What made you decide to pursue a career in Law and why Allen & Overy?
I always knew I wanted to go into The City, there was no doubt about that. I knew I wanted to be at the cutting edge of thelarge deals taking place in the commercial world. After that, I think it was the academic aspect of Law that attracted me - there is a lot of work with words; building arguments which really appealed to me. It is also a multi-disciplinary profession which offers a huge amount of variety in the job, making it an interesting profession in which to work in. I decided on pursuing a legal career whilst at university where I read History, and then converted to law with a course at Oxford Brookes. Allen & Overy made me an offer at the end of my second year and I signed my training contract after having done a vacation scheme over the summer. I chose A&O because I knew I wanted to work for a good company and A&O have a reputation for having a training scheme which is very well respected. On top of that, the trainees and associates I met at open days and on my vacations scheme all impressed me considerably. I think that when you are the most junior level of your training the most important thing is to know the kind of people you will be working with.
How connected do you feel to events taking place in the financial world and the business world at the moment?
I think it's impossible to wake up anywhere in the world now and not know what's going on in the financial world so you will feel a certain amount of connection wherever you work. In terms of my personal experience, the credit crunch hasn't had any effect on my workload, that's for sure! There is still just as much work coming across my desk in spite of the slowdown going on outside. We are seeing different kinds of transactions coming in from different companies but I'm working just as hard as I have been in the past.
Are there any stereotypes or clichés surrounding corporate law which you have been able to disprove since starting work, i.e. the view some people have that commercial law is quite a stale, repetitive environment?
Nobody wants to do the same thing day in, day out. However, I would strongly disagree with the suggestion that law is not varied. On the contrary, I think it's immensely varied. As a commercial lawyer you might find yourself working on huge deals, for example a merger between two multi-national corporations. There is going to be a lot of documentation to work through, a lot of due diligence to be carried out which might not be some people's cup of tea whereas others really enjoy the investigation side of the process. Speaking as a trainee, your first two years here offer exposure to a good deal of different practices and skill-sets.
I guess another stereotype surrounding the Law would be that corporate work incredibly long hours. How have you found the work load in your time at Allen & Overy?
Obviously as a trainee lawyer you are expected to work pretty hard. As far as any 'city job' is concerned, however, I think the expectation is that you will have to work long hours from time to time so it doesn't come as much of a surprise. In commercial law, as with any demanding job, if there is work that needs to be completed then you have to get it done, however long it takes. At the same time, however, I think there is a genuine effort made by the people who work above me to keep an eye on the number of hours I'm doing. For example, if I've been working a couple of late nights then someone will tell me to go home early when the workload eases off a little. I think that aspect of your working environment is very important and makes A&O a good place to work. We are very well looked after in that respect - no one is working round the clock to the point of exhaustion.
Have you got a strong idea of which area of the law you'd like to go into long term or is it too early to say?
It is too early to say definitively with qualification some way off. I have completed a number of rotations across different departments at A&O, from litigation, to derivatives and structured finance to corporate work. When the decision comes I shall be spoilt for choice.
What about opportunities for working abroad, you mentioned in a previous conversation that you are off to Romania soon. How did that come about?
Well it's quite exciting. Generally speaking, as your last seat on the trainee programme you are given the opportunity to undertake a placement in one of our overseas offices. We recently opened an associated office in Bucharest where I have chosen to take my placement. I wanted to experience working within an emerging market so I jumped at the chance to work in Romania. It also comes back to the idea of variety as it's a much smaller office I'll be working in and I don't have a specific brief for the work I'm supposed to do, I'm just there as the 'English trainee' to help out where I'm needed and to gain some experience across different areas. I'm planning a trip to Transylvania whilst I'm there so it should be an interesting experience, all things considered.
What is the atmosphere like at Allen & Overy with the other trainees? Is it all work or no play or is there a pretty good social scene?
I think the recent innovation of creating a specific LPC course in London for future A&O trainees has been really successful. It's an opportunity where we all get to meet and to study together for a year before starting at the firm. On your first day at work you're going to be nervous whatever happens and it means you've got 60 or 70 people from Law school around you who you know and get on with which is a huge plus. I think that this community atmosphere amongst the trainees certainly carries on through as you progress through the firm.
There are also loads of opportunities along the way to get involved in schemes outside of work which allow you to interact with people outside of your own department or office. Admittedly, I'm probably the least sporty person you can find, but we have a big gym here and there is every kind of sports team you can think of to get involved in. Aside from that, there is also the pro bono scheme which I personally have had quite a lot of involvement in. We have a huge array of pro bono opportunities which trainees can get involved in. For example, in Battersea we have a free drop-in legal clinic where trainees can go and help out giving legal advice to people who might have a particular problem. They are also pretty open to ideas. For example, a friend of mine recently received funding through a pro bono scheme to go and work in a legal clinic in New York on completing his LPC. There is an acknowledgement that it is a very important part of the firm's practices. Trainees are actively encouraged to allocate a certain number of hours per year to do pro bono work.
What advice would you give to people at university thinking about a career in the Law?
If you are in two minds then I think the best thing to do is to apply for a vacation scheme and to go and experience a firm first-hand. That's how I made my mind up. You can tell pretty much when you walk through the door what it's like as a place to work and whether it will be a good fit for you.