Shearman & Sterling (London) LLP
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University: University College London
Year of qualification: 2010
Position: Senior Associate
Department: Mergers and acquisitions (M&A)
What attracted you to a career in law?
A career in law wasn't something I had contemplated at school. I originally planned to study business at university, but a few people suggested studying law instead on the basis that it would be a good general grounding for anything I might want to do in business in the future. I enjoyed the corporate and commercial aspects of law at university and decided that a career in the City appealed.
Why solicitor not barrister?
I particularly liked the idea of transaction-based work and working with a team in a collaborative environment. The formality and procedural aspects of a career at the Bar were far less appealing.
How did you decide which firms to apply to?
I didn't apply to many firms for training contracts; maybe two or three in total. I was looking for a firm with a relatively small trainee intake, which would offer international opportunities at some point in my career. I got to know Shearman & Sterling well from their involvement in sponsoring the negotiation competition at University College London and all of the trainees, associates and partners that got involved in the competition were very friendly and open about their experiences at the firm. Everyone I spoke to genuinely enjoyed the work that they were doing and spoke very highly of the environment at the firm and the opportunities given to trainees and junior lawyers.
One of the most important aspects of deciding whether to apply to a particular firm is whether it would be good fit, on a personal level, for both you and the firm. You will be spending a lot of time in the office and with your colleagues, so it's important to get an idea of whether it's an environment that you think will work for you. I think the best thing for students to do is speak to as many people as possible at firms they are thinking of applying to, whether at recruitment fairs, open days or vacation schemes, and get involved in any projects or competitions sponsored by firms.
How much work experience did you do? Why is it so important?
I did very little formal legal work experience prior to accepting a training contract at Shearman & Sterling; in particular, I never applied for formal vacation schemes as I worked full time during my university holidays. So long as you can demonstrate your skills – whether a commercial understanding of business gained from working part time at university, organisation and planning through a role on a committee, or teamwork and leadership in extracurricular activities like sports – together with your academic achievements and enthusiasm for pursuing a career in law, I don't think it is an absolute necessity to have done formal work experience.
What do you think made your application successful?
I was subsequently told by the partner who interviewed me that one of the reasons that they decided to offer me a training contract was demonstrating commercial awareness and being able to appreciate that commercial understanding provides the backdrop to all our work. Irrespective of which firm you apply to, it's not just about having good technical knowledge, which you will acquire through the course of your career, but also being able to put the issues being addressed in context for our clients' businesses.
Which departments did you train in?
My first seat was in bank finance, starting shortly after Lehman Brothers collapsed. It was an interesting introduction to life in the City! I then moved to financial institutions and asset management (which is now two separate departments), before spending six months in the project development & finance team in the Abu Dhabi office. I then returned to London to complete my final seat in M&A and ended up qualifying into the M&A team in the Abu Dhabi office. I returned to the London office in January 2016 after spending more than five years in our Abu Dhabi office.
Please discuss a specific deal/case that you were involved with, outlining your role in the matter.
During my final seat in M&A I got to work on a public takeover of a British company listed on the London Stock Exchange for one of our US clients. My supervisor got me involved in the preliminary matters for the transaction, guiding the client on the relevant UK rules, and carrying out due diligence on the target including writing the due diligence report. I was also responsible for liaising with other departments in the firm, the client, the target and the other law firms involved, and managing some of the documentation. I enjoyed the experience so much that I applied for a position in the M&A team on qualification.
How does the qualification process work at the firm?
Given the size of the trainee intake, the firm tries to be as flexible as possible to accommodate preferences. The process starts with some preliminary discussions between the recruitment team and the various heads of department to gauge where positions may be available, and then holding meetings with trainees to discuss their possible qualification choices before the trainees each submit a preference form outlining their top choice(s) and their reasons for those choices. Last year all of the NQs were placed in their first choice departments.
What do you wish you’d known about being a trainee before you started that you now do?
That one of the most important parts of the job is being willing to get as involved as possible as early on as you can, and to express your opinions without worrying too much about whether they are wrong. We all make mistakes, but everyone learns by trying in the first place.
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
My days are incredibly varied. Our team does a mixture of public and private M&A and private equity. In addition, as I've just returned from spending nearly six years in our Abu Dhabi office, I also do some work in the oil and gas sector with both the M&A and project development teams.
A typical day usually starts by reviewing emails that have come in overnight, answering queries raised by clients or opposing counsel, or setting up conference calls with colleagues and clients to get an update on the status of a particular transaction or discuss specific issues that have come up. Most of our transactions involve at least one international element so we are often working with colleagues or clients in other time zones. Once the most pressing issues have been dealt with, I will turn to drafting transaction documents or attending meetings and conference calls to talk through the changes to documents.
What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?
The unpredictability can be the best and worst thing about my job – the fact that every day can be totally different from those before and after keeps things interesting, although can make attempts at advance planning frustrating!
How involved are you with business development (BD) and promoting the firm?
The firm encourages everyone to get involved in broader BD activities, whether it's helping out with graduate recruitment, mentoring students, working with clients on pro bono matters or attending client presentations and receptions. All these things provide a great opportunity to develop different skills and to engage with colleagues and clients in a less formal environment.
At the moment I'm involved in a number of pro bono and BD matters, which involve carrying out legal research and attending meetings with pro bono team members to check on the status of the projects, collaborating with colleagues on a legal article to be published online and working with the BD team to finalise wording for marketing materials.
What makes your firm stand out from the rest?
For me, it's the combination of the relatively small size in London, which means getting great exposure to quality work from the start of your career, and the international aspects of almost all of the deals that we do, while also working with colleagues who are incredibly smart and also great fun.
What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?
Go for it and try to ignore preconceived ideas of where you should be at what stage and what experience you should have in order to pursue a career in the law.
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