University: University of Nottingham, University of Hong Kong
Degree: Law with Chinese law
Year of qualification: 2019
Department: Energy, infrastructure and resources
What attracted you to a career in law?
I always enjoyed learning about how the law is part of, and impacts on, almost everything in our lives. In particular, I found the way that complex and important matters were settled by litigation fascinating and I wanted to experience that.
Why solicitor not barrister?
I consider myself a good team player – my experience outside of law made me realise that working in a team to deliver results on complex issues suited me better, so pursuing the solicitor route made sense. Now, it gives me a chance to work hand-in-hand with wonderful and talented colleagues globally on fascinating issues for our clients.
How did you decide which firms to apply to?
I read up extensively on firms to identify what type of work they did, who the people were and what the trainees/associates said about the firm. I went to law fairs and spoke to the people there to get a sense of what was important to them and important to me. I was fortunate to be introduced to some of the partners at K&L Gates, which was when I realised that firm culture was important to me – the atmosphere at K&L Gates felt right.
How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?
I had done some work experience with small, local firms near to my family before and had completed a couple of mini-pupillages. However, I never actually secured a place on a vacation scheme.
While I think that vacation schemes offer candidates great insights into what working for a firm is like, what they are looking for, as well as giving the firm a chance to get to know them, I don’t regret not doing one. That said, I would encourage students to apply to vacation schemes.
I think that other work experience can be pivotal in demonstrating what you have to offer as well. I had spent time during and after my degree and Legal Practice Course managing restaurants, which gave me a huge set of skills. I had also studied in Hong Kong for two years, which exposed me to a completely different way of life and doing business. It was understanding that this non-legal experience was just as relevant as my legal experience that made the difference for me.
What do you think made your application successful?
As I say above, it was understanding how all the different things I had done in my life set me apart as a candidate, whether they were directly linked to the practice of law or not.
Studying law in Hong Kong gave me an international perspective on the law, but also experience of working with colleagues from different nationalities, cultures and legal systems. It opened my eyes to what being a lawyer in an international firm might be like.
Running hospitality businesses – and especially ones with high aspirations – taught me about people and project management, dealing with challenging and complex situations and getting used to high-intensity environments.
I also think it is better to come across as honest – I tried not to look like the candidate who had memorised the website, but rather as someone who was knowledgeable and willing to learn.
Which departments did you train in?
I started in our investment management team. Then I moved on to the litigation and dispute resolution team, then corporate, and finally contentious construction and energy.
Please discuss a specific deal/case that you were involved with, outlining your role in the matter.
My biggest case was acting for a former director of a FTSE 250 company in a dispute with the other directors. This was a fast-moving, multi-faceted case that dominated my litigation seat and beyond.
From injunctions in the Guernsey courts to corporate actions to high-profile High Court litigation, we had to explore each and every avenue of attack and defence for our client.
From the beginning, I was involved in marshalling a huge amount of evidence and helping the case team put the most compelling case forward. I was involved in preparing pleadings and witness evidence both for the Guernsey courts (including injunctions prepared on a 24-hour turnaround) and the High Court, correspondence with solicitors on the other side, liaising with our Counsel and client care. All members of the team were expected to pitch in, from the Queen's Counsel (QC) and lead partners at the top, right through to the (at times, small army of) trainees. It was hard work but very rewarding.
How does the qualification process work at the firm?
Departments will work with management to come up with a list of positions that will be available in around April to May each year. Trainees will then be given an opportunity to apply for one or more of those jobs, by way of a covering letter and CV, and if successful will then be invited to an interview with two or more partners. The whole process takes a little over two weeks before offers are made.
What do you wish you’d known about being a trainee before you started that you now do?
You will be a part of the team from day one. So, expect to hit the ground running, get up to speed quickly and be trusted by the partners and associates in your team to take responsibility early. The team wants you to succeed – not just for your sake, but because a trainee who can weave themselves into the team makes the whole team better. This means that you can expect to be supported and challenged at the same time.
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
I work in the energy, infrastructure and resources practice area of the firm, primarily within the energy team, but also with our construction and infrastructure team. Most of my work is in disputes/international arbitration, although we also advise on contracts and projects as well.
My role can be as wide-ranging as working with our client, our e-Discovery teams and our experts and witnesses on understanding the huge volume of evidence that is usually part of construction and energy disputes, turning that evidence into pleadings and witness statements and presenting that evidence to the tribunal. I often get involved in corresponding with the lawyers on the other side of cases and the tribunal – perhaps to work out a point of procedure or to advance our client’s case as best we can.
My work is entirely collaborative, and I work daily with clients and colleagues from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, Doha, Houston and Seattle, as well as my own team here in London – we truly are a global firm with a global service.
Please discuss a current/recent specific deal/case outlining your role in the matter.
I am currently involved in a major international arbitration relating to a large development in a Middle Eastern city. My role in that team has been two-fold.
First, I have been tasked with making sure that our client’s case is properly evidenced – that means backing up what my colleagues say in the pleadings and witness evidence with contemporaneous documentary evidence.
I have then had the incredible opportunity to organise, facilitate and manage two virtual hearings on this matter. This has involved working with counsel on the opposing side to engage third-party virtual hearing providers, ensure that a protocol is set up and agreed by the tribunal on how the hearing is to be conducted, and support our QC, solicitor team and witnesses/client to make sure that the hearings ran smoothly.
What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?
Working on big international cases has both its benefits and drawbacks. On the plus side, it is exciting and attractive to work on multi-million (sometimes billion) dollar cases about actual physical buildings, rigs or vessels. Working with my team is always a joy – they’re all very talented and bring something different to the table and I am always learning from them and my cases.
However, sometimes there are gruelling stints in the office to make a deadline, complex issues popping up that require urgent attention and of course it is never fun when you lose on an issue!
How involved are you with business development and promoting the firm?
At K&L Gates we are encouraged to get involved with business development from the first day. Whether that involves drafting client alerts, handbooks or case summaries, attending events to represent the firm or being involved in pitches. And of course, every time you interact with a client, they will be thinking about how well you’re serving them.
What makes your firm stand out from the rest?
In London, we have managed to successfully retain the culture of the London firm that merged with our American colleagues – the people are extraordinarily friendly and approachable, the expectations and targets still reflect the London market and it is genuinely a good place to work. On a global scale, K&L Gates is impressive as a fully-interconnected firm that gives you the opportunity to work every day with colleagues all across the platform.
I’d also highlight that I think that the firm’s commitments to diversity and inclusion, pro bono work and innovation are not just tangential to our core mission – they are an integral part of it and are both practised and preached at every level.
What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?
There’s no one type of solicitor, as far as I am concerned. A good and solid understanding of the law is essential, as are good written and communication skills, the ability to work under pressure and a desire to learn. Each of my colleagues brings something different to the table, and I think trainees quickly start to realise what kind of lawyer they are.
Some of my colleagues are highly analytical, can delve into the most complex of issues and come up with a solution. Others are exceptional at pleading cases, negotiating, and persuading. Some prefer to be project managers – helping to coordinate all the different things that you have to do in a deal or on a case and deliver high-quality work product for your client. Take the time to figure out which of those you are because each type of lawyer is important.
What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?
Don’t be afraid to listen to your gut instinct – what kind of firm you want to work for; what work you want to do; who you want your clients to be; what are the things that are most important to you when looking at a workplace? You’ll be far better off trying to match yourself to a firm that fits that profile than if you just go for the firm with the most high-profile work or highest salary just for the sake of it (not that that’s necessarily wrong). If you’re honest with yourself about what your skills are, what you want to get out of a training contract and do your research on what firms can give you that, then you’ll find the right place for you.