Law Team at the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), which forms part of the Government Legal Department’s Commercial Law Group.

Janet trained at Nabarro LLP and worked in its projects team for 10 years after qualifying. During her time at Nabarro, Janet was involved in a wide range of projects and advisory work involving the public sector.

Why did you decide to join?

For the complex, challenging, novel and diverse issues that government lawyers deal with on a day-to-day basis. I was also attracted by the opportunity of working in a strategic and policy context and to maintain a wide variety of legal work, which the Government Legal Department (GLD) actively encourages.

What type of work have you been involved in recently?

I have worked extensively on MOJ’s major programme to reform probation services. The Transforming Rehabilitation programme will see the outsourcing of probation services for the first time, with providers encouraged to reduce reoffending rates through payment by results.

I advised throughout the competition on public procurement law and contract law matters. This involved working closely with policy and commercial clients to develop a complex contract award procedure and with external legal advisers on the contracts. I provided input to Parliamentary question responses, attended meetings with ministers and the Permanent Secretary and reviewed press releases.

I’ve also worked on a range of other commercial transactions. These include the provision of facilities management services across the prisons estate, a contract to provide wi-fi in all courts and the re-procurement of operators to run secure training centres for young offenders.

What has been your best experience?

My best experience has been taking responsibility for writing the ‘Invitation to Negotiate’, the key procurement document which was issued to bidders on the Transforming Rehabilitation programme. The document described the policy reforms, contracts, competition process, payment mechanism, estates occupation arrangements and interfaces with MOJ IT systems.

I was able to write significant parts of the document myself but I also co-ordinated input from policy clients, the competition team and commissioning clients. The Secretary of State for Justice took a personal interest so I took comments directly from his special advisers. This exercise allowed me to quickly immerse myself in the programme and, by the time the document was published, I felt I knew the policy well and the client team had come to trust and rely on me for pragmatic and commercial legal advice.

What has been your most challenging moment?

My most challenging moments (there have been a few!) are when I find myself advising on areas of law that are entirely new to me. These are also the moments which generate the most interesting work as I get to research a new area in the context of a live issue, sometimes against tight deadlines.

What advice would you give to those considering joining?

If you enjoy challenging work on fast-paced matters to deliver policy on a national scale then a legal career in government is for you! Being a government lawyer is definitely not the easy option: it’s hard work and challenging but it’s also engaging, interesting and fun.

Published 21 January 2015