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Oli Weerasuriya - Legal Counsel at Shell

Alumni spotlight

Oli Weerasuriya

Legal Counsel at Shell

Sussex-born Oli Weerasuriya grew up in a multilingual household to French and Sri Lankan parents; the first of his family to study law, he gained honours from the prestigious Pantheon-Sorbonne University in Paris. After four years as a corporate lawyer in our London office, his expertise in renewable energy led to a move to Shell’s Integrated Gas and New Energies team in 2018.

We caught up with Oli to discuss life in-house, memories of Eversheds Sutherland and hopes for a green revolution in a post-Covid world. 

Why did you want to become a lawyer?

I suppose for the glamour, but I soon learned that the legal profession is nothing like how it’s portrayed on Suits. Growing up, I always enjoyed finding solutions to problems by taking things forward to a logical conclusion. Law was a good fit.

Can you tell us about your role at Shell?

I sit within the New Energies team. As the name suggests, we are responsible for supporting the new energies business; my primary focus is working with the hydrogen business as it develops hydrogen as a fuel for transport and deploys related fuelling solutions. I’m also involved with the Renewable Natural Gas, Solar and Wind teams, as well as supporting Shell Ventures, the investment capital arm of the business.

"Eversheds made me confident and personable thanks to a supportive environment and extensive contact with clients."

How would you describe the in-house transition after leaving private practice?

At Eversheds Sutherland, dealing with clients was like dealing with a friend – you might put up a screen when delivering advice. As in-house counsel, it’s more like a family so you can be blunt, but also creative, in your approach. Given we’re closely involved in the day-to-day and understand the company’s strategy, values and drivers, it’s easier to react quickly and effectively. We’re often the first port of call, whereas in private practice, the client might contact you as a last resort when they're thinking "now we need external lawyers".

What impact did the firm have on you as a lawyer?

The number one attribute I developed is commercial awareness: the ability to separate a legal issue from the commercial ramifications, and aligning those aspects to produce the right results. Beyond that, Eversheds made me confident and personable thanks to a supportive environment and extensive contact with clients.

Whom do you remember most from your time here and why?

Everyone was approachable and easy to work with – that was the best thing about the firm. Special mention goes to Corporate Partners, Jason Lovell and Stephen Hill, each very talented lawyers and outstanding mentors. We worked on a few “sticky deals”, to coin a phrase, but they always inspired high-quality work and maintained a fun atmosphere, making them both natural leaders. It would also be remiss of me not to mention Michelle Davies, Iwan Walters and Paul Pugh, all of whom actively contributed to my career development.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

That confidence and transparency are key to helping people build trust in you. I think confidence comes from the accrual of experience, belief in one’s capabilities and a feeling of comfort with who you are as an individual. 

"Everyone was approachable and easy to work with – that was the best thing about it. Special mention goes to Corporate Partners, Jason Lovell and Stephen Hill, each very talented lawyers and outstanding mentors... They always inspired high-quality work and maintained a fun atmosphere, making them both natural leaders"

How have you managed to stay sane during lockdown?

By establishing a routine and finding ways to release tension. It could be as simple as a morning jog or cooking an evening meal. Having a young son at home helps with routine, but not when having to deal with the fallout of his mischief! 

What lessons should the world draw from this pandemic?

First and foremost, I want to see permanent recognition – primarily financial – for those who look after us on the frontline. Second, we’re all learning to work from home so the respect people now have for working families must be carried through, especially in the law with regards to not putting undue pressure on external counsel. Finally, I would like the green revolution we've seen in lockdown accelerated in the next decade and a wider recognition that we are each responsible for making our world a little bit cleaner. The big picture, like any puzzle, is composed of little pieces and therefore every small act can make a difference.  

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