The best of both worlds

Mayer Brown employees on what it's like to work as part of a tight-knit team with an international reach

Devora Kirk

1st year trainee

I studied music at the University of Nottingham. I got my training contract whilst in my third year at Nottingham so I went on to do the law conversion course (GDL) at the College of Law afterwards.

What made you convert to law?

I did some work experience and a vacation scheme at Mayer Brown and really enjoyed working here. Law had always interested me. I decided against doing it as an undergraduate degree because I really wanted to continue my study of music beyond A-levels and I knew there was always the option to convert afterwards. I wanted to understand more about the financial world as it was an area that I knew very little about and law was the area of this world that attracted me the most.

What did you do on the vacation scheme?

I spent a week in two different departments at Mayer Brown. You are allocated a supervisor and they give you work to do. I was lucky to be given some really interesting research and I also got to go to court one day. I was also assessed for a training contract whilst I was on the vacation scheme.

How did you find it?

I really enjoyed it and I learnt a great deal about the firm and what it is actually like to work as a solicitor in the City. It was a bit daunting at times because I wanted to get a training contract at Mayer Brown so I was trying to make the best impression all the time. There are also lots of social events organised during the vacation scheme which were really good fun. I had previously attended a three-day workshop at another firm but I preferred the scheme at Mayer Brown because it was much more personal. They were aware that it was a potentially stressful experience, and went out of their way to be as friendly as possible.

How is the training contract going so far? Are you still finding your feet?

I'm three months into my first seat and I am just starting to feel quite settled. I'm in the finance department, which is one of the largest. It's nice to be in a big team with other trainees.

How does it feel to have finally entered the proper professional world?

Really, really good. When I signed my training contract it was April 2007 but I didn't start until September 2009 as I had to do the GDL and the LPC first. It felt like it would never actually happen because I still had to graduate from my music degree and then do two years of law school. I'd had enough of being a student by the end and now I'm really enjoying the world of work.

How are you finding the long hours?

It was a bit of a shock to the system when I first started. But now I'm so busy that the time generally flies past. At Mayer Brown, there's absolutely no emphasis placed on face-time - if you finish your work early then you can leave early. And if you need to stay very late it will be because you're working on a big deal with lots of other people. You're never here by yourself in the middle of the night.

Could you explain a bit about what your day-to-day work involves?

Often my work involves staying on top of lots of documents. It often falls to the trainee to make sure that all the documentation for particular transactions is managed effectively. When a deal is about to close there is a lot of paperwork that needs to be done. I do quite a lot of proofreading and some drafting sometimes. I also have to write a lot of presentations for my supervisor to give to clients and to lawyers at Mayer Brown. A couple of weeks ago I also had to write a review on a portfolio of loans for a bank, which was a great experience.

Why did you choose Mayer Brown?

Firstly because of the type of work the firm does. Mayer Brown has a reputation as a major international law firm. That international focus is what really attracted me to them. I also really liked the people I met during the vacation scheme. Everyone is very approachable and the open-door policy creates a really friendly atmosphere. The firm doesn't have a "type". The people here are from lots of different backgrounds and I think it makes for a dynamic working environment.

Joanne Skoulikas

2nd year trainee

I read law at Cambridge but not with the intention of becoming a lawyer. I was interested in the subject and I wanted to keep my options open. I went on to do a global politics Masters at the LSE. When I finished, I interned at two think-tanks in Athens for a year, focusing on European issues and international affairs. I spent the next year in Brussels where I split my time between a UN internship and an NGO called International Crisis Group. I found myself working with a number of former city lawyers and realised that the qualifications they had were incredibly useful to what they were doing in the NGO field and they had garnered skills that I wanted to develop in myself. There was a clear difference between those who'd been professionally trained and those who'd worked their way up through the field. So I made the long-term decision to return to law.

You clearly have an interest in international affairs. Was this part of the reason you chose Mayer Brown?

Yes. I knew right from the beginning that the kind of firm I wanted would have a large international base and offer the chance to work with people from all over the world. For example, I'm involved in something at the moment for German clients which also requires me to work with our lawyers in the US. I chose Mayer Brown because I wanted to do the type of work you only get at a major international law firm. However, I also wanted a firm with a small trainee intake, so I could really get to know the people I was starting with.

Can you give an overview of your training contract so far?

My first seat was with the environment team, which is part of the corporate department here. Then I went on a client secondment in my second seat. I hadn't realised how beneficial a client secondment would be. I would recommend it to anyone. I'm now doing my third seat in international arbitration and I'm hoping to stay in litigation for my final seat.

What made your secondment such a valuable experience?

Firstly, it does wonders for your confidence. You're thrown in at the deep end, and the people at the client company treat you as a qualified lawyer, so you have to step up your game accordingly. I've also come back with a large amount of knowledge about a major client. I can offer something valuable to those above me at the firm. I've also formed a relationship with the client, which I can hopefully build on in the future.

What was the best bit of your secondment?

I organised a work experience programme for 15 and 16 year olds who came from backgrounds where they didn't have many opportunities to meet professionals or receive career guidance. I managed the whole project and it went well. I was really proud of it and I think both the client and Mayer Brown regard that sort of work as very important.

Keith McShea

Associate - corporate department

I did my undergraduate degree in French and Business at Leeds and after that I joined a large professional services firm and trained and qualified as a company secretary. My work was primarily the administration of private equity and real estate funds and other corporate structures. I subsequently performed a similar role for a European private bank and was made a director. After nine years performing corporate fiduciary services, I decided to make the transition to law.

Did you enjoy what you were doing before?

I did at first but over time I became frustrated because I was on the fringes of what I saw as exciting legal work being done on large transactions and I really wanted to be more directly involved. That's what led me into law.

You obviously became quite senior in the professional services, was it a difficult decision to switch careers and start again at the bottom?

Yes, it was and not many people could understand it. But I knew that if I hadn't made the change I would have regretted it. I was in my early 30's and I thought, "If I don't do it now then I'll never do it." The transition was difficult at first, having to prove yourself all over again to everyone was hard but it was definitely worth it. I'm really enjoying my work now, whereas I didn't towards the end of my time at the bank.

What do you find rewarding about your current work?

It's the intellectual challenge of drawing up the documents which actually facilitate significant transactions. For example, this might involve creating a company or a limited liability partnership to act as a manager of an investment fund. This requires drafting documents to assist that company's authorisation process with the regulators. There's also a certain pride you can take in putting together a document that you've worked hard at, you're happy with, and that is of real value to the client.

Has your previous career helped you in your current work?

Undoubtedly, yes. I have a knowledge of the structures and principles involved in the funds area. I also built a commercial understanding of how people operate and I'm comfortable interacting with senior business people.

Prad Madhavan

2nd year trainee

I read law at Essex University. I really enjoyed my undergraduate degree and it confirmed for me that I definitely wanted to practice law. At that stage I wasn't sure which area I wanted to work in. I was quite interested in criminal and human rights law. But after university, when I started doing work experience, I soon realised that those areas weren't really where my natural aptitudes and interests lay. I did a company law module in my final year and really enjoyed it. I began to take an interest in how the city works and I started reading more financial publications.

What made you choose Mayer Brown?

I was very picky when making my applications. I knew what I wanted and I targeted specific firms. I did a number of interviews and open days which helped me narrow things down. What really attracted me to Mayer Brown was the size of the intake, the quality of the training and the firm's ambitions. When I was applying, the large international firms were bursting at the seams. They had huge intakes - a hundred plus trainees every year, whereas Mayer Brown was expanding rapidly. I wanted to join a firm that was growing. I was very impressed by the quality of the intake. We had a chance to meet the current trainees and they were a diverse and interesting group. They all had something to say for themselves. I also liked the general feel of the firm. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. I know that's how it should be but it wasn't always the case at other places I'd been to.

How important a factor was the chance to do an international secondment?

That was a massive factor, it really was. We had about twenty-one people in our intake and there was the chance to do a secondment in Sao Paulo, Hong Kong, New York, or Brussels. There was a long list of secondments (both client and international) for a relatively small intake. Your chances of getting the secondment that you wanted were very good. Right now, I'm on secondment in Hong Kong for my third seat. I'm sitting in the ship finance department in Mayer Brown JSM, which was formerly known as Johnson Stokes and Master. Mayer Brown merged with JSM in 2008, so as to increase its access to the Asian market. Mayer Brown is now one of the few firms with truly global capabilities in the US, Europe and Asia.

How are you finding it?

I'm really enjoying it. JSM is an old, historic Hong Kong firm. It has more history than any other practice in Asia, and, as such, it's revered in this neck of the woods. There's a very broad spectrum of work. We don't actually have a ship finance practice in London. Now I'm sitting with a partner who is one of the foremost authorities in that particular area. I work directly for him, there's no kind of buffer or intermediary. The quality of work is fantastic. I've been allowed to draft suites of documents on various transactions and liaise directly with clients, so I've been very fortunate.

What's been the most interesting part of your experience at Mayer Brown so far?

During my second seat in the finance department I was involved on a major mining deal that gave me the opportunity to travel to Eritrea on business, which was very exciting. Our client was setting up a large scale mining operation - the first of its kind in Eritrea. Initially, I was the sole trainee on this project, working with a partner and an associate on a deal worth hundreds of millions of pounds. We were counsel for the borrower, which means it was our job to review the transaction documents and make sure that conditions precedents were satisfied so that our client received the funding they needed to begin the project. It involved dealing extensively with lenders' counsel and in this transaction there were lenders from all over the world. I also had to liaise with our local counsel in Eritrea, the Eritrean Ambassador in London and court officials in Asmara (the capital of Eritrea). The exciting part was that it enabled me to visit Eritrea. We had to go in order to register five suitcases of documents that needed to be transported. It was a very important process. The documents were consularised in London, and taken to the high court of Asmara to be registered. It was a significant event for Eritrea and we got the red carpet treatment when we arrived. We met representatives from the Ministry of Finance and the head of the National Insurance Corporation of Eritrea. I was incredibly lucky to have that sort of exposure to such an important deal.

Has the mine been set up now?

Yes, the financing has gone through and they are now commencing operations.

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