Osborne Clarke LLP
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University: University of KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa)
Department: International arbitration and international disputes
At an early stage, it was clear that Daniel's personality traits attracted him to the legal profession. He therefore had little hesitation in choosing to study law for his university degree, which he completed at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in his home country of South Africa. "I've always valued clear communication and logical reasoning," he explains, "I place great importance on making sure that decisions are reasoned, fair and justified - and I believe that these values are a cornerstone of the legal profession."
While still at university, Daniel opted to pursue a career as a solicitor, despite the obvious and exciting draws of the Bar: "I have had some advocacy experience and actually really enjoyed it, but I prefer to collaborate with others rather than work alone. Also, I appreciate the consistency and structure of the solicitor's career, which I gather is not offered by the Bar in the same way. The two professions represent different career styles, I think - and the solicitor's path seemed to suit me more."
Since his teen years, Daniel had been attracted to the pace and excitement of London, and so upon graduating in South Africa he made the move to the big city. Having chosen his path into the profession, and while still in South Africa, Daniel set about researching firms at which to apply for a training contract - opting to focus on UK-based law firms with a strong presence in London: "I didn't have the local awareness that someone from the United Kingdom would. I therefore relied more on the information provided by websites like LC.N, The Lawyer and RollonFriday. South Africa doesn't have equivalent online resources like these to provide objective commentary of the whole profession, as well as inside information through interviews like this. It meant that, although I was approaching the British profession from the outside, I had a lot of reliable information on which to draw."
Utilisation of the independent resources available enabled Daniel to draw his own conclusions about the makeup of the legal profession: "I researched some firms that are widely perceived to have a high status, but I just didn't get the impression that their people really enjoyed the working culture. If you're going to spend such a large portion of your life working at these places, it has to be for the right reasons. Some firms really jumped out at me because of the consensus that they were great places to work, so I narrowed my focus to that group. Osborne Clarke was one of those firms - it enjoyed a lot of praise from its own employees, who seemed to really enjoy their work. I got the impression that it was an energetic, exciting place to work."
Daniel made the move to London and found work as a legal administrator in a City-based firm. During his time there, and before taking on the GDL and LPC, he set about applying for vacation scheme places and training contracts: "I applied to just three firms, which may seem like an excessively narrow focus, but the industry advice emphasised that firms want your application to be tailored in order to show your desire to work specifically for them. It was clear that I would be best served by focusing on those firms that I was really keen on, rather than applying to every firm with a listing in the Legal 500. I secured a place on a vacation scheme with Osborne Clarke in the summer of 2008, which was rounded off with an interview. I was offered a training contract on the back of that and was so happy that I withdrew my other applications."
From the outset, Daniel was made to feel welcome. "I was invited to a string of firm-wide social events which made me feel like part of the firm before I actually started my training contract," he recalls. "We were treated really well as vac schemers and the firm kept in regular contact with us from the moment we were offered training contracts to the day we started. The firm has continued to prioritise our development as trainees, and I feel quite privileged to have had this quality of investment."
Much of Daniel's training contract was spent working in small teams, which has both aided his learning and allowed him to make valuable contributions to the work, as illustrated by an example from his first seat in dispute resolution: "I appeared before the senior master of the High Court to ask for a certificate that had not been issued at English law before. A large part of the dispute resolution team's work centres on foreign jurisdictions and cutting-edge cross-jurisdictional legal requirements, so I had to go before the senior master without a legal precedent to support me - we were in uncharted waters, so to speak. It was nerve wracking, but happily the request was granted and the resulting certificate actually played a very helpful role in the client's case."
The firm's approach to training contracts combines a healthy blend of formal learning with frequent opportunities for gaining practical experience. Daniel feels that the firm provided the right balance to aid his development: "We have regular training sessions, which cover new legal developments and explain the more difficult recurring issues we are likely to come across in practice. As a trainee I assisted other fee earners on the main contractual agreements needed for their deals, and was relied upon to draft ancillary documents myself. Trainees are also asked to research issues as they come up, so we are constantly acquiring valuable experience and knowledge in many different areas."
Osborne Clarke is certainly a desirable firm at which to develop that experience. "The current momentum and expansion at the firm is really exciting; for anyone just starting out in the legal profession, it’s great to know that the firm is going places. The firm's leadership is also really good at keeping us informed of their plans, which helps to break down the sort of hierarchical barriers that are apparently the norm at some other firms."
Indeed, the culture at Osborne Clarke consciously eschews the more traditional approach to office dynamics: "Our open plan offices, and the approachability of colleagues, mean that there is no stuffiness at the firm. I've experienced more traditional office set-ups and they do create an atmospheric barrier, which makes it harder to approach senior lawyers. People here are friendly and genuine, without the formalities or politics that can give some firms such a bad name. Our vac schemers frequently comment on how they are treated like proper trainees when they come to the firm. Everyone is given real responsibility in accordance with our experience and enthusiasm."
The firm's ethos also takes into account the importance of its employees' commitments outside of the office. "Work/life balance is a topic that many firms are keen to talk about," reflects Daniel, "but I've seen many definitions of what constitutes a good work/life balance and some of them are quite skewed. To me, providing a restaurant and a gym on site - so people don't need to leave the office - is not what a work/life balance should be about. Equally, filling every evening with work-related commitments (important and enjoyable though they are) is not a work/life balance. I think that the firm's management understands this, and people across the firm are well-rounded individuals with passions and interests outside the firm. This makes them better colleagues and better lawyers. Just this week, we all received a message from our managing partner emphasising the importance of spending time with our families and saying how this consideration would influence the way the firm operates. It's really good to see and is in marked contrast to some of the other firms that I researched. I don't think having a work/work balance is the way to get the best out of employees. That is one of my least favourite elements of the legal profession - there is a common perception that it is your career that gives you your identity. Being a lawyer is very important to me, and the law itself is of course an important part of all our lives, but our jobs are not meant to be what gives us value as people."
Daniel also has some words of advice to anyone thinking of joining the legal profession: "You'll have already heard that legal expertise and an appreciation of commercial concerns are essential qualities for a lawyer, but if you've got an appetite to keep on learning then your development will continue throughout your career. Another essential characteristic to cultivate is attention to detail; some people might find this dry or tedious, but it is one of the qualities that make lawyers such valuable advisers - we care about these things. You'll also need people skills, because people are at the centre of every organisation or transaction. Becoming a lawyer takes a lot of investment - in time, money and effort, both from you and your firm. You therefore need to give serious consideration as to whether the law is right for you, rather than just seeing it as a 'safe' career option."
And finally: "Remember to not leave your personality at your firm's reception desk. Everyone brings something different to Osborne Clarke, which is one of the reasons why it is such a great place to work."
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