Sidley Austin LLP

Jenny Watts
Sidley Austin LLP

Sidley Austin LLP

University: University of Manchester
Degree: Law with politics
Position: Associate
Department: Employment 

What attracted you to a career in law?

I was attracted by the huge variety of specialisms in the law, meaning that one lawyer’s career can be utterly different from another’s. The nature of training as a solicitor also appealed to me because it guaranteed the opportunity to try different areas of law before qualifying. In addition to the variety, the intellectual challenge was also attractive – it sounded like a really interesting and rewarding career.

Why solicitor not barrister?

I considered the barrister route during my initial research into careers in the law, but I ultimately thought that I would be more suited to working as part of a team, rather than on my own as a self-employed advocate.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

My first consideration was the size of the trainee intake – I wanted to be part of a small cohort, which quickly ruled out the magic circle firms. I began looking specifically at US firms, because although their intakes tend to be smaller, they offer very high-quality international work. 

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

I did one formal vacation scheme at Sidley, but I also gained a lot of informal legal work experience at various other firms and through volunteering at a legal advice centre when I was at university, all of which gave me a good idea of what working as a lawyer would be like. I think that this is important to law firms – work experience shows that you have considered your career seriously and that you have been able to make an informed decision.

What do you think made your application successful?

Linking back to the previous question, I think it was clear from my application that I had put a lot of thought into my career and my potential employer. I had good legal work experience and was able to demonstrate my commitment to becoming a solicitor. 

Which departments did you train in?

My first seat was in corporate and I’m now on my second, in employment. I’m not sure what my next seat will be!

How does the qualification process work at the firm?

From what I understand, the firm publishes a list of available vacancies across all the departments and trainees are able to apply for as many of these as they are interested in. The process culminates in an interview with the head of department.

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

I think it would have been helpful at the beginning to appreciate just how much responsibility trainees are given early on. We were always told that this would be the case, but you really are thrown in at the deep end almost from day one.

How are you finding your current seat in the employment department?

I’m really enjoying it – having experienced transactional work in my first seat in corporate, I am now gaining valuable experience in the advisory side of things. We do a lot of employment-related due diligence work on large commercial transactions which involves working closely with other departments, but we also do a lot of stand-alone employment work, which includes drafting employment contracts, settlement agreements and so on. We have recently been managing an investigation for a client into a grievance raised by an employee which has been very interesting.

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

Every day is different and challenging, so it is always interesting. I also really enjoy working with my colleagues, as there is a great team here.

I can’t actually think of anything particularly negative about my job! The obvious thing to say would be long hours, but I find that when I am working hard toward achieving something as part of a team effort with my colleagues and supervisors around me, I don’t mind staying late. There is also a great sense of achievement when everyone’s hard work gets something over the line.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

Sidley has a really nice environment to work in. There is a genuine open-door policy and I feel that the firm is really invested in training and developing me as a lawyer, which is borne out by the high-quality work that all of the firm’s trainees experience.

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

You need to have very strong organisational skills – I felt that I was pretty organised before I joined, but starting out in a busy transactional department was a real wake-up call! Coupled with organisation, attention to detail is also essential; for example, if you’re not paying attention to every word that you use when drafting a document, it can end up meaning something very different, in a legal sense, to what you intended.

I would also say that it is very important to have an awareness of what is happening in your firm’s client sectors, as well as what is going on elsewhere in the legal profession, especially on the commercial side.

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

My advice to anyone thinking of becoming a solicitor is that you will get as much out of it as you put in. Being a solicitor is enjoyable and interesting, but it is also intense and challenging, so it is important to know that you are fully committed when you start out.

Where is your dream holiday destination?

The Maldives – or, come to think of it, anywhere with really good beaches!

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