Gowling WLG (UK) LLP
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University: University of Cardiff
Year of qualification: March 2016
What attracted you to a career in law?
I was attracted by the intellectual stimulation of the academic side of law, but I had also done some work experience which triggered my desire to pursue it as a career.
Why solicitor not barrister?
As you progress through university, you are naturally drawn to particular areas and develop skills that are more suited to one path rather than the other. Obviously there is crossover between the two paths, but I think that the different skills required for each means that people tend to fall naturally into one or the other. For me, that lead me to choose life as a solicitor.
How did you decide which firms to apply to?
I started seriously thinking about it in my first year; I knew that I wanted to go to a big commercial firm with a substantial presence, and which also had a culture that would suit me. Going to law fairs and speaking to people working at various firms was, I found, the best way to get a sense of that. I know it’s a cliché, but when it comes to research, you definitely get out of it what you put in.
How much work experience did you do? Why is it so important?
It is important to experience things first hand – I think that it’s probably one of the key things that got me to where I am now. Each summer from the age of 16 I would write off to firms and spend a week shadowing, and then when I was at university, I applied for formal vacation schemes. I would most definitely encourage anyone to do vacation schemes, as they give you the perfect opportunity to see if you like the firm, while the firm evaluates whether you’re right for them.
I did a one-week Easter vac scheme at Gowling WLG during which time you are interviewed for a training contract. It definitely helps to have spent time at the firm in terms of feeling more comfortable and being able to talk about the firm with first-hand knowledge.
Which departments did you train in?
Banking, finance and corporate, and then I went on a client secondment. Generally speaking, it was a very transaction-based training contract, but that was what I knew I wanted to go into. I was given a lot of responsibility, plenty of partner contact, and was very involved in transactions – you’re not just churning documents out! Being on secondment was one of the best experiences in terms of developing my soft skills; there was an awful lot of responsibility and it can be daunting at first because you’re out there on your own, but it is a brilliant experience. Seeing things from the other side and learning what’s important to a client is invaluable – you definitely take those skills back with you to the office. I would encourage people to go on secondment if they have the chance to do so.
How does the qualification process work at the firm?
Because I was a March rather than September qualifier, there were fewer of us and it was a slightly less formal process. In essence though, you make it known where you would like to qualify and the firm identifies if there is availability. I knew that I wanted to go to corporate, and thankfully, here I am!
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
You never quite know how your day or week is going to pan out, which is the nature of transactional work. In fact, it’s one of the best things about it – the unpredictability makes it interesting. When you’re gearing up to a completion, it’s all hands on deck and there is a real buzz in the team, which I love. There is a lot of project management involved; in corporate, you are usually the main point of contact for the client, so you can find yourself handling queries about property, intellectual property, commercial and more. That means you need to have a bit of knowledge about a lot of areas. You often liaise with different internal departments, overseas counsel and third-party advisers, so it all requires you to be very organised and effective.
What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?
The challenge and variety is great. It’s often not about just being book smart, but more about being commercial and having a good dose of common sense. Transactions can progress very quickly, so you need to be able to think one step ahead at all times.
There are times when it can be stressful and pressured, but when you take a step back, particularly once completing a large transaction, it feels great and you find it very rewarding.
How involved are you with business development (BD) and promoting the firm?
We are encouraged to get involved with BD from early on, even as trainees. There are lots of junior networking events, which can be a good place to start – particularly when you’re a trainee or NQ, it can be daunting to go to big networking events, so meeting with your counterparts is easier, especially when you go on to work with them.
What makes your firm stand out from the rest?
From the beginning, I have always felt as though I have been very well looked after, given lots of responsibility and opportunities, and that there were always people around (of all levels) to ask questions of. You’re also made to feel part of the team; you’re not just ‘the trainee’. They really do nurture you so that you can flourish in the areas that you’re interested in. I was given great experience in transactional work, which helped me to develop that side of things.
What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?
Definitely get some work experience – it doesn’t necessarily mean you will know exactly what you want to do, but it can help you to figure out what you don’t want to do. It’s also worth getting experience in a breadth of firms if possible; I was able to tailor my applications because of that. My other piece of advice is to start early – being on the ball with deadlines and putting enough time into your research is key. I also only applied to a few firms; I didn’t saturate the market, which meant my applications were very focused and tailored. At the end of the day, it’s your career and you spend a lot of time at work, so you need to enjoy what you’re doing. Finally, don’t be disheartened by rejection – it’s a very competitive market, but you should hold out for a firm that you really want to join. If you put the work in, it will pay off.
What’s your signature dish?
Chili con carne (extra hot!)!
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