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Meet the lawyer

Ayman Shehata

Ayman Shehata

University: University of Birmingham
Degree: Law
Year of qualification: 2020
Position: Associate
Department: Corporate
Pronouns: He/him

What attracted you to a career in law?

Law was a bit of an unknown for me. No one in my family had studied it or worked in the profession before, and it wasn’t an option to study at school. Having studied the same subjects over a number of years at school, I decided to try something new at university.

After studying law at university and completing legal work experience, it seemed like it suited my character. I love working with and bouncing ideas off other people – I’ve always been personable and was attracted by the interaction that law offers, whether with clients, intermediaries or colleagues. That, together with the opportunities to spend my days problem solving, was why a career in law appealed to me. 

Why solicitor not barrister?

Becoming a barrister never crossed my mind. I was always drawn to the solicitor route and the idea of working in a multi-service law firm where I can get involved in a variety of work. I was also interested in the corporate side of the profession, so becoming a solicitor made more sense for my personality and interests.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

In all honesty, when I first started applying for training contracts at university, my applications were not focused enough. I took the quantity over quality approach – the idea being that if I sent off loads of applications, I’d surely get some interest. This wasn’t the case and without a training contract lined up after university, I wanted to experience what working in a law firm was like and get my foot in the door. I had a friend whose brother was a trainee at Charles Russell Speechlys, which brought the firm to my attention.

I spent some time researching the job opportunities available and applied for a compliance administrator role, which I started in 2015. From there, I became a compliance analyst before applying for the firm’s training contract. My time in the compliance team was instrumental to me deciding to apply to the firm, given its central role as all of the firm’s compliance needs come through this team. This meant I experienced Charles Russell Speechlys as a whole, got to know the people, the type of work and the clients they work with. That’s how I knew the firm would be a good fit.

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

Work experience is super important for law. It doesn’t have to be legal experience; any skills and insights you pick up will be useful because law as a profession is really transferable. Among these key skills are good communication, problem solving and working well in a team environment, all of which you can develop from a range of experiences. For example, at university I worked as security at the student union and I was able to talk about this on my law firm applications.

In terms of law-specific experience, I was lucky enough to spend over a week at another firm’s Dubai office, and I completed work experience with the legal team at Barclays through Aspiring Solicitors. These helped me to understand what I could expect from working in law.

Which departments did you train in?

My first seat was in private wealth disputes. I then sat in the corporate team before a corporate client secondment at a global investment firm, and my final seat was with the commercial dispute resolution team.

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

Every day is different, which is typical of working at a multi-service law firm like Charles Russell Speechlys. We’re a mid-market, mid-size firm, which means as associates we have a lot of responsibility and can be quite sector agnostic and work across a variety of corporate law areas. This differs to some larger firms where you often tend to specialise in specific types of corporate work or sectors.

As an example of how diverse my days can be, I recently spent one day helping a client with the sale of a football club in replying to due diligence queries, before drafting a term sheet for a potential sale of a tech start-up company. Later in the day, I worked with a private equity client on its exit from one of its investee companies. The variety on offer keeps you on your toes and a great way to always be learning.

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

As mentioned earlier, we acted for the seller of a football club based in London (including both its men’s and women’s teams). This was a great deal for me to work on because I’m a big sports fan. The process started with an auction (with football deals you get quite a few potential buyers bidding for clubs), and we then worked with the preferred bidder to agree terms and get the share purchase agreement (SPA) sorted and signed. After you sign, there’s a process involving the Football Association and English Football League, which can take a few weeks. Once we got that in, we had a few days to complete the transaction with the buyer.

In terms of how the deal teams are structured for the more substantial transactions like this one, we have a partner leading, a senior associate, a junior to mid-level associate (which is where I come in) and a trainee. I put together the first auction draft SPA and worked with the senior associate and partner to negotiate with the other side and work with the client to identify what terms to agree. At the same time, I lead on the due diligence and disclosure processes with assistance from the trainee. 

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

The people at Charles Russell Speechlys are a stand-out factor – the corporate team is very collegiate and we all get on well. You might be working on a tricky, complex deal with a few late nights here and there, but working with people you get on with makes doing so a lot easier.

On top of that, the firm is big on private capital work. When you say private capital, you may assume we’re talking about our private client team and how they assist their clients on tax, trusts and succession matters. However, it’s far more than that and when it comes to corporate law, private capital work plays a big role in what we do. It can come in the form of entrepreneurs, founders and their start-up companies. For example, we might work with entrepreneurs and young companies to help them reach their goals, and then stand alongside them for years to come.  

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

I’d encourage aspiring lawyers to be open-minded. I know a lot of people who studied law at university before joining a law firm with a set idea of what practice area they wanted to qualify into, but then change their mind during their training contract. It’s also important to think about the type of firm you want to work at. It’s a common misconception that all law firms operate in the same way, but this isn’t the case. Every firm is different so identify what type of clients you want to work with and what work you want to do. There’ll be firms that’ll suit you more than others.

What diversity and inclusion initiatives does the firm have in place?

Charles Russell Speechlys has teams working on different diversity and inclusion initiatives to progress things at all levels. It’s not just people within those groups and identities that are involved, there are people from across the firm working together to promote change.

For example, with the firm’s religion, belief and ethnicity network (which I’m part of), the people that make up the network aren’t just people from these underrepresented groups, but rather individuals from across the firm.

We recently hosted a group of students as part of the 10,000 Black Interns initiative, which enables candidates to experience working in a law firm. They spend time in a few departments and are given tasks like those a vac schemer might do. They’re then offered the opportunity to apply for a training contract. I was a supervisor for one of these students and it was brilliant to engage with them and help them understand and see that a career in law is possible for anyone.

On top of this, we have a Career Start Talent Pipeline Programme aimed at students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. As part of the programme, they attend talks on how we function and what we do as a firm. We want people to see that law can be achievable for them.

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

It’s great to work with the firm’s clients – we’ve got big-ticket clients, including Nike, Caffè Nero and Wagamama, as well as cool start-ups.

In terms of a one-off opportunity that I’ve been given, I attended the SEG3 (sports, entertainment and gaming) conference hosted at the Emirates Stadium earlier this year. It was two days of panel talks and networking about how digital experiences will grow in sports, entertainment and gaming. I listened to talks hosted by FIFA, Roblox and NASCAR who discussed what they’re seeing in the tech and entertainment spaces, which prompts us to think about how our roles as lawyers will grow, and what we can do to learn and assist in the future.

Where's your favourite holiday destination?

Thailand is my favourite holiday destination. Having travelled around Thailand a few years ago, my wife and I loved it so much that we went back to stay on an island we’d discovered during our travels called Ko Yao Yai. The food is incredible and the people are unbelievable!