Stephenson Harwood LLP
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University: Queen Mary University of London
Year of qualification: 2018
Department: Commercial litigation
What attracted you to a career in law?
Law offers the opportunity to operate in a highly intellectual, dynamic and commercial environment. Added to that, being a trusted advisor to peers and – more importantly – clients is something that seemed particularly rewarding. It was these two things that attracted me to a career in law.
How did you decide which firms to apply to?
I came to the decision to apply to law firms that had a truly global outlook and a small trainee intake. With globalisation continuously on the rise, I decided that I wanted to join a firm that offers its trainees a global outlook with real exposure and responsibility from day one.
How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?
I tried to get as much work experience as possible from a variety of different law firms, from criminal defence firms, to small-sized commercial firms, to full-service global firms. It was essential to my understanding of how law firms operate as businesses and deciding which type of law firm appealed to me. It also exposed me to a variety of clients, which was invaluable in me adapting to the diverse range of clients that I work with today.
What do you think made your application successful?
I made a real effort to show why my work experience was relevant to what lawyers do on a daily basis, whether it be advice, interpersonal skills or commercial awareness. I also tried to show that my life does not only involve law and that I have extra-curricular skills that make me a well-rounded person.
Which departments did you train in?
My four seats were in commercial litigation, finance (in Hong Kong), corporate, and marine and international trade. I was therefore lucky enough to experience contentious and transactional seats, with one of those being in Stephenson Harwood’s Hong Kong office. It was a well-rounded training contract.
Please discuss a specific deal/case that you were involved with, outlining your role in the matter.
One of my most memorable cases to date was working on a case for a state-owned petroleum company on a dispute over the construction of an oil terminal in Africa. The dispute was first referred to arbitration, but then switched to civil proceedings at the English High Court. It was a fascinating case involving allegations of fraud, invalid arbitral awards and issues that the High Court had never encountered before.
My involvement came when our client, having obtained an unfavourable outcome at the High Court, decided to appeal to the Supreme Court. My role involved preparing a procedural matrix for the Supreme Court appeal which was followed by the entire team; liaising with third parties, including experts and external counsel; and drafting updates for the entire legal team on the status of the appeal. It was an invaluable experience.
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
I am in the international arbitration team, specialising in commercial, banking and investment disputes. International arbitration is a fascinating area of the law; it is almost borderless in that you can have clients from two different jurisdictions, with the governing law of the contract in a third country, with the arbitration seated in a fourth country! On a typical day I could be drafting a request for arbitration, attending conference calls with clients on an upcoming hearing and preparing a note on opposing counsel’s submissions.
What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?
Law offers you a truly holistic career. You engage with and learn from people from a variety of cultures and are constantly able to develop yourself professionally and personally. Within all of this, you are working in an area that has a real impact on your clients and the industries in which they operate. These are all particularly rewarding and are things I enjoy greatly.
What makes your firm stand out from the rest?
The quality of work and approachability of staff is something that Stephenson Harwood takes great pride in; the culture is truly collegiate. The firm is also a reflection of its people as it constantly seeks to challenge itself with new initiatives and strategies, whether they be new overseas offices or extra-curricular activities. This creates an enjoyable, productive and dynamic environment to work in.
What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?
A successful solicitor will need to have three essential skills: i) Interpersonal skills; ii) commerciality; and iii) technical prowess. Within these three categories, a successful solicitor works well in teams, both internal and external; can develop professional and client relationships; and can identify the commercial impact the law has on a client’s business. A motivated and resilient mindset is also important.
What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?
Try to get as much work experience as possible. It does not necessarily have to be legal work experience, or at a large international firm. This gives you the ability to quickly identify what appeals to you and your future career, whether it be a firm’s culture, specialisms or size. You should also try to develop a commercial mindset. As solicitors, we are required to apply legal knowledge in a business context and so knowing how businesses function is also important.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Before contemplating a career in law, I was a pianist and music producer, so any time spent in front of a piano or in a music studio is golden!
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