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Meet the lawyer

Hannah Cockle

Hannah Cockle

University: The University of Oxford
Degree: Law
Year of qualification: September 2021
Position: Trainee
Current seat: Finance and restructuring

What attracted you to a career in law?

I find problem solving very satisfying and thought that a career in law would put that skillset to good use. I also thought that law would continue to be interesting and engaging because it cuts across all industries and jurisdictions, which means that each client is different, and no day is ever the same.

Why solicitor not barrister?

I am very much a people person, so decided that I wanted to be in direct contact with clients as opposed to being instructed through a solicitor. It is incredibly rewarding to have a direct relationship with clients and I get to work with a variety of people each day – both clients and colleagues.

I also enjoy working as part of a wider team, which I think is truer of solicitors than barristers. We have a small but cohesive office in London, which definitely helps to make work enjoyable.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

I knew from the outset that I wanted to be part of a smaller trainee intake because it’s important for me to know who I work with on a personal level, as well as a professional level. The smaller trainee intakes tend to also facilitate a greater degree of responsibility and involvement as a trainee, which is something I have found to be motivating and rewarding.

I applied largely to US law firms because they typically have smaller trainee intakes. I also targeted firms that offered a broad training base because I didn’t have any prior notions about which areas of law I would enjoy or want to specialise in. My goal was to secure a training contract that would provide as broad a base of experience as possible.

What do you think made your application successful?

It’s widely known how important it is for candidates to tailor their applications to the specific law firm you’re applying to. As such, I proactively thought about what set Sullivan & Cromwell apart from other law firms and identified my reasons for wanting to work at this firm in particular. For me, it was a combination of the firm’s smaller intake, working in an international network of offices, and the firm’s generalist approach that attracted me to Sullivan & Cromwell. I found it helpful to have this at the forefront of my mind when I was writing my application and attending interviews.

It’s difficult to get a real sense of a firm’s culture from online searches, so I made the most of my interviews and vacation schemes by talking to people who worked at the firm and trying to get actively involved in client work. In terms of having a successful application, I would say that vacation schemes are a great opportunity to be yourself and also to get enthusiastic about the work that the firm does.

Which departments did you train in?

I started in competition, followed by M&A and then capital markets, and my final seat is in finance and restructuring.

Can you tell us a bit more about your M&A seat? What did you enjoy and what did you learn about how the firm works?

During my M&A seat, I worked closely with an associate and Ben Perry – the firm’s training principal who was also my supervisor at the time. We worked together on the closing of an M&A deal that was a year in the making – the closing actually ran the course of my six-month seat. As there were only three of us on the deal team, I was heavily involved from the outset. Typical tasks included turning drafts of documents to incorporate comments from our clients, updating a documents checklist to ensure that the nearly 200 items were progressing on schedule, and attending negotiation calls with the Seller’s counsel.

The firm has very experienced partners, so being able to work directly alongside them means that you learn from the best in their field. We received formal feedback twice during each seat, as well as on an ad hoc basis when we had completed tasks for certain people – it was useful to know straightaway what you’d done well and what you could improve on for next time. I didn’t expect to work so closely with partners as a trainee but I had daily contact with Ben throughout the deal and I have since realised that this is by no means extraordinary for the firm.

Please discuss a specific deal/case that you were involved with, outlining your role in the matter.

In my competition seat, which was my first six-months at the firm, the team were busy working on the Fiat-Peugeot merger to ensure that all the necessary antitrust approvals were obtained on time. Due to the size of the deal, there were multiple antitrust authorities that we needed to notify, so my supervisor encouraged me to run the notification for Japan. This involved working directly with local counsel to prepare, revise and submit the filing to the Fair Trade Commission in Japan.

Alongside this, I also supported the wider team in preparing filings for the European Commission and regularly attended calls with our clients, local counsel and Peugeot’s counsel. I also had the opportunity to meet our clients in Paris at the start of the deal, which was a great opportunity to become quickly integrated into the deal team.

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

I would encourage future trainees to keep an open mind about everything. Even if you think you know what type of work you’re going to enjoy, you may be surprised. In any event, every deal that you work on will teach you something and it’s incredibly helpful to have a base level of knowledge and understanding of a broad range of corporate matters.

The application process for Sullivan & Cromwell is also refreshingly simple, involving just a cover letter and a CV. It’s very much focused on getting to know people and I would encourage aspiring lawyers to attend a vacation scheme if you can because it is important to experience what life as a trainee is like.

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

The work-life balance does vary, as I am sure is true for many City firms. It’s great that there are no target hours or expectations to stay in the office just for the sake of being there. That said, there are inevitably times when a deal is busy, and we need to work late or over weekends for our clients. The peaks are followed by calmer periods and the staffing partners work hard to make sure that trainees have time to recuperate after those busy periods.

Describe the firm in three words.

Collaborative, hardworking and approachable.

How often as a trainee are you communicating directly with clients (calls, attending meetings)?

I was in direct contact with clients via email and calls throughout my training contract, almost from day one. Due to the size of the London office and the fact that we have small deal teams as a result, trainees really are integral members of those teams and consequently we work closely with clients.

Having this contact makes the work much more engaging and rewarding because you see the tangible impact that a task, which might otherwise be discrete, has on the wider deal. I imagine it’s sometimes easy as a trainee to come into a new team and not necessarily know what’s going on, so being on calls with clients and talking about the commercial and legal viewpoints is really valuable.

I would encourage future trainees to bear in mind that a lot of our clients are recurring clients, so it’s great to build up a rapport and a future relationship. They’re also quite often incredibly interesting people – I’ve really enjoyed having an insight into various industries that I wouldn’t ordinarily have had.

Where is your dream holiday destination?

Mexico! It has everything you need for a great holiday – food, culture, beaches, hiking. I’m hoping to go once the travel restrictions ease.