University: University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
Degree: Bachelor of Commerce (with Law), majoring in Finance and Investment
Year of qualification: 2022
Department: Banking and finance
I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do when I left school. My uncle, who’s also a lawyer, advised me to study a business and law degree to “keep my options open” with the ability to pivot to a post-graduate degree in law at the end of my three-year undergraduate.
As I progressed through my undergraduate, I found my legal subjects to be the most stimulating and, following some work experience in South Africa and the UK, I realised that I enjoyed the intellectual challenge and team-oriented nature of law.
Barristers often work alone and are responsible for sourcing their own work. They’re also often highly specialised in a particular field of law. I prefer working as part of a team and the camaraderie that comes with that. I also like the fact that you don’t need to specialise too early and can gain experience across different areas within your field before doing so. Plus, I don’t love public speaking!
I moved to the UK from South Africa in 2017 and started my law conversion immediately. At the time, I didn’t have a great understanding of the size and structure of the UK legal market and so my applications were a stab in the dark. As I did more applications and interviews, I narrowed down the list of firms I wanted to apply to. These were often firms that were strong in corporate and finance as my background was in this field. Ironically, while Farrer & Co is traditionally known as a private client firm, my research highlighted that the firm had experienced, and was continuing to experience, rapid growth in its corporate/commercial/banking practice areas. On that basis, and together with the firm’s reputation for having genuinely nice people, an excellent training programme and an interesting client base, I applied.
I’d not had a large amount of legal work experience other than a one-week vacation scheme at a law firm in South Africa in 2016, as well as three days at a large Anglo/American firm in the UK during a winter holiday in 2016. While these experiences didn’t make me a better lawyer, they were crucial in demonstrating to interviewers that I had a real interest in a legal career. I’d encourage anyone thinking about law as a career to take advantage of schemes and placements on offer as, in addition to helping you discover whether you actually want to be a lawyer, they’re valuable for CV building and interview preparation.
As with most (if not all) firms in the UK, good academic results are important. However, where Farrer & Co differs is that it places a large emphasis on who you are as an individual and team member and how you can contribute to the firm in both respects. In my application and interviews at Farrers, I was able to show my personality and demonstrate what I could bring the firm, which led to my training contract offer.
Farrer & Co is rather unique in that trainees train in six departments for four months each, giving you a broader exposure to different practice areas than you might get under the traditional four seat model, used by most firms. In your final seat, subject to a role being available, you return to the department where you’d like to qualify, which ensures a seamless transition into associate life. I did seats in corporate, banking and finance, property litigation, commercial property and private client and returned to banking and finance in my final seat (where I qualified).
We’ve recently completed a large real estate development financing transaction which was the culmination of five months of work. I worked on this deal along with one other associate and the partner, which meant I was given a lot of responsibility to run the transaction day to day. This included drafting and negotiating security documents, reviewing and commenting on ancillary documents such as notices, insurance brokers’ letters and other policies. I also managed the CP checklist, which is a list of all the requirements that must be satisfied for the bank to advance funds to the borrower.
If you don’t ask, you don’t get! At the start of my training contract, I remember being hesitant to ask certain associates/partners for work (as I didn’t want to ‘bother’ them), and instead waited for work to given to me. I wish I’d known that, not only are people appreciative when you ask for work but, you give yourself the opportunity to get involved in a wider variety of matters and work with more people. This might lead you to stumble across an area or person that inspires you and that you’d not otherwise have encountered.
In the banking and finance team, we advise on a range of lender and borrower work, including real estate finance, art finance, fund finance and even crypto finance.
On a typical day, I arrive in the office at around 9:00am, check my calendar to see whether I have any meetings scheduled and review any emails that have come in overnight. This enables me to structure my day and prioritise my work accordingly. I’ll then begin my various tasks, which often include drafting facility agreements and security documentation; managing CP checklists; liaising with clients and the other side’s counsel on gathering CP documentation or negotiating points in finance documentation; and speaking with associates and partners around the team to get their view on particular points.
You’ll need to have good attention to detail, be organised, calm under pressure and able to multi-task effectively (which all come with experience). However, while all lawyers must be technically sound, a successful lawyer is one that’s personable and able to build and maintain relationships well. This will enable them to bring the firm new business (and repeat business with existing clients), which is integral to having a long-term career in this industry.
It’s a long journey and a highly competitive market. I finished school in 2013 and qualified nine years later! But if you’re patient, perseverant and resilient, your time will come and once it does, law offers an intellectually challenging and financially rewarding career in which you’ll be surrounded by clever, interesting people and, hopefully, working on topical and engaging matters.
The firm has several fantastic initiatives in place. I’ve picked out a few below:
Definitely completing the real estate development finance transaction that I mentioned above. This was a large, complex matter that required cross-departmental co-operation and I enjoyed the responsibility and trust that my team afforded me. I also worked on this matter from its inception to completion and found it very fulfilling to know that I could add value.
I’m currently reading Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall, which considers how the current state of each country in the world has been heavily influenced by geographical factors.