Career centre hosts alumnus and lead counsel for consumer products at DreamWorks Animation
From the beginning, Rory O’Hare made it clear that his aim was to be informal and informative while he discussed his career experiences with an audience of about fifteen students at the careers centre last Thursday. The result was an inspiring and helpful talk filled with as much liveliness as you might expect from someone who works for DreamWorks Animation. It was packed full of anecdotes, advice and a reminder that while a career in law is challenging, St Andrews students who want to pursue law are starting off on the right foot. The talk was relatable and illuminating, even for students looking to pursue other careers after graduation. Mr O’Hare opened up the world of law in order to show us that there are options for graduates in all kinds of fields and that even if you start going in one direction, you can always switch paths and end up doing something that interests you more.
Mr O’Hare described DreamWorks as the “home of Shrek” where “the dream is everything.” He admitted how cheesy sounded, which received a great laugh from students and immediately let us all know that it was okay to have fun even when talking about something so seemingly serious.
He went back in time to when he was applying for university and how he ended up reading modern history at St Andrews even though he wanted to be a lawyer. He stayed in St Andrews for five years, the last as President of the Students’ Association, after graduating in 2002. He moved down to London about a year later. Whilst looking at the fees and qualifications necessary for becoming a barrister, Mr O’Hare decided to be something else besides a lawyer.
Instead, he worked for Foxtons as an estate agent for two years letting houses in London. And while on the job, he noticed people who had been working for city firms and decided to investigate that path. He went to the University of York to earn a law conversion degree and realised that he would also need to acquire a training contract, something which most of his fellow students had already done.
He managed to get a training contract and became qualified in 2009. He discussed how tough the market was at the time he qualified and talked about how it is just as hard for students our age looking to work in law, reminding us that it is tough out there. But he also made sure to remind us that it is possible.
Once qualified, Mr O’Hare got a job he was not really interested in and left to pursue a job in IP and commercial law, which took him six months of unemployment to find. He then joined a small media company, with the third largest comic book portfolio behind Marvel and DC. While he was working there DreamWorks bought the company and after a year he officially moved over to them. At the time, their biggest character was Shrek and they were interested in buying comic book history; which was why they took over the company he was working for.
One of the things that turned Mr O’Hare on to in-house work was its immediacy and the fact that “the company you are working for is your client.” You get to be part of the buzz and the output of the business. He loves that his client is in the office right next door to him. He wanted to be “part of a company that did something” and had “an output that was not just a commercial service.” In addition to the enthusiasm he was emitting when talking about how much he enjoys his work, Mr O’Hare added, proudly, that Kung Fu Panda 3 will be the fifth time his name has appeared in the end credits of a film. However, he also made sure to mention that it isn’t all about fame and glamour and that DreamWorks is a business with ups and downs and ebbs and flows. Sometimes, it is more about the performance targets and budgets than it is about Po the Panda’s struggles.
Mr O’Hare went on to discuss how his job as an in-house lawyer is unique because he doesn’t work exclusively with other lawyers. He works with a lot of people in different positions who sometimes come to him for advice about things like housing disputes and contested wills. He even admitted it is not rare for someone to ask: “are you a real lawyer?” And, beaming with delight, he gets to say “yes I am, I can sign that for you officially.”
Even within DreamWorks, Mr O’Hare discussed the many different roles lawyers can take on within the company. He gave the example of features, who are the lawyers that “speak to Jack Black to get the talent agreements done,” which he referred to as “the glamorous side” of the job. But his position is in consumer products, which he described as taking “movies and spinning them out into other things.” He gave us the example of Dinotrux, which is half dinosaur half truck and, as he explained, is perfect for making a toy. He described his job as finding ways that the company can make more money from a movie and its characters through selling toys and other items. Another example is that they sometimes get high fashion designers to design movie-related lines, which will end up in high street stores and then end up in the mass market. The process, he explained, is called seeding.
While Mr O’Hare did give many specific examples throughout his talk, he did not fully explain the different types of law he was discussing. This made it difficult for some of the students with less knowledge about the field to understand some of the terms he used during his presentation. Mr O’Hare was also not very specific about the work he does for DreamWorks. He explained what the department does and gave a few examples about what he has done, but his day-to-day work remained a little unclear. Some of the students in the audience who were considering working in-house might have wanted more information about what his specific tasks and responsibilities are.
In terms of direct advice, Mr O’Hare made sure to get across the importance of securing a training contract before attending law school. However, he also emphasised that your experience is not the only thing that matters when you start looking for jobs. He explained that one of the main things businesses look for is someone with a genuine interest in them. He made it clear that most of the time people who are reviewing your application or interviewing you will know that you are inexperienced, so what counts is that you are enthusiastic about the position.
He also remarked that especially in the case of students coming from universities like St Andrews, they will already know you are clever because you went to a good university and got good marks. But they will want to see how much you care, not just about being a lawyer, but about the company or business itself. This, of course, applies to all jobs, not just law. He said that the most important thing is your personality and who you are. If you do interview for a company like DreamWorks Animation, you should make sure you know a bit about their work beforehand.
Mr O’Hare also emphasised that you don’t have to make up your mind about what you want to do immediately – or really ever. He highlighted the diverse range of jobs that one can have as a lawyer and the many fields that lawyers work in. Like he did, you can pick one and decide you don’t like it and try something else. He explained to us that during his training he worked in four different types of law: construction and engineering, private clients (i.e. wills, trusts, taxes, etc.), IP and commercial and corporate law (i.e. mergers and acquisitions). Even when listing the different areas available just at DreamWorks, it was clear that Mr O’Hare understood how challenging it could be to decide on one particular career path.
He was not afraid to give guidance to those of us who felt the same way. Mr O’Hare not only took questions for about half an hour after the presentation, but also stuck around an additional half hour to answer more specific, personal questions from the students who waited to speak with him afterwards. He handed out his business card and let us know that he would be happy to help us with anything from answering a question to looking at a CV. It was obvious that he is enthusiastic about what he does, especially as he excitedly showed us a preview (not yet publicly released) of Kung Fu Panda 3 at the end of the talk.
As the remaining group of students melted away after asking their questions, The Saint caught up with Mr O’Hare for a G&T at the Union. His biggest piece of advice? Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You never know how people are going to respond, and if they don’t respond the way you want, it doesn’t really matter. “People love to talk about themselves,” he told me. Find a company or business you care about and ask someone about working there. Then, if they’re looking through a big stack of applications, they’ll see a familiar name and put you in the smaller stack. That’s how you get shortlisted, he said.
Perhaps the best quote of the night from Mr O’Hare came when he was discussing a £10 million acquisition he worked on when he had only been qualified for two years. “I had no idea what I was doing. It was great fun.”