Foot Anstey LLP
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University: University of Exeter
Year of qualification: 2014
What attracted you to a career in law?
I wasn't set on law when I was at school - I just really wanted to go to university and study a well-respected degree which wouldn't close off too many options when I graduated. I enjoyed studying law at university, especially the problem-solving aspect, and doing some work experience convinced me that I was on the right track.
Why solicitor not barrister?
I enjoy working as part of a team and my perception was that barristers are quite solitary. I didn't do any work experience at a barristers' chambers, so I can't verify whether that really is true or not, but from a practical perspective, I was also keen to start working as soon as I left university and believed that I was more likely to find a decent job in the South West as a solicitor than as a barrister.
How did you decide which firms to apply to?
I started with location - I wanted to stay in the South West, as it's where I live and I do a lot of cycling and sailing. I then looked at firm size because I wanted to join a large regional firm, rather than a high street practice. I also wanted to join a firm with a commercial focus, where I could experience ‘City quality' work. After that, I just tried to get a sense of each firm's culture - Foot Anstey seemed fresh and dynamic.
How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?
I did a few vacation schemes at a variety of firms, which generally ended with training contract interviews. I didn't get as much legal work experience as I would have liked, but I also gained some more general business work experience, for example with a job at Business Link, which I found just as useful because it enabled me to view things from a client's perspective.
What do you think made your application successful?
I had a fairly well-rounded CV thanks to my mixture of legal and non-legal work experience, which I had also boosted through a couple of part-time jobs while I was at university. When I was interviewed, I was asked just as many questions about my part-time jobs as I was about my legal work experience. I think some evidence of having gained transferable skills helps a lot, especially to the types of firm I was applying to, which value well-roundedness just as much as academics.
Which departments did you train in?
My first seat was in employment, which was a great start to my training contract. My second was in corporate, where I loved the transactional and project-based, team-focused nature of the work, as well as the buzz from being involved in big deals. I then went on to commercial litigation - and realised almost immediately that I didn't want to be a litigator! I spent my final seat in financial services and general commercial, before moving back to corporate for the last couple of months before qualifying.
How does the qualification process work at the firm?
Trainees submit a one-page application letter to the department they want to join, which sets out why you want to qualify into that area and be a part of the team. This is followed by an interview with a partner and a member of HR. However, both stages of the process are actually quite informal - it is not really the NQ application that makes the difference, but the two-year training contract that has led to that point, in my opinion.
What do you wish you'd known about being a trainee before you started that you now do?
The one thing that I wish I had known sooner was that it is alright to be yourself and show your personality. Personally, this took me a while to realise, but actually people like to do business with other people, rather than robots, so don't feel that you have to behave according to the ‘corporate' stereotype.
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
Each day is varied. At the moment we are handling a very large due diligence project, which I am running. The project is over four jurisdictions, so it involves a lot of liaising with counsel and various specialists across different time zones, which is exciting as well as challenging.
We are also in the middle of a couple of fairly typical M&A deals, where I generally assist with drafting and negotiating the disclosure letter, and supervise a trainee who produces all of the ancillary documents.
What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?
I most enjoy working with great people, both internally in terms of my fellow team members and other colleagues, and also in terms of our clients and other professionals that we work with. I get a lot of client contact, which I really enjoy - it's a very sociable job.
Sometimes it can be challenging to work with tight client deadlines. However, trainees (and lawyers) here are really well supported and even since qualification, I haven't seen any difference in the partners' commitment to us being able to have a work/life balance. I think it is recognised that we're all living in the South West for a reason - we all enjoy other activities outside work and having some free time is important.
How involved are you with business development and promoting the firm?
Quite a lot, and this was another aspect that made the firm stand out to me - we junior lawyers are encouraged to help partners prepare their pitches, both in terms of research and writing elements of the presentations and materials. We are also encouraged to get involved more directly, which I think is quite unusual; even as a trainee, I attended junior networking events. I'm also a member of several women's networking groups in the region - the firm is very supportive in helping us to get ourselves out there.
What makes your firm stand out from the rest?
Our commitment to client service really stands out, as our appreciation of our clients underpins everything that we do. We also have an entrepreneurial culture, which is evident in trainees' involvement in business development and permeates through the whole firm.
What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?
Communication, organisation and time management, plus attention to detail and a good work ethic are all key. On top of that, you always need to remember that you are working in a client service profession - the days of lawyers cloistered in big offices, dictating things to clients are long gone.
What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?
I would definitely recommend getting a variety of work experience in different firms. Try to gain some first-hand knowledge of what it's like to work in different-sized offices and different locations, so that you can be confident in yourself and what you want when making your training contract applications. I also mentioned that building up non-legal work experience really benefited me and I would absolutely recommend that to anyone reading this.
Finally, I would advise keeping an open mind about the type of firm you want to join and the practice area you want to specialise in, as the reality of working at a firm is so different to studying at university - I ended up enjoying things that I never thought I would and I certainly never expected to qualify as a corporate solicitor when I was a student.
What're you reading at the moment?
I am currently reading all of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels in the order that he wrote them and I have just finished Goldfinger. My favourite Bond from the films? It has to be Daniel Craig.
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