Bird & Bird

Rachel Welch-Phillips
Bird & Bird

Bird & Bird

University (Undergrad): Middlebury College, VT USA
Degree: BA environmental policy
University (Masters): University of Cambridge
Degree: MPhil environmental policy
Year of qualification: 2018
Position: Associate
Department: Aviation finance

What attracted you to a career in law?

I had quite an unconventional introduction to the law. As a child I was very argumentative and enjoyed fact-checking my parents, much to their annoyance, and my father always used to say he had a lawyer on his hands. But I never paid him any mind. I believed my lifetime career would be as an environmentalist.

During my master’s in environmental policy at Cambridge, I completed a mandatory course in environmental law and developed a close relationship with both the subject matter and the professor. This professor, who was also my dissertation supervisor, found I had a natural knack for the probative and told me about the GDL. I knew nothing about this path to law, having never lived in the UK prior to my master’s, but this professor guided me through the particulars and I began my GDL, obtained a training contract at Bird & Bird, and voila!

Why solicitor not barrister?

I have never been particularly excited by the idea of contentious law or advocacy, so the decision was never one I contemplated for too long! I was always more driven by the commercial and business progression aspect of legal services.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

The LawCareers.Net Handbook was really my first point of call and from there I did extensive online research to learn more about the firms. The final list of firms was based on their ability to provide a diverse range of legal areas to explore, a sector focus in the provision of legal services and a strong drive toward commercial understanding of industry.

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

Throughout university I completed summer internships at home in Trinidad and Tobago, two of which were legal internships in the insurance and oil and gas sectors. Following my master’s, I worked at a FTSE 100 oil and gas company as an environmentalist for just under two years, and then worked as a paralegal at an engineering company for nine months before beginning my LPC.

Work experience is important in many ways – it allows insight into how businesses work commercially and allows you to service a business as your primary client, both of which provide a perspective that enable you to better serve your clients from the other side of the table if you join private practice.

What do you think made your application successful?

The Bird & Bird application was one where I felt encouraged to express my personality. So I took the risk of being quite unapologetically myself and thoroughly enjoyed completing it. If you were to look at my application to Bird & Bird alongside my application to any other firm at the time, the difference would be stark!

Which departments did you train in?

Dispute resolution, aviation finance, commercial, corporate.

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

During my aviation seat, I flew to Toulouse as the sole representative for our client to assist with an aircraft delivery at Airbus. This involved working with the client so that the paperwork that we had prepared and agreed was final and correct, and that the inspection of the aircraft was satisfactory. All documents were signed in the Airbus delivery room and the aircraft flew off!

How often as a trainee were you communicating directly with clients?

Larger departments provided less direct client contact than smaller ones – during my smaller seats, client contact was daily. In larger departments, client contact was more dependent on the size of the matter and the number of associates involved.

How does the qualification process work at the firm?

A series of conversations take place between the trainees and the HR graduate recruitment team, starting in the third seat of the training contract to discuss where interests lie. At the start of the fourth seat the business communicates where the potential roles are for NQs and conversations continue as to who is interested in which positions. Interviews are then conducted midway through the fourth seat with the trainee and partners in their desired department. Decisions are announced in early July for qualification in September.

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

Asking questions is not a sign of weakness – intelligent questions, particularly those that seek a big-picture context to the task assigned, are considered a sign of an interested, keen and thoughtful trainee.

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

I work in aviation finance. On a day-to-day basis I might review a lease, have a call with the client to discuss changes that should be made to a transaction document, have a call with the lawyers on the other side of the deal to negotiate open points, review the law on a particular area of aviation such as airport slots and traffic rights, draft memoranda of advice on regulatory questions, or even occasionally attend an on-site aircraft delivery!

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

I am currently assisting a client with the purchase of a corporate jet. My role is to review the principal transaction documents and negotiate them on behalf of the client, and arrange for signature of the agreed documents.

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

The thing I enjoy most is completing a deal – it is usually quite hectic but the end result is so satisfactory! The thing I enjoy least is inputting my billable hours!

Does your department largely work independently, in support of another department or is it routinely supported by other departments?

The department is constantly supported by other departments in the firm, in particular from a regulatory perspective. The finance transactions in aviation tend to involve just the aviation finance team as it is quite a niche area, but we collaborate on many commercial and regulatory matters with the competition, commercial aviation and environmental teams, among others.

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

I am actively involved in business development through assisting with internal and external training, attending client offices to present our service offerings, and assisting in producing pitch documents and quotations for work.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

Bird & Bird has a unique combination of work/life balance and personality that I find to be very welcoming and not what the common conception of a law firm tends to be.

What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?

Attention to detail, persistence, a desire to constantly learn and the courage to take on new challenges.

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

Do not be intimidated by other people's stories about their journey into law. Do not let the numbers put you off. If the law is what you want to do, throw yourself into it wholeheartedly. Work hard and be yourself at every turn and the right firm will find you. Reflect a little on what you have to bring to the table that would make you stand out from other candidates and maximise on these in your applications - they are your differentiators and your greatest strengths. Lastly, the practice of law is far more exciting than the studying! If you found your LLB or the GDL a bit boring, don’t worry, I have not yet come across Donoghue v Stevenson at the office!

What is the work/life balance like at your firm? How often do you have late nights/work at weekends?

Late-night and weekend work is rare at Bird & Bird, but does happen where needed to meet deadlines. Most trainees will complete their training contract without working a weekend!

What is the wider culture like at Bird & Bird?

There are countless opportunities for drinks and socialising across the firm, including the firm's drinks on the 11th-floor restaurant on the last Friday of every month. There are netball, football, squash, tennis and running teams/clubs for both men and women, and once a year there is a football tournament involving most of the firm's European offices that takes place somewhere different in Europe every year. The event is heavily subsidised by the firm and is a great opportunity to meet colleagues from other countries.

There is also a BAME network called Embrace and a LGBT+ network called StandOUT.

Describe the firm in three words.

Technology. Disruption. Personal.

What’s been the highlight of the last month at the firm?

The highlight of the last month for me at the firm was the first ever Black History Month event hosted at Bird & Bird with a distinguished panel of speakers followed by some very engaging networking. The event was very well attended!

What’s the biggest opportunity you’ve been given since joining the firm?

The opportunity to found and chair the firm's BAME network, Embrace, has been an exciting and fruitful journey thus far.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

I must confess to having several of these, but I have to say the guiltiest pleasure is probably my very expensive hobby of attending the opera. There is nothing like dramatic tragedy and overly passionate love to revive the soul!

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