By the time I'd finished my GCSEs I'd already done four lots of work experience - two sessions in barristers' chambers and two with firms of solicitors. So I was fairly sure that law was for me. But when it came to choosing my degree someone told me that studying law and practising it were very different. Wise advice I thought, and opted for history which I knew I would enjoy.
In my third year I was still keen on doing law
But it seemed as if everyone doing history in the year above me had opted for law. This put me off. Did history graduates choose to become lawyers because they couldn't think of anything else? So almost in a panic I decided to do an internship at one of the big accounting firms. That turned out to be a good decision because by the end of it I knew definitely that I wanted to be a lawyer.
By that time I had missed the usual recruiting time-slots
So my first application was to a magic circle firm that was happy to receive applications throughout the year and only required a CV and a covering letter.
By that time my CV was quite good - lots of work experience and lots of extra-curricular stuff - so I sent it off. They were very nice (I seem to remember that we talked about football) and offered me a contract. It was almost too easy.
Then the same friend who had told me that studying and practising law were very different told me to take a look at Freshfields. So I did.
Freshfields was very different
This was a real interview. I did the written exercise and then had an interview in which we discussed an article they'd asked me to read. I remember it was all about the Vietnamese textile industry. Then I had another interview about me.
All in all it was far more challenging and I liked that
I wasn't sure that I wanted to be offered a contract on the basis of my CV and whether I was 'the right sort'. I wanted to earn it. So when the offer came through from Freshfields it was an immediate 'yes'.
I did the GDL at Oxford Brookes and then the LPC in London
After university it was a breeze. If you do the work you can't go wrong.
My first seat was in dispute resolution
I did three months in the financial institutions disputes group (FIDG). Fantastic. A big insurer had been all over the press for having lost a great deal of customer data. The FSA was on its case. Part of our job was to review their processes and find out how things had gone wrong. This involved taking witness statements. And it just so happened that their offices were in South Africa - so off I went.
My next seat was three months in the commercial disputes group
Once again the case had been on the front pages of the FT. This was a tax dispute with HMRC. We involved expert advice from a number of economists and my job was to go through the expert evidence looking for factual things that could help us build a good case for our client. Intense but interesting.
Then I asked to do a three-month seat with a client
I chose a high street bank that was handling hundreds of claims for compensation following an OFT investigation into bank charges. That was terrific. The job involved my going to lots of County Court hearings.
Then I did another three-month seat in corporate
This time it was with the financial institutions group. The clients are big banks and insurers and hedge funds. The work was mainly M&A deals by banks. There was a certain amount of organising documents, bundling them and getting them ready for the client to sign. But I also had to write a due diligence report on a company that a client was buying. Cost control was important, so this meant concentrating on things that could be material to the purchase.
And then restructuring and insolvency for three months
First, I’d say that these three-month seats are really good; it means you can cover a lot of ground in two years.
In R&I I worked exclusively on the restructuring of a sub-prime lender that had collapsed due to the overvaluation of its loan portfolio. My work involved drafting detailed advice for the board, negotiating documentation with the various creditor groups and helping co-ordinate a team of around 50 Freshfields lawyers who were working on the project. It was hard work, but highly enjoyable.
When my three months ended, I returned to FIDG but continued working on the restructuring. This time I focused on the aspects of the deal that had to be approved by the courts, as well as helping two associates defend over two hundred claims against the client for misselling payment protection insurance. After six months on the project (which had actually been running for over two years before I got involved) we’d managed to get enough creditors on board to make a deal viable and get the restructuring approved by the court. This was a really interesting and challenging case – and typical of the work that Freshfields and only a very few others can offer.
New York, New York
After my second seat in FIDG I was lucky enough to get a secondment to New York, where I joined the litigation team. The clients and the nature of the work in the US are very similar to FIDG in London, but it was great to get the chance to work in a different legal system.
The litigation team there also handles a lot of pro bono work, which is mostly led by associates and which gave me the chance to take much more responsibility than I would usually have at this stage of my career.
In September 2011 I qualified into FIDG
Since returning to London I’ve continued to work with R&I, advising clients on some of the more contentious aspects of their restructurings. I also took on another pro bono matter and helped a woman who had wrongly been declared bankrupt get the court order against her overturned.
In January 2012 I started a secondment at a major insurance client to help with a restructuring project. This is a great opportunity both to develop my skills in an area of law I find interesting and to build relationships with a key client.
The only advice I'd give to anyone considering a career as a commercial lawyer...
Don't sell yourself short. If you think you're good enough for a magic circle firm, go for it. Yes, it's hard work. Yes, the hours are long. But no one's saying that you have to stay for 15 years. And the training can't be bettered.