Dechert LLP

Emma Ward
Dechert LLP

Dechert LLP

University: University of Manchester
Degree: Law
Year of qualification: September 2016
Position: Associate
Department: Commercial litigation

What attracted you to a career in law?

I had always been interested in law and working in the City. In particular I liked the interaction between business and law, and being at the forefront of key business decisions for high-value clients.  I also liked the fact that there are so many opportunities to work internationally; with clients based all around the world or as part of my own legal career.

Why solicitor not barrister?

For me, it was always the solicitor route. I wanted to be involved on a case from the very start and to be able to interact with the clients on a daily basis. There is a real sense of satisfaction in being involved from the fruition of a matter and being able to support the client through its decisions at each stage of litigation.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

I knew that I wanted to work in the City and, following lots of research, I only made one training contract application, to Dechert. I secured an interview, was offered a training contract, and moved to London to do the LPC at The University of Law with all the other future Dechert trainees.

How much work experience did you do? Why is it so important?

I did not do any formal vacation schemes, but during university I volunteered at several different law clinics in Manchester and did some informal work experience at a couple of law firms. My route was a bit unusual in that sense, and I would recommend that you try to get as much work experience as possible before applying. Having said that, your relevant experience is only one part of any application/interview and most firms are also looking for intelligent and engaging individuals who are willing to learn.

Which departments did you train in?

We have a six-seat system here. My first seat was in white collar, which was very interesting – I like to describe it as the scandal of the legal world, so fraud, corruption, bribery! It was a complete learning curve – perhaps particularly steep because I’d had little exposure to the law firm world. You are learning and absorbing everything in those first few months, meeting and interacting with lots of different people at all levels.

Next was complex commercial litigation. In this department I did a variety of work on high-value disputes including attending court, drafting research memos and participating in settlement meetings. I was also involved in some enforcement action and it was interesting to see how, in some cases, even though the client had succeeded at trial that it was not the end of the matter. I enjoyed working out what assets the other side had and assessing the most effective methods of enforcing our client’s judgment against those assets. I was also involved in a lot of pro bono, which is a great opportunity for trainees to take on more responsibility and a client-facing role. One pro bono case involved a dispute between my client and its supplier. I was involved at every stage, from taking witness statements to making settlement offers to the other side. Ultimately the case settled at a mediation and I took an active role in negotiating and drafting the settlement agreement in the mediation room with my colleague.

Then it was my corporate seat – I gained valuable experience and learnt a lot, although ultimately realised that it was not for me. Getting experience in as many different departments is invaluable as a litigator as disputes can arise out of the corporate transactions or financial contracts that come to life in the other departments. Also, it is the only way to really know where you might want to qualify.

In my fourth seat I went to Brussels on secondment to the competition department; it was so interesting and I worked with a great team. One part of my work there was researching what items operate in the same market and therefore compete against one another. For example, I remember trying to work out whether a cereal bar competes with boxed breakfast cereal!

Employment was next and I really enjoyed getting to grips with the various issues that businesses face in the employment sector; from employee disputes to TUPE transfers. It was during this seat that I interviewed for my qualification department, litigation. I returned to litigation in my final seat which made the transition to qualification much easier.

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

I took on a pro bono case during my employment seat acting for a charity in claim brought against it by a former employee. The value of the claim was quite small, but that didn't matter – the outcome was so important to the charity and it was great experience for me. I was the first point of contact for the client and developed a positive professional relationship with them. In terms of the work, I gathered documents together, drafted the defence, led witness statement interviews, prepared first drafts of the witness statements and engaged in settlement discussions. A few days before the hearing we were able to organise a mediation and secured a great settlement for the client.

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

Knowing that your role in the team, even as a first seat trainee, is important. Even though it may sometimes seem that proofreading or preparing exhibits is trivial, it is a key job – if you get that wrong it affects the entire process.

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

I am currently working on a commercial dispute where we are acting for the claimant in its claim against 10 defendants. In the early stages of the dispute I was involved in liaising with the client to collate and review the relevant documents, preparing a chronology of the relevant events and participating in internal strategy meetings. As the matter progressed I was responsible for arranging service of the proceedings on all 10 defendants in various counties including Switzerland, the BVI and the United States.

More generally, I am often drafting letters to the other side, liaising with counsel and preparing first drafts of applications, witness statements and notes of advice. I also work closely with the other members of the team at all levels, from partner to trainee.

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

Settlement meetings are always exciting; you’ve often been working on the case for a long period of time and all of the work has been geared towards ultimately resolving the dispute for your client. The settlement meetings often have various stages from, at the outset, outlining the strengths of your clients case and highlighting the weakness of the others side’s case to, in the end, trading settlement offers and doing everything possible to get the best outcome for the client.

It can sometimes be frustrating when you are working on a complex case, trying to make sure that everything comes together, and there is a hole in the evidence that you just cannot fill. You might be able to find another witness or locate some new documents, but if not, ultimately you can only work with the information that you have been given.

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

As trainees, you are encouraged to be a part of Dechert Uncorked, which is about building networks among your peers. The premise is that we host various events to which you invite your connections from other professions in the City. As your career develops, so too does theirs, which could prove invaluable at some later point.

In the litigation team we have monthly meetings and on the agenda each month is an update on the business development that partners and associates are doing. This often opens the discussion for what else we can do and how associates can be involved.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

From the perspective of a prospective trainee, it was important for me to have high-quality training. Therefore the small intake, of around 10 trainees, really means that in each department you get involved with everything and have the opportunity to work with a variety of partners and associates. People are supportive and friendly and you are encouraged to take control of your own career.

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