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Meet the lawyer

James Taylor

James Taylor

University: University of Birmingham
Degree: Philosophy
Year of qualification: 2014
Position: Senior associate
Department: Corporate – Private equity and venture capital team

What attracted you to a career in law?

My philosophy degree had a significant impact on my career choice. The focus of philosophy is logic, analysis and the construction of arguments, something that I had always enjoyed. Law offered me the opportunity to apply the skills of critical thought and analytical thinking in a real word scenario, where I could deal with complex issues and arguments and try to come up with creative solutions in a practical context – this was what was so particularly attractive to me.

I had always wanted a job that was going to challenge me and be different each day, not something that would quickly grow stale and repetitive. The law definitely offered me that.

Why solicitor not barrister?

There were two main reasons why I took the solicitor rather than the barrister route. First, I always had a suspicion that I would be drawn to the non-contentious side of the law. Second was personality fit. The idea of working as part of a larger team in a collaborative environment and handling transactions with clients appealed to me above the more independent status of working as a barrister.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

I am from Bristol originally and I was keen to apply to Bristol firms, but also to work for a firm which offered high-profile, exciting, good-quality work. It was a combination of these two things which drove me to apply to larger commercial firms with an office in Bristol. Osborne Clarke gave me the chance to work for a great firm in a great city, to be close to friends and family and near to the countryside, while still providing the opportunity to work on top-quality, national and international deals – the best of both worlds, really.

How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?

I didn’t have a huge amount of work experience when I started applying. But I had managed to get myself a couple of days at two different firms. While the time that I spent there was minimal, it was extremely valuable to my overall career decision. I would strongly recommend to anyone that you get as much experience as you can. It gives you an insight into what it is like on the ground. The job of a solicitor will be different from what it looks like on paper, and the firms will also be different. Work experience gives you a better flavour. I did work experience at two firms which looked similar on the surface in terms of head count and type of law, but what I experienced in just a few days with each firm was a marked difference in culture and business approach. It was clear which cultural fit would be the best for me. I couldn’t have learned about that from websites and promotional material.

Work experience is not everything, but it is important and will help you at interviews to provide a more informed answer when firms ask you why you want to be a solicitor and why you want to work for them. I would strongly encourage anyone wishing to undertake a training contract at Osborne Clarke to apply for a vacation scheme to help gain an understanding of the firm's culture and working environment.

What do you think made your application successful?

It may sound simple, but I think that showing genuine interest in the firm and doing a lot of research into its values was key to the success of my application. Osborne Clarke has a sector approach and I focused my research on those sectors. Showcasing that you have the relevant experience and skills that a trainee at Osborne Clarke would need is the best recipe for success.

Which departments did you train in?

Osborne Clarke offers four six-month seats as part of its training contract. I began in the banking team, followed by the corporate team and the restructuring and insolvency team. I knew by this time that I was keen to qualify in corporate. Before starting as a trainee, I had done some paralegal work during the holidays with the Osborne Clarke corporate team and I was enjoying the transactional side of the law. As a result, I ended up returning to the corporate team for my final seat.

Please discuss a specific deal/case that you were involved with, outlining your role in the matter.

The one that stands out for me when I was a trainee was when I had to fly to the Isle of Man to close a deal. We were working on a multi-million-pound equity investment deal for a Bristol-based investor. Due to the location of the target in the Isle of Man, it was necessary for all parties and advisers to fly out. The partner working on the deal and I drove up to Birmingham, flew over and I was tasked with running the signing and completion meeting. This was fantastic experience for me as a trainee as I got to work very closely with the client.

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

I have the privilege of now being a trainee supervisor myself, so I try to pass on what I have learned from my experiences as a trainee and beyond. The most important thing that I learned during my training contract is that what people value most is the willingness to get stuck in, have a go and learn in the process. No one is expecting you to know everything about the law on day one – that is the point of the training contract. My advice would be never to be afraid to admit that you don’t yet know something and to take every opportunity to learn and gather new experiences and knowledge.

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

There is no such thing as a typical day: I may have calls and meetings to advise clients, transaction documents to draft and negotiate or find myself spending time liaising with other lawyers and advisers to progress transactions towards completion. As a trainee supervisor, some of my time is also spent catching up with my trainee and providing them with feedback and guidance. I am also involved in the technology, media and communications sector within the firm, so I play a part in numerous business development initiatives.

My area of expertise is in private equity and venture capital transactions. This involves acting for investor clients and the companies taking on those investments. Some have a Southwest England focus, but the majority of my work is London or internationally focused.

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

Every day is different, every day is a challenge – that’s what I enjoy the most. You just don’t know how your day will turn out and that’s exciting. No two deals are the same: my work involves working with businesses of all sizes – from early stage start-ups to large, established companies – and across a range of industries – from drones to cake factories.

The other side of that coin, however, is the difficulty of planning ahead. It’s a challenge, though not impossible; but you have to work at it because your days are unpredictable. Saying that, while it requires you to be a bit more flexible with how you work, without it I’m sure that I would be bored.

What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?

The skills that you need to be a good solicitor are resilience and the ability to work under pressure while juggling timescales. You must also have a strong work ethic. There will be no one over your shoulder telling you exactly what to do, so you will need a lot of self-reliance and drive to motivate yourself to work hard.

People skills are also key. You will need to be a team player and develop relationships with clients and other solicitors. Attention to detail and a good technical understanding of the law should be balanced with commerciality and the ability to think about the wider context when advising clients on important issues for their business.

What is the work-life balance like at your firm? How often do you have late nights/work at weekends?

The nature of the work means that it can sometimes require long hours during the week, especially in the corporate team. Evening work is relatively common when I'm working on a transaction that is approaching completion. Having said that, weekend work is rare. I have friends at other firms who routinely work weekends, but for me it’s the exception and it’s never taken for granted when it does happen.

Technology certainly helps, as I can work in a more agile fashion. All trainees are given a laptop and phone and people are encouraged to work from home where needed, such as when you have an appointment booked. I am often in London three or four times a month, so it's great to have the means to work flexibly from other offices or on the train.

What is the wider culture like – eg, are there sports teams/trips out? Is there a LGBT group, women’s group etc?

Osborne Clarke has a number of sports clubs, including football, netball, cricket and softball, as well as Pilates and yoga classes in the building. 

To ensure that diversity is integrated into everyday organisational life, Osborne Clarke has established a number of networks across the firm to support staff. In the past year, the firm has launched LGBT+ and BAME networks. It has also evolved the women's network, recognising that everyone benefits from gender balance, and as achieving it is everyone's responsibility, the network is now open to both female and male participants who want to help the firm achieve gender balance.

There are also various team-building activities, such as bowling nights, as well as wider location-based events, parties and Christmas and year-end drinks. The summer party is a firm-wide event attended by all UK offices, with some of our international colleagues flying over. It’s great fun – we always have a five-a-side football competition, which our German colleagues love and fly over for just so they can win on penalties!

Osborne Clarke also has an international exchange programme and last summer I spent a week in Berlin with their venture capital team. It was quite different over there. Here in the United Kingdom, we have ‘dress for your day’ policy, so if you have no meetings, for example, you can dress in a bit more of a relaxed fashion. This is quite a new thing over here, while in Berlin they have been doing that for some time, which is in keeping with their focus on the venture capital and start-up scene. On my first day in the Berlin office I was the only person in the room not in jeans and a t-shirt. When I introduced myself as a UK colleague, the standard response was ’yes, we can see that’.

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

Corporate is very much a cross-practice team. The nature of any corporate transaction means that it will always require support from other teams. From a due diligence perspective, all business will need to be analysed from numerous perspectives and that will involve input from specialists in employment, commercial, real estate and pensions, to name a few.

I regularly work across teams and offices and frequently work with my international colleagues.

How often as a trainee were you communicating directly with clients (calls, attending meetings)?

My training contract gave me a lot of experience with direct client contact, which was great. Osborne Clarke has a lot of faith in its trainees and gives them exposure to clients from early on. You aren’t just left doing the behind-the-scenes work – I was asked to run a client signing meeting by myself within the first month as a trainee. This experience meant that when I qualified it felt like a natural progression rather than a sudden jump.

Describe the firm in three words.

Dynamic, ambitious and open.

What’s been the highlight of the last month at the firm?

A recent highlight for me has been advising a growth investor on its recent equity investment into video-games developer. It was great to work with all the parties involved to complete the deal and work on an investment in such an exciting business.

What inspired you to consider a law career?

What most inspired me was meeting firms and lawyers at law fairs. Just talking to them and listening to their experiences was really motivating and sparked my interest to pursue a law career.

It was great to hear about what the life of a lawyer was really like, rather than how I thought it might be from reading firm websites or how lawyers are portrayed in films and television. People often ask me, “Is your job like Suits?”. The answer is definitely more ‘no’ than ‘yes’, but it certainly has its dramatic moments.