Ashurst LLP

Helen Raynsford
Ashurst LLP

Ashurst LLP

University: University of Cambridge
Degree: Archaeology and anthropology
Year of qualification: September 2015
Position: Solicitor
Department: Corporate projects

What attracted you to a career in law?

After my degree, I worked as a human rights researcher for a couple of years, followed by a master’s in human rights law. During that time I decided that I was in interested in law as a career, but although my interest had been sparked by human rights, I soon realised that I was more interested in corporate law.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

I wanted a firm that offered top-quality work and had a reputation for excellence, but was also known as a great place to work. It was also important that the firm had an interesting range of practice areas on offer, was friendly and supportive, offered a challenge, and had a highly-regarded training programme. I spent a lot of time conducting research online and speaking to friends – because I was coming to it a bit later, I had a number of friends who were already lawyers or who worked with lawyers, so was able to get a sense of different firms’ reputations.

How much work experience did you do? Why is it so important?

I went to many open days and they helped to change my perspective on firms, which can all look very similar on paper. It’s not until you go to the firm and speak to trainees, associates and partners that you see how firms differ from one another.

I was due to go on a vacation scheme at Ashurst, but in the interim was offered a training contract at another firm that required a response within one month, before I would have done Ashurst’s scheme. I called Ashurst and explained the situation and they invited me to come in for a training contract interview straightaway. Their response was indicative of how helpful and accommodating the firm is. I really enjoyed the interview – it didn’t rely on psychometric testing; rather, it was a challenging and engaging conversation with two partners. By that point, I was hooked!

Which departments did you train in?

My first seat was in structured finance, which is quite a niche area – very interesting, but with demanding hours. I then went on to a seat in regulation, where the level of client contact I had was extraordinary. I found myself attending meetings with clients almost daily. I was also asked to present on bankers’ bonuses to a group of bankers, which was quite daunting as a trainee, but great experience. I then did a seat in real estate, which gave me a chance to see what new buildings would be going up in London, with my final seat in corporate projects, where I went on to qualify.

Please discuss a specific deal/case that you were involved with, outlining your role in the matter.

In my corporate projects seat, I was working on the contract for the manufacture and supply of new tube trains for the London Underground. We worked with TFL to create a contract that they then put out to tender for companies to bid for. It was great to work on what the tube will look like in the future and to see how those types of procurement processes work.

How does the qualification process work at the firm?

It’s very well structured. You meet with graduate recruitment regularly during your training contract, including mid- and end-of-seat reviews, so that as you build up an idea of where you might want to qualify you can share this with the grad rec team and they can offer advice and guidance in respect of your choice. When it gets to crunch time, you have an initial meeting to chat things through and then another to finalise your choices. It may be that some departments aren’t recruiting, but grad rec will have already offered great guidance on what might be available. You submit at least two choices and then you cross your fingers! In my intake, everyone who stayed on at the firm got their first choice.

What do you wish you’d known about being a trainee before you started that you now do?

The time will fly by, so make the most of every opportunity each department offers. Ask as many questions as possible and absorb as much as you can – even if you know you won’t qualify into a department, the skills and knowledge you pick up will be surprisingly useful in the future.

Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?

I’m part of the corporate projects team and we work on a range of infrastructure, resources and oil & gas projects. Traditionally I have focused more on transport deals, but I have also been involved in schools and solar projects. It’s transactional work, so involves drafting and commenting on documents, negotiating with the other side and helping to get the deal done. I’m usually working on at least a couple of deals at a time, so I might focus on one in the morning and switch to the other in the afternoon, depending on deadlines and other considerations. I have a lot of phone calls and meetings with clients and the other side, but almost always manage to get to the gym or meet a friend for lunch

Please discuss a current/recent specific deal/case, outlining your role in the matter.

I’ve recently worked on a deal to finance, construct, operate and maintain a new motorway link road in Ireland. As the junior associate on the deal I looked after the negotiations on some of the minor contracts and ancillary documentation. This involved reviewing draft contracts and commenting on these drafts on behalf of our client. I spent a lot of time negotiating with the lawyers acting for the other parties on the deal; as a solicitor you need to ensure your client’s wishes are reflected and recorded in the contracts you draft, but when these wishes are opposed to those of the other side, it is important to work together to find a compromise that suits all parties.

What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?

No two days are ever the same, and the work is very challenging and interesting. I like that infrastructure projects are very tangible – we do a lot of work with Transport for London and train operating companies, so you really get the chance to see the future of British transport. We also work on schools, hospitals and renewable energy projects, so there is often an element of social good too. My colleagues are fantastic, bright and engaging people, and it’s always a good laugh in the office.

Of course it can be stressful, especially with a lot of competing pressures on your time – people want things done yesterday! – but without that, it wouldn’t be as exciting. And it is true that the hours can be challenging when you’re on a big deal, but that’s what you sign up for.

How involved are you with business development (BD) and promoting the firm?

The firm is definitely very keen to get us involved as early as possible – in fact, I did my first pitch a few months ago and we were successful! There is networking training available and we do lots of BD events, including through related industry charities, such as Women in Rail and the Railway Children.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

Ashurst offers top-quality work and definitely lives up to its reputation for excellence – and it is great to know that you are working on really innovative deals with some of the brightest minds in the City. But in addition to that, the firm is very keen to help you to develop as a person as well as a City lawyer. For example, as a trainee you are offered a £500 bursary to learn a language – I went to Madrid for an intensive Spanish course! There are also lots of sports and clubs to take part in, and other social events that are not related to being a lawyer! The quality of training is amazing and people always have time to explain things. Everyone wants to invest in you and your career, and you feel very well looked after.

What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?

Research, research, research. Go to open days and try to meet people at the firms you’re interested in order to get a better sense of them – as I said, they can look very much the same on paper so you need to thoroughly research each firm and work out what is unique about it and whether you as a candidate would be a good fit. 

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