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Meet the lawyer

Sophie Sheldon

Sophie Sheldon

University: Newcastle University
Degree: Politics
Year of qualification: 2015
Position: Managing associate
Department: Digital business

What attracted you to a career in law?

The analytical and problem-solving nature of a career in law was really attractive to me. I’ve always been practical and I like to follow things through to create solutions. While there are lots of different types of law, much of what you’re doing as a lawyer is taking a client’s problem and finding a solution for them. That, to me, is the most appealing part of the career and is something I recognised and was aware of when I began looking at a career in law. 

Why solicitor not barrister?

I really like people and I thought I would get to meet a lot more people as a solicitor. I believe it is also more of a team role than a barrister, which is something that appeals to me.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

I did quite a lot of research into different firms and what types of firm I wanted to apply to in terms of size, practice areas and their geographical scope. I eventually concluded that I wanted to join quite a big firm, with an international scope rather than a UK-based one and with a financial, technology, media and telecom focus. Simmons & Simmons fits well into that, as well as a selection of other firms of that type. I then applied on that basis.

What do you think made your application successful?

I think by being enthusiastic and showing that I was genuinely interested in the topics we talked about was probably a big part of it. I also think my willingness during the application process to admit that I didn’t know the answer to something – I remember being asked to answer a question in my interview that I didn’t know the answer to and I just explained that. Although of course combining this with knowledge is essential – enthusiasm and a willingness to admit you are wrong on its own is not enough.

Which departments did you train in?

Hedge funds, which sits within financial services; a secondment to Shell, which counted as a corporate seat, information, technology and communications, and then intellectual property.

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

Until you’re actually in a team doing the work, you have absolutely no idea what they do. I went into my training contract convinced that I was either going to be a hedge fund lawyer or a competition lawyer because those were interesting areas and I was confident that I knew what the practice areas entailed. However, as it turned out I really had no idea what they involved. The great benefit of the four different seats was that I saw other things and quickly moved away from my initial plan. Your idea of a practice area can change really quickly.

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

Within our team the work is very varied. We cover a range of different matters, including data protection, commercial technology procurements (ie, contracts for technology services) and regulated outsourcing. We also advise on telecoms regulation, as well as other regulations, and we work quite closely with our financial services team particularly when working with fintech and crypto businesses. There are lots of other avenues to the work we do but those are some of the core sections.

Due to the variety of work we do, my working day looks different from one day to the next. Today I have done lots of data protection work, I have advised on a regulated outsourcing and I am helping setup a start-up’s customer terms and conditions. 

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

I recently completed a regulated outsourcing and from start to finish, my role is both legal adviser and a project manager. This involves engaging with the client to work out what they want to achieve from the deal and what their negotiation and risk acceptance level is. Following this, it’s marking up the documents, engaging with the clients regarding their views and having meetings with the other side of the contract (eg, a third-party service provider) and working through the contract’s requirements to negotiate the positions and identify where we would accept risk and where they would accept risk, and whether there is anything specific to our client that needs to be dealt with in the contract, as well as making sure we meet the regulatory requirements.

Throughout the legal side to the process, there is also the project management aspect. This involves making sure that the right documents are going to the right people at the right time, coordinating for the client, engaging with the client and the third party in a way that drives the deal forward. Towards the end of the case, once the contract has been completed and negotiated, a risk assessment or note must be created.

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

I get real satisfaction from solving a problem – I really enjoy engaging with a client, building a real relationship with them and then being able to help and solve their issues when they arise.

On the other hand, you can’t always do things the way you want. There are many different factors to consider when working with clients or third parties that you sometimes have to compromise on which course of action you take.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

For me, the firm stands out because we work hard on the innovation side of the business. There’s a real push within Simmons to try to be innovative and look at things in a new way, not necessarily just as a legal adviser but as a holistic approach to the client – for example, can we develop new things or improve old processes? I think it’s really important to keep pushing forward to develop fresh ways of doing things. We have a dedicated innovation team that drives all of this.

The firm’s culture is very collaborative. When you work cross-department and office in different locations, it’s such a pleasure to work with people who have the same aim.

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

Good communication is key, as well as willingness and enthusiasm to learn. I also think a successful solicitor must be able to think in an analytical and commercial way because these are the skills that help you to achieve what the client needs. If you do those things, the rest of it comes with experience.

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

Always read more. You’re going to have to read huge amounts of information and as you read more about relevant topics, you will become better informed and better prepared for applying for the job.

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

The work-life balance is pretty good considering it’s a City law firm. You won’t find yourself in the office late for no good reason, but sometimes working late is necessary. That said, people are considerate of each other and make strong efforts to ensure a work-life balance is maintained as much as possible.

What is the wider culture like?

We have a number of networks, including an incredibly strong LGBT+ network – we are a star performer according to Stonewall. We have our women’s group TNOC, which is very long-standing and a group for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic issues, among other important networks.

There’s an art network and a number of different sports teams. There is a real collaborative and open culture on a non-work basis too, around issues or activities that employees care about. 

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

We mostly work independently but we sometimes work with the financial services team, the IP team and the corporate team. We have our own work streams so it is mostly independent work, although it is great to get to work with other teams when the right project comes up.

Describe the firm in three words.

Collaborative, innovative and consistent.

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

Going into the office to see my team (small covid-19 silver linings!).

What’s your signature dish?

Beef with pomegranate molasses.