This month, we meet Alan Shanks, a solicitor and Contracts Manager in the Contracts Team, and discuss contracts, drafting, representing the University’s interests and finding a good home for your legal skills.
First up, what does a Contracts Manager do?
I review, draft, amend, mark up, advise, comment on, negotiate and agree contractual terms in relation to a significant number and wide variety of research contractual agreements. I ensure the optimum and most pragmatic outcome is agreed between the University and other parties, whilst at the same time ensuring the University’s interests are reflected and protected.
I also advise colleagues on a wide range of legal matters affecting the contracts that the University, via our researchers, enters into with other parties. This may involve UK or international collaboration agreements, studentships, charity funded awards, data transfer agreements, memoranda of understanding, confidentiality agreements, assignation agreements, service level agreements and EU consortium agreements, to name just a few!
This involves working with academics and research support colleagues across the University discussing key contractual points which may involve items such as intellectual property ownership, commercial terms, confidentiality, payment or GDPR. I also liaise and negotiate, on my colleagues’ behalf, with funders, companies, charities, students, universities and other external stakeholders wishing to enter into a contractual relationship with the University.
Ultimately, in the Contracts Team we support colleagues and facilitate the contractual process to enable the University, our researchers and students carry out our research and, where possible, provide a legal framework to enable the University, our staff and students to exploit the results.
What led you to work at the University?
I qualified as a solicitor and practised as a commercial litigation solicitor for many years in a number of the large commercial law firms in Scotland acting for clients in Scotland and England & Wales. I also tutored undergraduate law students at the University in contract law & unjustified enrichment and business law and was keen to find a role in the University that enabled me to utilise my legal knowledge and skills and apply them in an international research academic environment.
Before joining the Contracts Team in the Research Support Office, I worked for 10 years at Moray House School of Education. I was responsible for professional development, knowledge exchange, commercialisation and domestic and international marketing.
What are you working on just now?
I am focused on a number of international collaboration agreements, company PhD studentships, NIHR funder sub-awards, research awards, data transfer agreements and EU agreements.
We have also just signed off on a high value award from a charity, which involved negotiating terms and agreeing multiple drafts with their solicitor and which proved interesting not because of contentious IP or confidentiality issues or even the size of the award but rather what and how the University would refer to the research funding award – all of which had to be agreed with the other side and drafted into the final contract.
I have also recently been working with colleagues in The National CJD Research & Surveillance Unit in relation to a potential collaboration in Chile. I have prepared an initial memorandum of understanding to assist the University and our potential partners in Chile develop work in this area, which will hopefully lead to a long term collaboration.
Finally, while I would like to, I shall refrain from discussing uncapped liability and indemnity clauses… if you need to know about these, contact us directly and I shall be more than happy to discuss!
What do you enjoy most about working at the University?
I get a lot of professional satisfaction from applying my professional practice in my role and being involved with and supporting the outstanding research undertaken at this University, working with colleagues sharing a common goal and knowing that the small part we all play supports the growth of the University’s international reputation.
I also like working with such a diverse group of researchers, seeing first-hand the ground-breaking research projects being developed and delivered, and building successful relationships across the University, with external stakeholders and with commercial organisations.
Proudest moment at work?
It’s always good to reach consensus on a contract that has gone through numerous drafts and get it to the signing stage.
What skills do you need to be able to do your job?
Firstly, a love of contract law helps. Legal and drafting expertise, excellent organisational skills, copy-editing skills, a keen eye for detail, good people skills, confidence and a passion for research and the global work of the University.
The type and volume of contracts we deal with is increasing, even in my relatively short time, and a lot of companies and charities have instructed their own solicitors, so the University needs Contract Managers to represent and defend the University’s interests professionally and effectively.
What’s your favourite thing about living in Edinburgh?
Well, it’s one of the great beautiful international cities and I love that I can pretty much walk everywhere. I could go into so much detail here but suffice to say that I like that Edinburgh is a very international and outward looking city, perhaps not dissimilar to the University. I like that.
Find out more about the services offered by the Research Support Office Contracts Team
We provide contractual advice and drafting for research-related agreements, including collaborations, clinical trials, confidentiality, material and data transfer, and student assignations of intellectual property.