Herbert Smith Freehills LLP

Faria Ali
Herbert Smith Freehills LLP

Herbert Smith Freehills LLP

University: University of Oxford
Undergraduate degree: Law
Year of qualification: September 2016
Position: Associate
Department: Corporate

What attracted you to a career in law?

I decided when I was in sixth form that I wanted to do law, but didn’t start applying for training contracts until I was in my third year of university. It meant that I was interviewing at the same time as I was preparing for finals, so not ideal! I also hadn’t done a huge amount of research, so applied to firms that I recognised the names of and whose reps I’d met on campus. Herbert Smith Freehills was the first place that I interviewed and did my vacation scheme and I was very happy to get an offer.

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

My first interaction with the firm was at the assessment centre, which was split into different parts, including a one-on-one interview with a partner who had helped to set up the multicultural network at the firm. I’m Pakistani and a Muslim, and we talked about that and how it might affect my career. I was feeling quite apprehensive, but he made me feel so comfortable, and that carried on throughout the vacation scheme. The firm felt very inclusive and I didn’t feel out of place at all – in fact, it is one of the many reasons I’ve stayed on post-qualification. Having done the scheme here, I knew that I really liked it as a firm and that it was the right fit for me. You get a much better feel for the place by virtue of having been here for three weeks.

Which departments did you train in?

My first seat when I started in September 2014 was disputes, in the insurance department. I worked on what was then the biggest insurance claim in the market, which was very interesting. I really enjoyed it, but once I moved on to the transactional seats, I knew that they suited my temperament better. My second seat was in real estate finance, where I enjoyed the nature of the work and had a lot more responsibility – it is easier to do more and learn more quickly, as the transactions are shorter and you are often repeating tasks.

I then went to Dubai for six months, which was a brilliant opportunity. I experienced a lot more client contact, really setting it apart from the other seats – it was the first time I had really had to manage client expectations. Then it was back to London for a final corporate seat, which is where I’ve qualified. I worked on a number of interesting matters, including on the sale of Tommee Tippee!

How does the qualification process work at the firm?

It is a combination of formal and informal elements; a lot depends on the relationship that you have with the group that you want to qualify into. For example, because I’d only been with corporate for a few weeks before I applied, and there were only a couple of spots available, they ran an internal interview. Having said that, there is the advantage of already being there and familiar with the interviewers, so it’s much less formal than on the assessment day, for example. And it was made clear to me throughout that there would be a job for me within corporate, it was just a case of finding the right group.

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

That for everyone, the first time you are given a piece of work to do, there is a moment of sheer panic as you realise you have no idea where to start! I didn’t talk to anyone about that feeling for my first two seats, but once I did, I realised that everybody feels the same. And once you’ve produced your work, you realise that you can get through it and come up with something decent.

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

I haven’t had a typical day in the two months since I qualified! But compared to the work I did as a trainee, there is a lot more drafting and client contact, as opposed to supporting the team as a trainee and tying up loose ends. I recently closed a deal, and as an associate, you are in control of your work stream more and have more independence.

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

The best thing is working as part of a team to get something done, as opposed to more adversarial disputes work. With transactions, you are helping to get the client from A to B and there is something tangible at the end of it – I like that. The downside of transactional work is that it can be hard to plan your day; there are often times where you’re planning on leaving at 7:00pm and then something comes in, and you’re still there hours later. However, you do get better at managing your time.

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

It’s one of the elements that you’re left to run with and there are plenty of opportunities to do so. For example, I am involved with the multicultural network and with a BAME focus group; we’ve been organising and hosting several events, including one just a couple of weeks ago. So although that’s BD from a different perspective, you are networking with people from different backgrounds and building up your contacts. And if people are interested in getting something new off the ground, there is usually plenty of support to do so.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

The people. In the just over two years that I’ve been here, I’ve never come across anyone who was difficult to deal with. Part of that is that everyone is attracted by, and becomes a part of, the inclusive culture of the firm. It means everyone is just so nice to work with and that makes a big difference.

What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?

Take the time to get to know the firms before you apply. They can all seem the same on paper, but there are definitely differences. There is so much you can pick up from meeting people who work at the firms you’re interested in, so take the time to do that before you apply. It will also translate into better applications and not churning out the same thing for every firm.

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