Baker McKenzie

Jo Hopkins
Baker McKenzie

Baker McKenzie

University: University of Oxford
Degree: Jurisprudence (law)
Year of qualification: 2009
Position: Senior associate
Department: Corporate

What attracted you to a career in law?

I always liked the idea of going into a profession of some kind, and being a doctor was not on the cards; I’m terrified of blood! I also tended towards the analytical subjects at school, like English and history, and wanted a degree that lead to a job, so law seemed to tick all those boxes.

Why solicitor not barrister?

Not unusually, I was attracted by the TV idea of the Bar, and arguing in general, but I soon realised that wasn’t a totally accurate depiction! And having done some work experience in both a chambers and a solicitors' firm, it became clear that life as a barrister could be quite lonely, working on your own most of the time. Also the idea that you might get a brief at 5:00am, and have to appear in court at 9:00am, did not appeal. I was attracted by the idea of the solicitor’s long-term relationship with the client, rather than being brought in at the end to be the face of things.

How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?

I knew from a fairly early stage that I was interested in corporate law at a City firm, and I was lucky enough to attend – and help run as law society president for my college – various campus events run by law firms. I attended three vacation schemes, so had the chance to really compare. Bakers’ scheme was great; I knew on paper that it was the sort of firm I wanted in terms of the people and work, and it more than met my expectations. The people I worked with while there were so approachable; they struck that balance between being very impressive lawyers as well as warm and friendly. It seems that the firm attracts that type.

Which departments did you train in?

My first seat was in employee benefits, which was a very small team and so I received hands-on training and support. It was a great start. My second seat was in corporate/private equity, which was amazing – I loved it. To a certain extent, you start from scratch in every new seat, wanting to impress everyone but not really knowing what you are doing! But your confidence quickly increases and from the beginning in corporate I felt that I was adding value as so much of the work is project management and as the trainee you have a real opportunity to take ownership of a piece of the deal and run with it.. There’s no reason why you can’t be important to a deal at a junior level.

I went on to do banking and dispute resolution for my third and fourth seats, but I knew that corporate was where I wanted to qualify. I also had the chance to go on secondment to our Sydney office, which was fantastic. Plus, because overseas secondments weren’t that common at the time and the corporate team suggested it to me, it felt like a real gesture of commitment and vote of confidence in me.

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

Now, as a senior associate, I’d give some advice to my trainee self – firstly, associates are very busy and your job as a trainee is to make their lives easier! For example, I appreciate a quick question as opposed to several long emails on a point - you have to fight the urge to come across as knowledgeable as possible and just answer the question! There’s also nothing more impressive than a trainee who takes responsibility for their part of the deal and pride in their work– they don’t have to get it 100% right every time, but they’re in control of what they’re doing, which means I don’t have to worry about that aspect of the deal as much – I know they will come to me if they are unsure.

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

The deal I’m working on now is the biggest challenge I’ve faced – I’m managing a large team, coordinating between 70 different jurisdictions. So in terms of what my day looks like, on this deal it’s mostly calls and emails. I’m scanning correspondence, picking up on key points, getting involved with local counsel, and talking to the other side and the client regularly. I often need to pull all the various bits together from the different countries and send updates to the client; I’m usually the client-facing part of the equation, so that it is streamlined for them and packaged in a way that makes sense. Travel is also a feature of the job; I’m preparing for a trip to Switzerland tomorrow, in fact.

On an average-sized deal, with an English law element, I would be doing more hands-on reviewing, drafting and negotiating of transaction documents. I like to have a balance of both project management and technical law in the work I do. As a corporate associate it's important to stay in the game in both respects.

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

I love my team and the people I work with – I feel very lucky to be here, genuinely supported, and want to become a partner here. I believe in what Bakers is all about. In terms of the work itself, I really like the project management element of what I do and I enjoy that it’s not black-letter law – I sometimes tell our trainees that I haven’t read a case since law school! Really it's more business advice, including being aware of what a client’s financial drivers are, how the business works and how a deal all comes together.

The hours are long, but I set myself rules, such as not coming into the office at the weekend and working one day at home each week. I make it work for me – but of course there are ups and downs; it’s pretty tough with the deal I am on at the moment and with more responsibility comes more stress. So it’s important to use your time well, delegate efficiently, and make sure you have someone to talk to and get advice from who has been there – I have fantastic mentors who I check in with regularly.

Tell us a bit about your involvement with women’s initiatives both in and beyond the firm?

Bakers has always been very good on gender issues and in the past year or so, especially when interviewing applicants for Bakers' training contracts and vacation schemes, and doing some unofficial mentoring within the team, I’ve realised that we have a lot of women as part of the PE team here and that this is rare! We should be proud of that as a firm. Added to which I now do a lot of infrastructure work, which again is typically very male dominated. I recently moderated a panel at a Women in Infrastructure forum, where Bakers was one of the few firms represented. It’s really worth shouting about, especially as clients do ask about gender stats and initiatives. You sometimes don’t realise how strong you are as an organisation until you hear about others’ experiences – I’ve been so shocked by some stories of women feeling like they wouldn't make partner or director because of their gender. It's just not something I've ever felt at Bakers.

My external initiatives started with me chatting to likeminded women at a private equity event and realising that there are many PE houses and funds in the City with very few women. What started as a few friends grabbing coffee has grown to be a quarterly Bakers event, with around 30 attendees. Originally it was very informal, which was great for me as I found traditional business development quite challenging, and we are trying to maintain this atmosphere; we have new people joining every time and lots of interesting topics to discuss, without it feeling like a formal agenda.

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

The precise definition of what ‘commercial awareness’ means can be a bit of a mystery – my feeling is that it just means understanding what drives a business. Rather than rushing out to buy the FT every day, look at what you’ve done already and the experiences you’ve had – for example, I worked in a bar and a shop as a teenager, which taught me about product placement, employment issues, pressures on a business, and how supply and demand works. Think about businesses you know and imagine the type of legal problems that they might have. Don’t overlook the knowledge that you already have; think about these things from the point of view of an average person, and try not to be too caught up with ‘buzzwords’.

Also, any legal work experience will increase your understanding of what the role involves and help you show that you’re serious about a career in law. Even if it’s just a day shadowing a lawyer, having a coffee with someone you met at an event, reading profiles such as this – it’s probably much more useful than reading a textbook on contract law!

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