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Meet the lawyer

Maddie Cubbon

Maddie Cubbon

University: University of Warwick
Degree: English literature
Year of qualification: 2020
Position: Associate
Department: Private equity

What attracted you to a career in law?

Unusually among lawyers, my entry into the legal profession was the result of trial and error. In the year after university, I tried my hand at marketing and journalism, neither of which suited me. I had dismissed a career in law early on – convinced the industry was too stuffy and rigid for a people-oriented person like me – but on my parent’s suggestion, applied to work as a summer intern at a local law firm anyway. The rigorous but collaborative nature of the job was exactly what I’d been looking for, and I haven’t looked back since!

Why solicitor not barrister?

Working in teams is a massive part of being a solicitor, and a big part of what I like about the job. From what I’ve seen, barristers work mostly independently – it’s just what suits you best!

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

I focused my efforts on US firms during the application process. US firms are, by comparison, newer to the UK legal market and build leaner teams and, as a result, attract people who are entrepreneurial and self-motivated. There is less ‘classroom-style’ learning than there is at UK firms, the expectation is that you take on responsibility early and learn on the job. Again – it’s just what suits each individual person best.

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

It’s not just important – work experience is essential in helping you decide whether law is the career for you (take it from someone who didn’t originally!). Not just legal work experience, but other industries too.

Once you’ve decided the law is for you, you’ll need as many vac schemes as you can get your hands on to work out which firm is going to bring the best lawyer out in you. As indistinguishable as firms can seem from their websites, culture, atmosphere and types of work can differ massively between them, and there’s no replacement for being in their offices to tell for yourself.

Which departments did you train in?

I did my first seat in private equity (PE) – the engine room of Ropes & Gray. It was a steep learning curve, but the skills and work ethic I developed set me up well for the rest of my training contract. It also helped me understand early on the context in which the other departments feed into the work that the PE team produces. I then went on to seats in antitrust, leveraged finance and a combined tax/funds seat. I enjoyed them all – but the pace and client-facing aspects of PE work won in the end!

How does the qualification process work at the firm?

We don’t have a formal qualification application process at Ropes & Gray – so it’s important that trainees use their own initiative to maintain relationships and make their interest known as early as possible. Half way through their fourth seats, each trainee submits their choices which are reviewed by HR, supervisors and the partners alongside their seat appraisals.

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

I wish I’d known as a trainee that I’d be doing client-facing work on day one of my training contract. At Ropes & Gray, trainees are an integral part of the team, not just there to shadow associates and do menial work. Knowing this would’ve helped me trust myself more at the outset. Also, sometimes there is no right answer.

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

I’m part of the PE M&A team at Ropes & Gray. Our clients are a mix of international mid-market and large-cap PE houses, and our team leads in negotiating the main documents and coordinating the various legal processes to effect the purchase, sale, reorganisation and/or administration (as relevant) of their portfolio assets.

Honestly, there’s no typical day at work! Take today, for example: I got into the office at around 9.30am, ran through my emails and progressed my to-do list. I then had a training session with our professional support lawyer on recent updates in contract law, then a client call to update them on a transaction I’m working on. On another day, I might have had a lunch with a client or a Women’s Forum seminar in the afternoon. Yesterday we went for drinks after work as a colleague was heading off on secondment. My schedule and workload really depend on the day.

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

I recently worked closely with our capital markets team on a proposed initial public offering of shares in a portfolio company of one of our biggest clients. Although the transaction never actually completed, it gave me great insight into what it takes to get a company ‘IPO-ready’. It’s not something that usually comes across the desk of a corporate lawyer so I’m grateful for the experience!

What do you most enjoy about your career and why?

The best part of being a lawyer at Ropes & Gray is working with some of the most intelligent and accomplished lawyers in the City. Juniors here are lucky to have a range of diverse role models – we are particularly proud of how well women are represented in our leadership (five out of nine PE partners in London are women and our global co-chair is also a woman!). Mentorship is a big part of our culture, and as I progress in the firm, I really enjoy taking time to teach and guide trainees and NQs, just as others did for me.

Could you tell us a bit about your recent experience going on secondment – how did you find it and where did you go?

I’ve just returned from a six-month client secondment at GHO Capital Partners, a European healthcare fund. GHO is young but very active, and an important client of the firm. I was brought in to support the in-house legal function with transaction workstreams and also to help manage their compliance and regulatory responsibilities.

It was a fantastic experience – I now understand how PE funds operate in a way I never would’ve otherwise, and more clearly understand how best to add value as external counsel. I also gained a wonderful network of friends and contacts which I’m grateful for.

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

An important skill for future lawyers is tenacity. It’s tiring to go through the application process for law firms and it can play on your self-esteem. What law students need to know is that there’s a firm out there for everyone.

You need also to be interested in the practice area you work in (or want to work in), otherwise it’s going to be a tough job as you’ll spend hours doing it. You also need to be communicative, willing to learn and a team player. A team is only as strong as its weakest link!

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

Understandably, many law students are anxious about getting a training contract as soon as they can after university. My advice is to take your time with it. Your legal career will hopefully last many decades once you’ve started, so there’s no rush! Make sure you’ve considered and tried other things and are confident that this is the career for you. At Ropes & Gray, many of our trainees have had other jobs or spent more time in education before coming to us and we see the value in having those other perspectives.

What’s the wider culture like at Ropes & Gray?

Most City lawyers would probably describe their firms as being inclusive, non-hierarchical, global and differentiated – all that is true of Ropes & Gray too, but we’re uniquely entrepreneurial as well. Having been in London only a little over 10 years, we’ve had to graft (and are still grafting) to make our name in an increasingly competitive legal market. We involve lawyers at all levels (including trainees) in our business development efforts, and we look for people who are self-motivated, collaborative and creative to join us – not just the people with the highest exam scores.

What are you reading/listening to at the moment?

I find listening to podcasts fits into my routine, especially when I’m busy at work. At the moment, I’m listening to one called Reply All, hosted by Alex Goldman and Emmanuel Dzotsi. On its face, it’s a podcast about the internet – but it’s equally about human stories. It’s informative and very entertaining.