University: Swansea University (BA); Cardiff University (LLB)
Degree: English language; law
Year of qualification: 2019
Academically, I was always better on the humanities side – I liked writing and debating. I’d also always been interested in technology but didn’t have a natural aptitude for science. A career as a technology lawyer seemed like a good way to make the best use of my skills while also pursuing my interest in technology.
As a solicitor, I get to form deep relationships with clients who rely on me as their advisor. I get to know the client and their business well over time and enjoy this process. My perception is that barristers tend to offer more discrete advice on high-risk issues, meaning that they form fewer enduring relationships with longstanding clients. The classic example is a file landing on a barrister’s desk at 10:00pm for a matter being heard the following morning. This doesn’t appeal to me!
I knew I wanted to work at a firm that worked for technology companies and in an area that was constantly evolving. This limits the relevant firms and areas of law, significantly. In terms of practice areas, I was mostly interested in data protection and intellectual property. At the time, data protection as a discrete practice area was in its infancy, so the number of firms with a reputation in data protection law was low. I ended up applying to three or four firms that ticked all the boxes.
I worked at a supermarket from when I was 16 and all throughout university. Of course, I was behind a checkout rather than behind a desk, but I found the experience invaluable in terms of cultivating my work ethic and developing my confidence. While I was at university, I also completed various informal work placements at local law firms in South Wales. In hindsight, each placement was contingent on the last. For example, my first placement was at a family law firm in my local town, which allowed me to get my next placement in the nearest city. This led me to a commercial firm in Cardiff. Combined, these placements contributed to me getting my first post-university job as a paralegal. After 18 months, I landed a job in London as a paralegal in the data protection team of an international law firm. All of my experience has contributed to where I am today. While that first work experience placement in my town’s family law firm didn’t, in itself, get me a training contract at Cooley, without it I might not have been offered the next placement at a bigger firm and subsequently my first paralegal job. And so on!
I think being a trainee (and a junior associate) is the hardest part of a solicitor’s career – but the nature of the work you do and the level of comfort you have with that work, changes dramatically as you become more senior. As a trainee, you’re doing everything for the first time and it can feel overwhelming. As a result, everything takes so long to complete. I remember spending hours preparing for calls with clients on the off chance that I’d be asked a question on the spot. Now, I know my practice area well enough that I can hop on a call with a client without knowing the topic, confident that I’ll be able to help. This takes time.
I’m a data protection lawyer and I advise clients on their compliance with data protection law. This includes transactional and regulatory work. The precise nature of my day-to-day tasks can vary enormously – which is one of the things I enjoy most about the job! As an example, here’s what’s on my list for today:
The aspect I enjoy the most is keeping up with the emerging trends and regulations in data privacy. For example, the emergence of generative AI over the past year has had a big impact on our practice as many of our clients seek to develop, or integrate with, generative AI solutions. To effectively advise our clients, we need to keep up with these developments. It keeps things interesting!
The part of my job I enjoy the least is probably some of the administrative necessities that come along with the job (eg, time recording!).
I would say I’m very involved with business development (BD). At Cooley, we’re able to be as involved as we’d like to be and BD is something that I enjoy, so I’ve made an effort to be as involved as possible. For example, I’ve organised events with prospective clients, maintained relationships and worked on promoting the cyber/data/privacy practice internally (eg, training sessions) and externally (eg, article writing).
Resilience. The hours can be long and the work can be intense. I think the ability to face that and keep going is key to success at the biggest law firms.
The cyber/data/privacy team has its own workstreams and also intersects with almost every other department in the firm. For example, we’ll work with clients on long-term data privacy compliance projects and provide ad hoc advice as and when data privacy issues crop up. We’ll also work with colleagues in other departments on a discrete element of a larger project that requires cyber/data/privacy input – for example, in the context of a clinical trial, our life sciences colleagues handle the healthcare regulatory aspects while we advise on the processing of the clinical trial subjects’ personal data.
The biggest opportunity I’ve had since joining Cooley is being entrusted with handling client relationships from a relatively junior position. For many clients, I’m the direct contact person for their data privacy queries. I’ll handle calls with clients and deal with their queries directly, checking in with my supervising partner when something tricky comes up. I see this as a big opportunity because it allows me to grow client relationships and develop my decision-making skills.
Patagonia or New Zealand!