Clyde & Co LLP
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University: University of Exeter
Year of qualification: 2015
Department: Energy, engineering, marine and construction disputes
Which departments did you train in?
At Clyde & Co we do a rotation of four seats, of six months each. My first seat was property litigation and my second seat was shipping with a focus on charterparty disputes (marine and international trade 1). I then did a seat in the marine department in our Guilford office (marine and international trade 2), which involved cargo recoveries and wet shipping. My fourth seat was in one of our energy international arbitration departments, which covered various types of energy and construction arbitration, including investor-state disputes. I was also involved in various bits of finance work (eg, marine finance) throughout my training contract. I applied to Clyde & Co with the intention of doing shipping one day because I knew it interested me, but I was lucky enough to get my first choice (marine and International trade 2) as my second seat.
Once I had gained that experience, it opened up a lot of options for me.
Please discuss a specific deal/case that you were involved with, outlining your role in the matter.
The charterparty cases that I handled as a trainee during my second seat were really interesting. A lot of the work that department does (and that my current department does) concerns charterparty disputes. For example, we will act for the charterer of a vessel who has chartered it for six months, and they will come to us and say that for one reason or another the ship is in breach of the charterparty (eg, it is damaged or the holds are dirty) and that they now want to make a claim. For example, they may claim under the charterparty for time lost and expenses incurred (eg, repair costs).
As a trainee, these claims would be passed to me by a senior associate and I would read into the documents immediately and pick up the charterparty itself, which can be quite technical. There are countless books on the subject, so you need to read into the standard clauses and those which have been specifically drafted, then identify those which are in issue and establish the legal position on them, before drafting up a letter of claim. Once you have sent the letter of claim to the other side, you then have correspondence back and forth – you might be on the phone to the associate on the other side, or corresponding via email and letter. Ultimately, these claims often ended in a settlement either before or after arbitration proceedings had commenced. It was a lot of responsibility, but that is why I loved it.
This type of work is a lot of fun if you are willing to get stuck into the relevant technical and legal issues. People really appreciate that, particularly the partners. I was quite lucky to some extent that the department was very busy at the time, so there was a commercial need to give me this work.
That work also taught me that you are expected to give an answer and this is advice that I often give to trainees and people on vacation schemes. You are there for a reason – if you have put in the work and reviewed the documents correctly, drafted the advice or letter and formed your own opinion, then give that opinion to the partner or associate for whom you're working. That is ultimately what lawyers are paid for and it was great experience for me to have the opportunity to do that early in my training contract. As a second-seat trainee that was somewhat daunting, but really good experience in the long run.
How does the qualification process work at the firm?
Early on during their last seat, trainees have an informal one-on-one meeting with graduate recruitment to discuss their seats and to set out how the application process works. Trainees will usually tell graduate recruitment what their first choices are based on their seats, and the grad rec team will give an indication of how many people the relevant department will likely be taking on. The training principal also gives a talk around this time about the qualification process. By April/May trainees will have redrafted their CVs and have had their final seat appraisal, which is included with other appraisals in their application.
Interviews with partners in a candidate’s chosen department then take place in May and candidates find out the results of their application by early June. It is a relatively fast process and, given that the market is competitive, I got the impression that the firm wants to make sure that trainees are in a good position at an early stage. This is particularly useful if trainees need to apply to other internal departments, or externally if needed. Overall, it's a well-structured and efficient process.
What do you wish you’d known about being a trainee before you started that you now do?
As I mentioned earlier, people want an answer from you. If you have done the work and base your opinions on the documents that you have been given to review (ie, you can provide evidence for it), don’t be afraid to back yourself and give your answer. You are there to contribute something. As a trainee it is very easy to be meek and to not come to a conclusion.
Secondly, it might sound easy to say, but it all works out. No matter what you end up doing as a trainee, and if you don’t get your first choice of seats, it all works out in the end with very few exceptions. One way or the other it all comes together.
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
Most people arrive around 9:30am, although some people start work earlier than that. I’ve just worked on a big dispute and during that period I effectively knew what I was working on when I came into the office in the morning. A typical day involved coming to work, discussing upcoming deadlines with the team, continuing to draft the witness statements I was working on, liaising with witnesses and then discussing draft statements with the partner. This would likely take up the morning until lunchtime. I generally take about an hour for lunch and often I can squeeze in a gym session if I'm not too busy at work.
After lunch I might discuss with the partners other cases that they are working on or look for opinions on other items that I am working on, for example, a letter of claim that I have drafted. The department is very collaborative, so you might have a team member asking you to have a look at aspects of another case or to get involved with some other tasks. There are also business development opportunities, including lunchtime or afternoon client events, which are a really great way to develop client interactions. By late afternoon, I would generally have heard back from the client about the draft witness statement I had drafted earlier and would respond to their comments on that. Towards the end of the day I would speak to counsel – usually a junior barrister – to get their input.
In general, a typical day at Clyde & Co is always very busy and very collaborative. A normal day ends between 6:00pm and 7:00pm, depending on deadlines. Big disputes sometimes mean that you have to work later hours, but that depends on the nature of the work.
Please discuss a current/recent specific deal/case, outlining your role in the matter.
I recently worked on a dispute based on a failed energy project in the Middle East. There was an overall contractor at the top, a contractor in the middle and our client at the bottom of the contract chain. For various reasons, the project was not constructed and there was a dispute between the contractor in the middle and our client. As you might expect, the dispute was worth hundreds of millions of dollars. When I joined the department in September, we had already filed the first round of witness statements and had just completed disclosure. In October-November we were exchanging further witness statements and expert reports with the other side, so I was thrown straight into things. In my second week, the partner sat me down and asked me to find a witness to deal with a large technical point that the other side had raised in their witness statements. As part of our responding witness statements, I had to identify an appropriate witness at our client, provide them with the relevant documents and assist them in drafting a statement on a very technical matter. This involved preparing a number of appropriate questions addressing the points we needed to answer and I then put these to them during several two to three-hour interviews. I then worked with them to draft the resulting witness statement, which required a lot of correspondence to ensure that what has been drafted was correct according to their knowledge and memory.
At the same time, we were working with experts on expert reports. I helped a senior associate with an expert report about the value of the claim, which required me to get up to speed on quantum issues. It was very hands-on.
Throughout this period, we had weekly team meetings in which we would give updates to the partners on the parts of the case on which they were working. It was very much expected that you would get stuck in and get on with it, while checking in regularly to keep everyone else up to speed. Later in the case, I had built up my own level of expertise so would field queries from others in the team relating to the specific areas that I had worked on.
In addition, the final arbitration hearing in early 2019 required a significant amount of preparation. This involved supervising a trainee and paralegals in the preparation of electronic trial bundles, correspondence with the tribunal and with the solicitors for the other side, and other administrative work.
What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?
The obvious skills are being able to pick up a new set of facts and documents, absorb them quickly, summarise the main arguments and draft an advice letter or other document on that basis.
Less obvious is being able to let things wash over you. It is easy to forget that the work is not personal. As a trainee you might prepare a piece of work that is not exactly what the partner wanted, but it is important to take on feedback and deal with it constructively. It can be easy to take things to heart. Everyone is learning and it is important to remember that. The case is the end goal and you have to focus on that.
Another important ‘skill’ is being confident and outgoing (or at least appearing that way!) when meeting clients. Having commercial awareness is key here, as it helps you to speak to clients about what they actually do. Understanding a bit about the client's business immediately gives you an icebreaker. This also means that you have to be willing to put yourself out there and get involved at events. Being a lawyer is not just sitting in an office drafting documents!
What is the work-life balance like at your firm? How often do you have late nights/work at weekends?
There is a great work-life balance at Clyde & Co. We are encouraged to have activities outside of the office. I had my associate review a month ago and the partner encouraged me to make sure to continue to keep up my out-of-office activities. They really do appreciate that everyone has lives outside of the office.
What is the wider culture like – eg, are there sports teams/trips out? Is there a LGBT group, women’s group etc?
The culture at Clyde & Co is very collaborative – partners and associates don’t jealously guard their work. Everyone is keen to get as many people as possible involved in cases as much as is commercially sensible, and this fosters a natural friendliness at the firm. You can speak to senior staff members openly. It might sound cheesy, but there is a really good atmosphere.
As regards sports teams, I organise our rugby sevens team and we also have netball and five-a-side football teams, as well as a film club and there are always other activities going on. There are also lots of events on the client side. For example, last year I played in a cricket match against a client, organised by my department.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Chicken fried rice, or jelly beans.
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