Vinson & Elkins RLLP
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Degree: Government and history
Year of qualification: 2014
Department: Energy, transactions and projects
Why solicitor not barrister?
Although I thought about the barrister route initially, I found the idea of doing transactional work much more exciting. Once I had completed a few work placements, I realised that I liked to work in a team, so that led me down the solicitor route.
How did you decide which firms to apply to?
I had an interest in the energy sector and knew that I wanted to be involved in international work. I was also drawn to the idea of being part of a small team as it gives you more responsibility early on and allows you to work more closely with other lawyers as well as clients. These criteria narrowed down my choices and made V&E stand out. I did a vacation scheme at the firm in 2010 and really enjoyed the experience – they threw me straight into real work and I was able to picture myself as a trainee at the firm. I was especially drawn to the atmosphere at the firm, which is laidback; everyone is very friendly and approachable, but they also work hard.
How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?
Aside from the vacation scheme at V&E, I did a few placements at other firms while studying for my undergraduate degree and GDL. It is crucial to get some work experience before embarking on a legal career as it allows you to understand what to expect from life as a lawyer, for example, the various practice areas there are and how the work varies between departments. As a student I think it is also valuable to gain experience in a professional setting. You should talk to as many people as you can and ask them how they got into their work areas.
What do you think made your application successful?
You must be very clear on why you want to be a solicitor and why you want to join that firm. Firms don’t want generic applications. It can be hard to know how firms are different, but you should show that you have done your research and have an appreciation of the culture and can explain why you want to join.
Which departments did you train in?
I trained in the finance, corporate, and energy, transactions and projects departments. I also spent a seat in V&E’s head office in Houston, Texas. I also did a lot of disputes work throughout my training.
How does the qualification process work at the firm?
The qualification process at V&E is relatively informal. Throughout your training contract you regularly give feedback to the training principal and graduate recruitment team on where you want to go next, or where you think you might fit in best at qualification. In that respect you have a degree of control over your training contract and the firm will try to accommodate your interests as much as possible. You are encouraged to do more work with a department if you have an interest in that area and to try to get to know all members of the team, from junior associates up to partners. Towards the end of your third seat, you will have more regular meetings with the graduate recruitment team to discuss qualification. V&E has a relatively small trainee intake, so most of the time each trainee will gravitate naturally towards a particular area ahead of qualification.
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
I am an associate in the energy, transactions and projects department, where I have been since qualification. My team covers a range of practice areas across the energy sector, from transactional/M&A to project development and project finance. As a small team, everyone pitches in and the firm encourages us to gain experience across the department, especially when we are at a junior level. I am currently involved in a number of transactional M&A deals, but because it is quite a small team since I joined I have done, and continue to do, a lot of work on a range of transactions and projects across the board.
A typical day could involve working on a deal or project, or a couple of deals, at any one time. This could include anything from going through and responding to emails from colleagues or clients, drafting documents, attending meetings, carrying out due diligence, or speaking to other lawyers, either in one of V&E’s international offices or from local firms, about jurisdiction-specific issues that have come up on a matter.
Please discuss a current/recent specific deal/case, outlining your role in the matter.
We recently acted for an energy major on an acquisition of an interest in an oil and gas field in Brazil. My role was to draft the documents, attend calls and negotiations with our team, the client and the seller, and work with our local counsel in Brazil and elsewhere to address local law issues and regulatory points.
What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?
I really enjoy working within the international energy sector, as the nature of many of our deals means that you get an insight into the practical and operational side of the client’s or target’s business and meet a lot of smart and interesting people – both lawyers and clients. A lot of the deals we work on involve emerging markets and it will often require a lot of analysis and creative thinking to make the deal work, which keeps things interesting.
The unpredictability of the hours can be difficult to manage at times; you don’t always know when you will be needed, and that can mean weekends and late nights. You have to be flexible and can’t always keep plans.
What makes your firm stand out from the rest?
There is a laidback and supportive culture and a real lack of hierarchy within the firm which means that it’s often down to your merit and ability, rather than what level you are. This aspect of the culture makes it an enjoyable place to work because at a junior level you are entrusted with a lot of responsibility.
What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?
Attention to detail, organisation and time-management are all important skills to have. You often need to juggle several things at once, so you need to prioritise and make everything work within a limited amount of time. You also need to be able to grasp complicated concepts and have a genuine interest in law as well as the particular sectors you are working in. That means staying up to date with relevant news and developments in your area of work and across other practice areas.
What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?
Talk to as many people in the profession as you can and try out different areas of work. Don’t box yourself in too early – a lot of people think they want to do one thing early on, then try out something else and realise they like that more, so be open-minded.
Where is your dream holiday destination?
Wine-tasting in Cape Town.
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