University: Oxford Brookes University
Year of qualification: 2022
Department: Commercial litigation
What attracted you to a career in law?
We had a family friend who was head of law at Universal Music – he secured me work experience when I was at school, which was my first experience of law. Having worked in fashion since I was 14, it was exciting that my first legal experience was in the creative industry as it was something I could relate to. The more I experienced the law, the more I became interested in it as a career.
Why solicitor not barrister?
I wanted to work as part of a team and be inside a law firm. The support from my firm is important to me and there’s lots of scope to get involved in the business side to help grow the company.
How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?
I wouldn’t be working at Stephenson Harwood if it wasn’t for my work experience. As well as the experience with family friends, I also attended open days at university. After graduating, I joined a lawtech company called Flex which allocates paralegals to different law firms when they’re required. I was able to experience different law firms (e.g., City, US and boutique) and started to understand the culture within these firms.
It’s important to know where you want to go before applying. Getting a training contract is competitive, so it’s easy for aspiring lawyers to get caught in the moment and apply for tons of firms. However, I think this approach will be transparent to graduate recruiters, and instead recommend being able to demonstrate that you’ve put the work in, engaged in experience and are making an informed decision. There’s no harm in taking an extra year to build your experience and make applications following that.
What do you think made your application successful?
I’d been placed as a paralegal with Stephenson Harwood on three occasions, so I understood the firm. The first placement was around one to two weeks. I was brought in for another two weeks to help prepare for a high-profile trial, which involved long hours because it was crunch time just before the trial went ahead. This gave me an opportunity to experience working within a small team during a highly pressured period. I built good relationships during this experience and secured another paralegal placement with another team for six months. It was during this placement that I decided to apply for a training contract. My previous placements helped me to develop a genuine interest in the firm and its strategy, and an understanding of its culture and I think this is what can help any applicant stand out through the application process.
Which departments did you train in?
My first seat was in pensions, followed by real estate finance. I did a third seat in intellectual property before my final seat which was a client secondment to Qatar Museums – I lived in Doha for the final six months of my training contract, which was invaluable.
One of the great things about Stephenson Harwood is how international it is, and the secondment opportunities that come with that. I wanted to have in-house experience and the work in Qatar Museums was perfect – it was commercial, had an IP focus and meant I could experience how law worked in a different jurisdiction.
Please discuss a specific deal/case that you were involved with, outlining your role in the matter.
It was an interesting time to be a trainee – I was brought into the team and assigned two cases immediately, which were both being heard in the same week.
One of the firm’s big clients is easyGroup Limited, owned by Stelios Haji-Ioannou – we do lots of work to protect his brand. One of the cases I worked on (representing easyGroup) was a trademark infringement case against Easyway, based in St Barts. It provides travel services for people arriving in St Barts and other various islands. A main point of our argument was that even though the company was based in the Caribbean and its services weren’t operating in the UK, it was targeting UK customers, which is where the overlap happened between our client's trademark and Easyway’s services. We won the case, which was rewarding because the team had put in lots of work to get the result.
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
Although we’re within the commercial litigation department, we’re not 100% a commercial litigation team. Our work is split between contentious and non-contentious. The matters differ in size but with intellectual property you get a lot of experience early on.
We have many clients that have five or six brands under parent companies, so we look after their trademark portfolios. For example, a client might get in touch because it’s spotted a business it thinks is infringing one of its trademarks. So, I might support the client by drafting cease and desist letters and speaking to the other side to try to reach a settlement. We do lots to support the corporate side too, including due diligence. We’re one of the specialist teams that supports the due diligence process, including IP reviews to ensure companies own everything they say they own. We also do life sciences and advisory work.
Overall, it’s a real mix but most of the work I do is trademark and brand protection, and action on trademark infringement.
What makes your firm stand out from the rest?
I’d had experience across various firms so was confident that whatever big firm I joined would have high-quality work. As such, Stephenson Harwood stood out to me because of its culture, which is incredibly friendly and not too hierarchical. The firm also recruits only 26 trainees each year across two intakes. There were 12 trainees in my intake – we did the Legal Practice Course together, so joined the firm with a solid support group. The small intake also meant that I worked alongside a partner most days, which is invaluable for learning progression.
The firm is also diverse and progressive. The CEO is doing lots to shake the firm up and move it in the right direction, which is positive.
What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?
Understand the different types of law firm so you can identify where you want to be. At the end of the day, you’re going to spend at least the next two years at that firm. It’s a demanding career, so you should consider this and be prepared to put the work in.
What diversity and inclusion initiatives does the firm have in place?
There’s so much going on at the firm. One thing I love is the scholarship and apprenticeship schemes that the firm offers – these are designed to make the profession more accessible.
What’s your signature dish?
I’m great at cooking Asian food. My dad’s side of the family is Malaysian, so I grew up eating lots of Chinese food and learnt to cook from my dad and grandad.