Nicola Haughey-James isn’t one to shy away from hard work. After studying law at the University of Westminster London and being admitted as a solicitor of England and Wales, Nicola went on to specialise as a commercial lawyer, with a focus on technology law. She studied commercial negotiation at Harvard Law School and mediation and arbitration at the New York bar and has spent over 8 years working as a solicitor in the UK, Australia, India, Africa, UAE and the USA. Nicola currently holds the position of senior in-house lawyer at Axiom Law, New York. With over 1,200 lawyers servicing more than half of America’s Fortune 100 companies across three continents, Axiom is the world’s largest provider of technology law solutions.
Currently living in Dubai, we caught up with how Nicola started out in her career, the lessons she’s learned and the role fashion has played.
What drew you to the legal industry?
Growing up in the North of Ireland, there was a lack of transparency in things like policing. I initially wanted to help those with no voice by working as a human rights lawyer. While my career has taken me on a more corporate trajectory, in 2017, I had the opportunity to work with a team of lawyers on a US government-funded, anti-human trafficking project in Africa (with Linklaters, Thomson Reuters and Lawyers Without Borders). It was very rewarding to work.
Did you always want to pursue a career in law?
I always excelled in sports at school. At 14 I was travelling around Europe, representing Northern Ireland in netball. Careers advice wasn’t very sophisticated back then, I was told I should be a PE teacher so that’s what I told people for years. After A-levels, I decided to take a year out. I moved to New York and ended up staying for 2 years. I then spent a year backpacking solo around Australia and S.E Asia. When I got a job on the US TV show Survivor in Thailand, my family thought I was never coming home! It was during this time I decided I wanted to study law in London. I arrived home in Omagh, flew to London two weeks later and never looked back. I had saved enough money (working in New York and going back there to work every summer) to put myself through law school, I had 3 years of travelling and craic under my belt so had no interest in the University party life. I didn’t even own a TV. I was there to study and get back out into the world asap. Taking time out before university was one of the best decisions I ever made. It takes guts to do something different than your friends at that age, but I would highly recommend it. I would have been a terrible PE teacher.
Tell us more about your book, Thinking Out Cloud
Cloud computing is, in essence, the delivery of software, data processing, data storage and other key IT offerings as a service via the Internet. My book is called “Thinking Out Cloud” and is a clause-by-clause “how to” practical and accessible guide, for solicitors and non-solicitors alike; covering the legal issues at stake when contracting in the Cloud.
What inspired you to write the book?
While working as a commercial solicitor (specialising in tech) in Australia, I was lucky enough to have lunch with one of the most influential humans of our time, Steve “Woz” Wozniac. Woz co-founded Apple with Steve Jobs in 1976. We discussed the work/research I had been doing in the Cloud. The law was still playing catch up. Woz said I should share my research in a book and put me in contact with someone who could help. My book opens with pictures of Woz and I together at that lunch and even has some direct quotes from him. It was an afternoon to remember forever.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing law?
I am a dual-qualified solicitor, admitted in England and Wales and in the Republic of Ireland. If you want to work abroad and see the world with your career, I would advise qualifying as a solicitor of England and Wales. It’s a well-respected qualification internationally and makes working in/re-qualifying in commonwealth countries a lot easier. There are some firms and in-house legal departments in the North of Ireland who offer UK solicitor training contracts. Also, changes are being made to the qualifying pathway in 2021 with the introduction of the new “Super Exam” called the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). This will make it easier for non-law graduates to become solicitors; great information for those currently undertaking a non-law degree.
And any advice for those interested in writing a book?
Begin with the end in mind; work out, before you start, who your book is for. Why will they buy it? What makes it special? Why should they buy your book rather than someone else’s? Be really specific about who your reader will be. Then get started (nobody cares about the book you almost wrote). Start with a clear structure and chapter headings, then set daily word count goals. Writing in the same place every day also helps if you can.
What are you most passionate about in your work?
As a senior in-house lawyer for Axiom (the World’s largest provider of tech law solutions) my clients are mostly US Fortune 100 making them some of the most exciting and influential companies of our time. The contracts I advise on, draft and negotiate involve cutting-edge tech such as Cloud, AI and Blockchain; I love that I get to work at the crossroads of the law and technologies that are literally changing the world we live in; my clients inspire me every day to think differently.
“I love that I get to work at the cross-roads of the law and technologies that are literally changing the world we live in; my clients inspire me every day to think differently.”
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about your work?
Just like the years of study, it takes to become a solicitor; the legal profession is one of the most demanding and competitive careers in the world (especially if you are working in the corporate/commercial space where travel can be required). It’s long hours and late nights. It’s sleeping on a plane and going straight to meetings. It’s eating dinner alone in your hotel at 10pm while preparing for a 7am meeting. It can also be swimming in the sea after work in Bondi Beach or eating amazing noodles for dinner in Singapore but that’s just the highlights reel, trust me.
Tell us about your first fashion-related memory
Being a 6ft, 14-year-old and begging mummy take me on the bus from Omagh to Derry to find a shop called “Long Tall Sally”. Clothes shops didn’t cater for tall girls back then and after a growth spurt, all my clothes were halfway up my arms and legs. We walked every street in Derry and never found that bloody shop. I was devastated. Mummy thought I had made it up. Everyone we asked for directions thought we were looking for a woman called “long tall Sally”. We still laugh about it today.
Do you incorporate a particular outfit formula into your workwear?
My workwear is professional: tailored suits and simple button-down fitted shirts in classic colours and shapes. Footwear is usually simple pumps in black with a heel (and a dedicated pair of commuting flats). I can make one suit; three shirts and two dresses look like 10 different outfits; which is very useful when travelling. I always pick quality, structured, heavier fabrics that last long and travel well.
“I can make one suit; three shirts and two dresses look like 10 different outfits; which is very useful when travelling. I always pick quality, structured, heavier fabrics that last long and travel well.”
Does your approach to fashion differ with workwear and weekend wear? If so, how?
My weekend fashion is more relaxed, I live in Dubai and spend most of my free time by my pool or at the beach. The UAE is an Islamic country and while Dubai is very modern, I am respectful of the local culture here so beach attire is not something I would wear away from the beach. I usually wear maxi or midi dresses and tailored jumpsuits. Luxury restaurants and party hotspots mean that any night out in Dubai is an excuse to go all out glam with a beautiful dress and heels. I play sports here and enjoy hiking and camping so sports/gym gear features heavily too.
What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion, style and confidence are very closely linked. I don’t take fashion too seriously, but I do believe the way you present yourself can make a true impact on your life and opportunities. To this day my mummy wouldn’t let any of us leave the house with a wrinkled shirt or scuffed shoes; little things like that have really stuck with me.
“I don’t take fashion too seriously, but I do believe the way you present yourself can make a true impact on your life and opportunities.”
Most sentimental item in your wardrobe
About 5 years ago, while living in Australia, I discovered the great sense of freedom you get from owning less. My wardrobe is very minimal and streamlined with lots of space. I’ll only own around 5 pairs of shoes at any given time and don’t keep anything I don’t wear regularly. I’m the opposite of a hoarder if there is a word for that so, as sad as it sounds, I don’t own or keep sentimental items.
What’s been your biggest fashion faux pas?
When I lived in New York, I lived in the Bronx. My friends and I used to go shopping on Fordham road for going out clothes. My most prized outfit was my white, backless, cat suit which I wore with a folded white bandana across my forehead. I thought I was J-Lo.
“My most prized outfit was my white, backless, cat suit which I wore with a folded white bandana across my forehead. I thought I was J-Lo.”
What’s your go-to confidence boosting item?
My Balmain double-breasted wool blazer. It’s perfectly tailored and makes any outfit look strong and structured.
One fashion rule you live by
Quality over quantity.
I have never met him or worn any of his dresses but lately, I’ve been stalking Irish designer, Eamon McGill. He’s so talented.
Tell us about your dream designer purchase
Anything from the Givenchy activewear range.
How would you describe your personal style?
Professional, feminine and sporty.
What’s your biggest fashion weakness?
Good tailoring. I get most of my coats, blazers and suits etc. tailored. Some of the best craftsmanship I have ever seen was in Delhi, India. Most Ateliers there are Saville Row certified. I had 2 suits custom-made while working there, for a really good price. Their perfection has yet to be matched.
What item in your wardrobe could you not live without?
My Givenchy Antigona black leather handbag. I bought my first one 6 years ago and I wore it every single day. I went to Brown Thomas last year as I needed to replace it and ended up getting the exact same one. It’s beautiful but more importantly (for me) so practical, I wear it everywhere.
Which trends are you channelling for your Spring/Summer 2019 style?
I love the head to toe oatmeal and beige looks from Burberry and Balmain.
Who do you look to for fashion inspiration?
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, the woman never puts a foot wrong.