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Meet the lawyer

Jessica Tagg

Jessica Tagg

University: University of Nottingham
Degree: Law with Australian Law
Year of qualification: 2019
Position: Associate
Department: Pro bono EMEA
Pronouns: She/her/hers

What attracted you to a career in law?

I’ve always been interested in law because it affects everybody. From a young age, I was keen to understand more about the law and was interested in the idea of being able to shape it. The work is also so varied, which is of course appealing.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

I spent lots of time looking into various firms, including research online (eg, firm websites) but I also attended open days and sessions held at my university. These opportunities to meet firms are excellent ways to get a feel for the firm. I was attracted to Reed Smith because of its pro bono secondment, which allows trainees to spend six months with a pro bono client. I hadn’t seen this particular offering at many other law firms at the time.

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

I’d had a little experience before making my applications but most of it had been outside of the legal profession. When I was applying, I just focused on the transferable skills I’d developed – for example, from when I was waitressing in a restaurant – and outlined how those skills were relevant to working in a law firm.

I also drew on other leadership roles I’d had that weren’t necessarily work experience, for example volunteering and the roles I’d undertaken on societies at university. 

Which departments did you train in?

My first seat was in shipping litigation (which is now called transportation), I then did the pro bono secondment for six months in my second seat, during which I was able to spend time on the ground with our amazing charity partners Liberty and Reprieve, my third seat was in the IP, tech and data team. My final seat was in general litigation before I was offered the associate role with the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Asia) pro bono team.

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

I wish I’d known that nobody is expecting you to be an expert. As a trainee, there’s a lot of pressure because you think you need to know everything but that’s not the case. Everyone understands the role of trainees - they know that you rotate and that you’re very early on in your career. I wish I’d known that as long as you’re enthusiastic, willing to listen and learn, and put in the effort that those things will take you far.

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

As an associate in the pro bono EMEA team, I help to coordinate and manage pro bono across our Europe, Middle East and Asia offices. There are two particular areas that I look after – commercial advice for charities and non-profits, and international human rights projects. 

I also do legal casework. I’ve worked on immigration cases involving children and their families, appeals for disability benefits, and have been part of strategic litigation matters.

A typical day involves working with the brilliant lawyers that lead all our pro bono projects across EMEA. We have a great network of lawyers who run all of the different long-term projects and research. I also regularly speak to our pro bono clients, introduce new clients to the firm and scope out new pieces of work. Every day is very varied and I’m proud to be able to make a positive impact through my work.

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

Last year I was involved in leading the Afghanistan Assistance Project, alongside another law firm and our charity partner, Safe Passage International. We set it up within 48 hours in the immediate aftermath of the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan. People in Afghanistan, and people in the UK with family members in Afghanistan, needed urgent assistance, which is why we set it up so quickly. The project then ran for the next 48 hours while evacuations were still ongoing, and our lawyers provided people with information on evacuation and resettlement options.

This was a hugely important piece of work. It was very powerful to see everyone coming together at a time of such desperate need, and the feedback from the participating lawyers was amazing, with one describing it as some of the most important legal work they’d ever done.

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

I most enjoy working with amazing charities, non-profits, and dedicated Reed Smith lawyers across EMEA every day to create a positive impact for our clients and the communities we work in.

The aspect I enjoy the least is sometimes having to say no to people and potential pro bono opportunities. We have to be quite strategic in terms of what we prioritise to ensure we’re providing a high-quality service to the clients we’re working with.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

Our lawyers are really enthusiastic and dedicated to the pro bono work we do – each year we see huge numbers of hours dedicated to pro bono work by our lawyers. The firm’s senior management team is incredibly supportive of this work and encourages pro bono work from lawyers at any level.

The firm really invests in the pro bono work too. In the pro bono team in EMEA, we have two lawyers who are dedicated full time to coordinating the pro bono work, a partner who oversees the practice, communication support, a trainee, a placement student and a Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) intern. We also have a global pro bono committee, comprised of partners and associates from across the firm’s global network.

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

Try to really get a feel for the firms you’re applying to. Speak to lawyers, visit the law firms and get to know the people who work for them. You can understand the nature of the work best by speaking to people who are doing it. This insight then puts you in a good position when making your applications because you can outline the reasons you want to do the work and why you’d be a good fit.

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

The work/life balance as a trainee is variable and depends on the department you’re sitting in. Now, though, although my workload is still demanding, it’s more predictable. In terms of work-life balance, it’s slightly more flexible because we work on such sensitive subject matters with vulnerable clients so it’s incredibly important to ensure you’re not burning out and to avoid compassion fatigue. It’s something we encourage for all our lawyers working on pro bono matters with vulnerable clients. It’s important to take breaks and take time to check in with yourself.

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

Alongside the firm’s non-legal diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) work, the pro bono team works with some of Reed Smith’s long-standing business inclusion groups to help implement pro bono projects focused on DE&I. One of the most notable ones is the Racial Justice Pro Bono Working Group, which is a great platform for lawyers who are interested in supporting charities and non-profits that work on racial justice issues. The lawyers provide pro bono support to these organisations, including commercial legal advice or support with research projects. This work is also part of the firm’s Racial Equity Action Plan.

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

We work with all departments in London and all the offices across EMEA – it truly is an international practice. Through our global pro bono committee, we also work with some of our US offices. We’re particularly lucky in that we get to work with all practice groups to encourage pro bono work. It’s a small team in terms of numbers but we have a large presence and firmwide exposure because we work with people across the firm.

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

I’ve just been on quite a big work trip to the firm’s Singapore and Dubai offices. I was visiting the people in the different offices, meeting with colleagues and speaking to them about the pro bono work they do and what it is they want to do so we can support them in this.

It was a highlight because it was nice to connect with these colleagues in person and it’s inspiring to see what the lawyers in the different regions are working on.

What’re you reading at the moment?

I’ve just finished The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri, which is incredibly well-written and a beautiful (although heart-breaking) story.