Aster Crawshaw - Addleshaw Goddard
Aster Crawshaw is a partner in the professional practices group at Addleshaw Goddard LLP. He is also the graduate partner for the London office.
Aster Crawshaw studied history at Cambridge, but always had a hankering for the City, hoping to combine cutting-edge work with intellectual stimulation: "The big things at the time were investment banking and management consultancy, but I was attracted to the law because of its academic rigour and its clear career progression." He has no regrets about studying history and converting to law, although occasionally wonders if the two-year LLB that is available at a handful of universities might have offered him something more than the one-year GDL.
The LPC was memorable for Aster for one very good reason - it was where he met the woman who was to become his wife! - but in 1998, it was a different offering to the modern, firm-driven LPC: "It was quite a formulaic, form-filling exercise. Now, particular providers specialise and have strong links with City firms, so they can offer tailored courses focused on students' future careers."
He trained at Linklaters, spending five years there, before a brief spell at Barlow Lyde & Gilbert was followed by a move in-house to Ernst & Young Global (EYG): "I loved the variety at EYG - it was a combination of highly specialised international structuring work and dealing with random questions about, for example, the terms and conditions for Christmas party venues." Prompted by a desire not to become too specialised too early, he left after four years to join Addleshaw Goddard in 2007.
Aster is a partner in the professional practices sub-group of the corporate department, recently runners-up at The Lawyer awards for mid-cap corporate team of the year. He advises professional service firms and other businesses which use the partnership or LLP structure. Clients include law firms, accountants, surveyors, estate agents, architects and actuaries, as well as hedge funds and private equity houses. He describes the variety of work on offer: "My focus is predominantly non-contentious matters, which range from M&A to international restructuring to LLP conversions. The team's contentious work is mostly partnership disputes, where partners are either resigning or being asked to leave. As a non-litigator, I tend to treat these disputes more like a commercial demerger, to counteract the sometimes confrontational style that the other side may favour."
Working against less commercially minded lawyers is one of the most challenging parts of the job, explains Aster: "It can be frustrating working with lawyers who are not focused on getting good outcomes for their clients. For some, it seems to be more about the fight than the result or, worse, trying to stick rigidly to a precedent. I think you need to stand back, be clear about your client's objectives and try to achieve them in the most efficient way possible."
It was in a recent contentious matter that Aster found his skills put to good use: "I was helping to negotiate the exit of a hedge fund manager from a leading fund. It was a very long and complicated process that took over a year and the settlement amounts were very significant. It had all the elements I enjoy - an extremely complex case, working with a great client, on a commercially sensitive issue. It was definitely one of my more interesting pieces of work." He also cites coming to Addleshaw Goddard as a career high point: "I'd been a corporate and in-house lawyer, in both roles working with professional services firms, but I wasn't quite sure where to go from there. Discovering the professional practices group here provided the perfect next step."
Fees are a major issue for law firms at the moment, explains Aster, who believes that lawyers must get to grips with a new level of transparency: "You want a client to be satisfied with the service they have received as well as the outcome. Lawyers are traditionally very reticent to talk about fees, but that has to change in this market. Clients aren't looking for work for free, but they do want to know that they've received value. If you've provided the right level of service, structured and run things in an appropriate way, given a fair fee estimate and provided the client with regular fee updates, there should be no difficulty with payment at the end."
Aster suggests that there is much to recommend training at a firm such as Addleshaw Goddard: "Not being a trainee at one of the global giants can be a good thing. You get a lot more attention as a trainee when you're one of only 30, as you are in our London office. You get to know everyone very quickly and you retain the relationships you build in each seat as you move through the firm. In bigger firms, each new seat can feel like a new job. Here, there is accumulated goodwill and your good work follows you. The training is much more personal. Each department only has four or five trainees at a time, so you can sit round a table with a partner and ask questions face to face."
Aster feels that the firm offers a supportive and collegiate environment in which to train: "The two most important things for us as a firm are our people and our clients. HR and the learning and development team spend a lot of time working with the trainees. It's not hierarchical - trainees are very much a part of the wider team." Building a rapport with clients is also encouraged: "One of the key factors behind the success of our business is the depth of our client relationships. Trainees are encouraged to get involved and, particularly through secondments, to become a key part of client teams."
So, how should students decide where to apply? Aster cautions against a haphazard approach - that way lies failure: "Don't just apply to the big firms that you've heard of. Target those that do the type of work that you're interested in. Application forms can be time-consuming and laborious, but they often fail because they weren't sufficiently tailored to a particular firm. We can usually tell if someone is just applying to the top 30 firms, as opposed to someone who has identified five firms and targeted those directly."
He is also impressed by candidates who've got stuck in to interesting projects or charitable initiatives: "We like to see anything that shows entrepreneurial flair and creativity, such as setting up a club, running a charitable initiative or establishing a small business at university. We also like to see examples where you've functioned well as part of a team; it's not always about being the leader. People are often so prepared for the interview that to get a glimpse of what someone is like in real life is enormously valuable. Also, try and show your commitment to the profession; that could be simply by offering a coherent explanation of why you think law is for you - it doesn't necessarily have to mean that you've been doing legal work experience since you were 14."
Finally, Aster suggests that you think hard about your choice of law as a career: "It's a long path to qualification followed by a longer path to partnership or a senior in-house role, so if you're coming into law for the wrong reasons it will feel like a difficult route. If it's for the right reasons, you will enjoy every stage, as I have."