University: University of Exeter
Position: Trainee solicitor
What attracted you to a career in law?
I knew that I wanted a vocational career from an early age and law seemed to be a good fit for my skillset. During my law degree, I enjoyed the intellectual and technical challenge of analysing cases and solving problems. I’m also quite entrepreneurial and had business ambitions, so when I met representatives from City law firms at law fairs and campus presentations, and heard about the variety of clients, I was intrigued by the possibility of acting as both a legal and business adviser at the same time.
What made Ropes & Gray stand out from the other City firms?
Ropes stood out because the firm is so entrepreneurial. It is still a relative newcomer to the London market, so the office is not as large as those of some other City firms, which feeds into a clear strategy to build the firm’s strength in specific areas. Training at Ropes is about taking on responsibility and developing specialist knowledge from an early stage, alongside gaining broad experience which enables you to understand how the law operates across different practice areas.
Which departments have you sat in so far?
My first seat was in private equity, and my current seat is in the finance team. The start of my training contract was a little unusual because of the pandemic – clients were adjusting to the new situation and some teams were not as busy as usual, but activity really picked up after the first few weeks. I got to work on several transactions from start to finish during my PE seat, which is valuable because it enables you to develop an understanding of the different aspects of a deal.
Ropes invests heavily in training, so alongside the opportunities for responsibility there are regular training sessions with the other trainees, as well as broader departmental training sessions where you are discussing technical points with people who have three or four years’ PQE, so the focus on development and knowledge sharing continues well after qualifying.
What does a private equity transaction involve?
We work with PE sponsors throughout their process of investing in companies to return a profit further down the line. In any transaction, that involves an organisational side, a legal side and a commercial side. I have worked for clients in a broad range of sectors in just six months, from pharmaceuticals and life sciences to agriculture. In the course of a transaction, the team handles the tax structuring and all the documentation needed to give effect to the deal, such as the acquisition documents and the key equity and debt finance documents.
How much responsibility do you have as a trainee?
As a trainee working on a PE deal, you are involved in the organisational piece during the early stages, putting together working party lists of everyone involved in the transaction – local counsel, internal members of the Ropes team, other law firms – and mailing lists to ensure that they stay informed as the deal progresses. Trainees also carry out due diligence work, such as reviewing corporate documents, and are responsible for the Datasite so that associates can quickly be provided with the documents they need. You also get opportunities to draft key documents, which develops your written communication skills. Overall, you form a sense of the practical commercial elements that go into a deal, such as how issues you have identified in the due diligence process inform the negotiation with the other side. People I know at other law firms have been surprised when I tell them about my responsibilities at trainee level, as generally they hadn’t gained the same exposure at my stage.
How has the firm been affected by covid-19?
The start of my second seat was certainly different, but there has been lots of communication with supervisors, within the team and across the firm, and multiple ways to reach out. People are encouraged to pick up the phone and use emotional intelligence, so I now see using the phone as the same as popping across the office to speak to someone, while being mindful of when colleagues are busy. We have adapted really well and this is demonstrated by the firm’s financial performance, which has been stronger than last year. The firm has even carried out more pro bono work in 2020 than before, so lockdown hasn’t slowed us down at all.
What do you wish you’d known about being a trainee before you started that you now do?
The biggest thing for me is the importance of communication. When you start, you naturally want to impress colleagues by saying yes to everything, which is generally the right approach because you want to gain experience, but you must also be aware of your role in the team and your ability to deliver your immediate work. Communicating clearly about your capacity and letting others in the team know what you are doing – as well as voicing any questions you have – are vital.
What is your advice for aspiring City trainees?
It is very important to properly understand what commercial lawyers do for their clients. Beyond that, you need a good grasp of the industry itself – the key players, how they compete and position themselves in the market, and how you fit into that based on your interests and personality. For example, I enjoy the transactional side and seeing deals through to the end more than I’m interested in litigation, so a US firm with a transactional focus such as Ropes & Gray made sense when I was deciding where to apply.
Where is your dream holiday destination?
Cuba – the history and the vibe, it’s almost a different world.