Rachael Dixon


University: Newcastle University
Degree: Law
Year of qualification: 2013
Position: Lawyer
Department: Corporate

What attracted you to a career in law?

I had the opportunity to study law as one of my A levels at school and found it really interesting. That, along with various work experience, confirmed that law was something that I wanted to pursue.

Why solicitor not barrister?

I completed work experience in both areas. I did a couple of short mini-pupillages and also spent some time at solicitors’ firms. I enjoyed working as part of a team and the group-based nature of the solicitors’ profession more than the solo working lifestyle of a barrister.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

I read various law publications, which was useful for getting to know the names and experience of various firms. However, it was particularly beneficial to attend my university’s law fair and speak to people from the law firms; this helped me to form a shortlist of firms that interested me. I believe attending law fairs gives you a much better impression of the firm, the people and the work that they do, and gives you the opportunity to ask any questions you may have.

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

I did a lot of work experience during my last years at school and throughout university. I asked family members and friends who knew lawyers to put in a good word for me in the hope that I could secure a few days of experience here and there and I also wrote to local firms. I think the easiest way to secure work experience tends to be through contacts. Just having your name put forward by someone makes it a lot easier. However, I did manage to get two short placements from writing speculatively to firms. If you don't ask then you don't get, so it is worth asking at every opportunity; I once asked for work experience from a lawyer I was chatting to on a flight! 

Work experience is extremely valuable and I believe it certainly helped my application to stand out. Even short work experience placements of three or four days can help to show your commitment to law.

What do you think made your application successful?

As I have said, I believe that work experience is very important – even just some short placements give you something extra to talk about at an interview. I also did a lot of extra-curricular activities throughout school and university; in particular, I was involved in my university’s law committee at law school. This, combined with work experience, was what I think boosted my application – it’s about striking a balance between showing your commitment to and interest in law, and demonstrating that you are a well-rounded person with wider interests. It’s important to show how versatile you are and that you do other things – law firms receive so many applications that all look the same, anything that makes your application more interesting to read is bound to help.

Which departments did you train in?

I started in banking asset finance and my second seat was in corporate.

For my third seat, I went on a client secondment to the in-house legal team at TUI Travel PLC, which involved a mix of asset finance and corporate work. It was definitely a valuable experience, particularly in that I was given the opportunity to see things from a client's perspective and understand exactly what the client wants, as opposed to what we as lawyers think the client wants, such as sending the client a three-page memo when what is wanted is a “yes” or “no” answer with a brief explanation. It is important to understand your client’s needs, as this will enable you to give your client the best service possible. We are really encouraged to go on secondment at Dentons and there are a lot of secondment opportunities available, either with one of our clients or at one of our overseas offices. If you don’t complete a secondment as a trainee, you’re encouraged to take advantage of secondment opportunities as your career progresses.

My last seat was in technology, media and telecoms. My training contract was focused on transactional work, but I had obtained some broader exposure during the five months when I worked as a paralegal before I started at Dentons. I knew that I didn't have a particular interest in litigation, so I was able to attend the litigation course at The College of Law (now the University of Law). The first week was academic classroom learning and the second week was spent with a charity that provides pro bono advice on various matters. This was really interesting; I assisted with an immigration deportation case, which involved reading all the background information and going over the relevant law before going to prison to conduct an interview to build the case. This was completely different to what I experienced on my training contract, so it was good to be exposed to that side of practise.

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

During my corporate seat, I was involved in a really interesting sale by a large US corporation of one of its financially regulated UK companies. During the six-month seat, I was able to work on the transaction from start to finish, which was valuable because the nature of a training contract (moving seats every six months) means that you don’t always get that opportunity. We had to run through the basics of working out whether the sale would be an asset or share sale and it ended up a split asset sale going through an auction process, as we had a number of interested parties. This was not something I had been involved in before. Being involved right from the preliminary calls with the client gave me the knowledge to really add and learn as the transaction progressed. It was also interesting from a technical point of view; as the transaction was so heavily regulated there were various restrictions to consider.

How does the qualification process work at the firm?

The process at Dentons is that you anonymously tell HR what your preferences are and each department is notified of the number of applicants. There is then an application form to complete describing why you want to work in that department. Each applicant will have an interview with the partners in that department. The interview is split into three stages; firstly, you talk about a specific topic which tests your knowledge of that department; the second part focuses on you and what you have done throughout your training contract; and the third centres on business development and how you have contributed, as well as what you think would be good going forward.

In the end, what attracted me to corporate was the variety of the work; since I’ve joined the department, I haven’t done the same thing twice.

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

Always have a pen! Don’t go anywhere - even just to hand someone a document - without having a pen to hand, because you can almost guarantee that someone will ask you to do something.

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

First thing in the morning, I check emails and then work out what needs to be done on the various transactions I am working on. Regular tasks involve; reviewing documents, drafting ancillary documents for transactions and liaising with clients, whether by telephone or email. At the early stages of a transaction, I will often liaise with clients on a daily basis to gather all the relevant information. I often find that once you have checked and replied to various emails, you sometimes don’t manage to start drafting anything until around lunchtime!

The hours are unpredictable, particularly in corporate; if something comes in at 4:00pm and needs to be done for the next morning, you have to be reactive and get it done. However, luckily at Dentons there is no ‘face time’ culture where you have to be seen at your desk. If I have finished what needs to be done for the day, I leave on time.

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

At the moment, the big transaction that I am working on is the main market listing of securities. This requires a prospectus to market to investors. It’s a big task to cover all the diligence matters – often when reviewing a document you can spot a hole which requires further diligence. We then use the diligence to draft the prospectus, which is a long and collaborative effort between us, the bank and our client.

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

I like being busy and I think I work well under pressure. As I mentioned, I also like the variety of the work and applying my skills and knowledge to completely different matters.

The unpredictability of the hours is a downside, as this can stop you making plans during the week. You have to be spontaneous!

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

Quite a lot – which I didn’t expect at such a junior level. Dentons really encourages you to attend client events and build up your own client relationships. Often as a junior lawyer, you will be involved in pitches and the initial meeting with clients, which is really valuable. About two weeks ago, I attended my first pitch and was involved in putting together the marketing documents to sell the firm – you don’t just sit there at the meeting either, you are encouraged to speak about the work you would do. For example, I handled a lot of the diligence questions as this is very much within my remit as a junior lawyer. We won the pitch, so I was really pleased! Dentons also runs evening business development seminars that we are encouraged to attend.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

The quality of the training. I have a lot of friends at different firms and they are usually quite surprised to hear how much training we have. There’s a lot at junior level, both formal and informal training sessions. We have weekly departmental training on a specific topic, such as an area of law that is developing, and bi-weekly informal training sessions with one of the managing associates in corporate. During the informal sessions, we work through, for example, a share purchase agreement and recap why every clause is our precedent. This really helps to clarify the reasons why we can and cannot accept amendments during negotiations. During these sessions, we are encouraged to ask any questions - no matter how simple - and the managing associate is very experienced, so he’s the perfect person to ask. It’s good to refresh on the basics and helps to improve your technical knowledge.

We also have business development seminars where there might be a guest speaker from one of our clients, as well as breakfast seminars for clients that we are encouraged to attend.

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

You’ve got to be hardworking and committed to what you’re doing – especially for the times when something urgent comes in at 5:00pm. You also need be very analytical; lawyers often get criticised for moving commas and focusing on the minute details of wording, but the language that you use has to be as concise as possible, for the benefit of the client. I think it is also crucial to be able to build your own relationships with clients.

What’re you reading at the moment?

I have just finished Gone Girl, which was recommended by a friend. I tend now to go for easier but still gripping reads, because it’s enough having to concentrate reading all day at work!

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