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Meet the lawyer

Luke Barden de Lacroix

Luke Barden de Lacroix

University: University of Bristol
Degree: Law with Study in Continental Europe
Year of qualification: 2017
Position: Senior associate
Department: Commercial dispute resolution 

What attracted you to a career in law?

Thanks to the work experience I’d undertaken, I realised the way I worked and the subjects I was interested in would complement a career in law. I enjoy problem solving and being challenged, have an eye for detail and wanted a client-facing role – I thought a career in law, particularly in the area of dispute resolution, would be interesting to explore. 

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

I was fortunate to secure work experience at firms across the board, including magic circle, silver circle and City firms. It was by virtue of that and by process of elimination that I decided I’d benefit from being part of a smaller, City-based firm. I thought my skill set would also be best suited to this type of firm, so that’s where my focus was when making applications.

Why was the work experience you had so important?

Getting involved in work experience helps you work out whether a career in law is a possibility. For example, you could step foot in a law firm for the first time, shrink away and think “this isn’t for me”.

Secondly, it helps to narrow down the firms you’re interested in applying to and gives you an idea of the areas of law that might appeal to you. I’d recommend reviewing these practice areas and checking whether the ones you identify are reflected in the law firms you want to apply to.

Which departments did you train in?

I started my training contract in the firm’s real estate finance team doing transactional work before moving onto the corporate department in the M&A team. I then sat in the private client department, where I did a mixture of contentious and non-contentious work, and finished my training contract in commercial dispute resolution. We completed a standard training contract of four six-month seats.

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

I wish I’d known that there’s no such thing as a silly question. Asking questions is fundamental to your development as a trainee – both personally and to support the fee earners because it helps to identify the areas where their instructions haven’t been entirely clear. Looking back now as a fee earner, I’d much prefer to answer a few extra questions at the outset of a task, rather than have a trainee set off on the wrong footing. 

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

My area of expertise is commercial dispute resolution. I have quite a broad practice so in any one day I could be working for an investment bank, an African republic or a former Premier League footballer; there’s lots of variety.

A typical day would probably involve me logging on around 8:45am. I’d then spend some time catching up on emails and doing some filing. I’d have a number of calls with clients each day, as well as meetings with colleagues on our matters and as part of our various practice groups, and would be in touch with counsel generally via email or sometimes in a consultation. Around that I’d most likely be drafting letters or reviewing and amending documents, such as skeleton arguments. Court hearings nowadays are often held remotely, which is great as they’re quite easy to organise and quick to conduct.

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

A case that I’m currently working on and am finding particularly interesting is a US$2 billion Commercial Court case involving the Republic of Mozambique. The matter is known as the "tuna bonds scandal", and involves wide-ranging allegations of conspiracy and fraud and has had quite a bit of press attention.

We act for a former official from the Republic. There’s a core team of three working on this: a partner, a paralegal and me, with support from others when work peaks. The paralegal is Portuguese-speaking which has been incredibly helpful with disclosure as many of the documents are in Portuguese. My role in the matter is often to act like a managing associate and we have to keep a careful focus on operating cost effectively for the client.

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

The firm really encourages its lawyers to get involved with business development.  The firm wants us to attend networking events, whether that’s industry events or one-on-ones with other professional service firms, or barristers’ chambers, and I've been able to attend a variety of these events abroad. I’ve also been involved in preparing client pitches. The firm puts some of its fee earners on business development courses to help them to improve their skills in this area. At my stage, there’s no real expectation for me to bring work in work but getting involved in general business development is very much encouraged.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

I think Howard Kennedy has done really well in differentiating itself by providing a personable and straightforward, all-round service to its clients. The firm wants its fee earners to work alongside the clients as their trusted advisers, which involves having a good understanding of clients’ businesses and their needs, as well as the parameters within which the clients operate. We’re not a vast firm, which I think helps with the personable approach that Howard Kennedy is aiming for. It really lives its values. Trainees also get incredible exposure to the firm’s clients in terms of meeting attendance, joining calls and exchanging emails, for example.

What is the work/life balance like at your firm?

The work/life balance at Howard Kennedy is very good. When things need to be done, they get done; however, the firm promotes a healthy work/life balance and partners are conscious not to impinge on people’s home time. This has obviously come into focus over the past couple of years as the number of people working from home has increased, and the boundaries between work and personal life have become blurred.

What diversity and inclusion initiatives does the firm have in place?

One of the firm's core values is "be yourself" and it has a number of initiatives to promote change and innovation through a diverse and inclusive culture. These include an Inclusion Committee, Allies Champions, annual Values Awards, and a reverse mentoring programme. We celebrate International Women's Day, Disability Awareness Month, Black History Month and PRIDE. We’re a part of the Business Disability Forum and partner with Making the Leap to provide opportunities for disadvantaged individuals across London.

Does your department largely work independently, in support of another dept or is it routinely supported by other depts?

In terms of the teams within our department, we often work together quite closely – for example, my commercial dispute resolution team regularly work alongside the business crime or media disputes teams. We receive a number of cross referrals from other departments, as well as from international networks of which the firm is a member. Litigation doesn’t tend to go hand in hand with transactional work but we’re always available to discuss matters with colleagues from other departments and provide legal updates in our area or to advise on certain aspects, such as dispute resolution clauses in contracts. 

What’s the biggest opportunity you’ve been given since joining the firm?

The biggest opportunity I’ve had has been to establish the firm’s pro bono programme alongside a colleague who was a trainee in the year above me. We were both involved in pro bono initiatives before joining Howard Kennedy,  and have always seen pro bono work as part and parcel of being a lawyer.

We saw an opportunity to put a more formal pro bono arrangement in place at Howard Kennedy and were encouraged to run with it. We presented to the board and provided them with our proposals, and now the programme has been running for around five and a half years.

What are you reading at the moment?

The Mixer by Michael Cox. To offer some context, I’m a big Arsenal fan and the book details the evolution of the Premier League in terms of tactics. It’s very well written and funny. Having lived through a number of years of the Premier League (and experienced its highs and lows), it’s been fascinating to go back and see how themes play out over the years – looking at the league from season to season from above, rather than game by game.