University: University of Leeds
Year of qualification: 2014
Department: M&A and private equity
What attracted you to a career in law?
Having spent time in the US, UK and Austria growing up and in China during and after university, I was drawn towards pursuing an internationally-focused career. I took part in a few vacation schemes at firms with international footprints and enjoyed seeing what working as a lawyer was like in that context. The intellectual challenge was also appealing to me, as well as the prospect of working with people from different backgrounds and industries. I am a people person and really enjoy working in a team; most of my day is spent communicating with people.
Why solicitor not barrister?
This decision was partially based on my desire to work within in a team, but I also had a preference before I started my training contract to work on transactional matters, which basically rules out working as a barrister. I’m more interested in working on setting things up for the future rather than going back and analysing events that happened in the past.
How did you decide which firms to apply to?
With my international background, I wanted to work at a firm with a broad international reach and a strong presence in London and the US. Having studied Chinese at university, I pretty much ruled out all law firms that didn’t have a presence in Asia. I also preferred the idea of working for a US firm as I had heard about their laid back and friendly cultures. In addition, I concentrated on firms’ sector focuses and practice group specialisms as these were also important factors for me – on the transactional side, Vinson & Elkins is very active in the energy and infrastructure space, which really interested me.
How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?
During my university holidays, I tried to gain as much work experience as I could. Not all of my work experience was in the legal sector. One summer, for example, I worked in the marketing department of a self-storage company in Vienna. Another summer, I worked at a private equity fund.
For me, the work experience I had prior to applying for vacation schemes and training contracts was invaluable to learn what it is like to work in an office environment and to understand the role of a lawyer in the context of a client’s operations. It also ultimately helped me to decide on what type of career I wanted to pursue.
Which departments did you train in?
When I started my training contract, Vinson & Elkins had a non-rotational system for both years of training. To start with, I was physically sat in the M&A department and did most of my work in M&A for the first six months, but also picked up work from the firm’s other departments, including energy transactions and projects (ETP) and complex commercial litigation (CCL) on an ad hoc basis. My second six months was spent in the Hong Kong and Beijing offices, where I worked predominantly in ETP. When I came back to London, I spent most of my third ‘seat’ working with the CCL team but also carried on working with the M&A team. My fourth ‘seat’ was spent working in the finance department while continuing to work with the M&A team.
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
My practice focuses on advising clients, including private equity, infrastructure and venture capital funds and large corporates on general M&A, private equity and venture capital transactions. My team has a particular expertise in advising clients on energy, energy transition, infrastructure and telecoms transactions.
In a typical day, I usually have a few calls, which could be with clients, the other side’s lawyers, local counsel or colleagues. Most of our work is multi-jurisdictional, so it’s normal to have calls with people from a few different continents.
The rest of the day is usually taken up answering questions from clients, drafting contracts and other documents and considering legal problems that arise on the transactions we’re working on.
Please discuss a current/recent specific deal/case, outlining your role in the matter.
We are currently working on an exciting deal for one of our private equity clients. They are considering acquiring a large electricity distribution business. I’m mainly involved in drafting and negotiating contracts, discussing specific legal points with local counsel and the client and making sure our team is organised and on top of the various work streams.
What makes your firm stand out from the rest?
Compared with other firms in the London market, there are a couple of things in particular that I think make Vinson & Elkins stand out.
There are only around 75 lawyers in the London office, yet our clients trust us with their largest and most complex transactions and disputes. We work in lean teams on some really exciting matters. Because we work in small teams of people, you become very close with your colleagues and learn to really understand how everyone works. Being in tune with other members of your team like that ultimately leads to ensuring we provide a great service to our clients.
The firm’s culture is also a major plus. As a partner once highlighted to me, while everyone takes their work very seriously, no one takes themselves too seriously. There are certainly no sharp elbows around and everyone works together towards providing an excellent client service and to help more junior members of the team to learn, develop and fulfil their potential as lawyers.
What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?
Candidates should make sure they’re doing the right amount of research into the different law firms they’re applying to. It’s important to understand what sets each law firm apart by going to as many career fairs as you can and talking to as many people as possible. This helps to build a targeted list of firms that could be suitable matches for the individual candidate.
Throughout the application process, I would encourage candidates to ask enough questions to understand more about a law firm and what it would be like working there. I’d also encourage candidates not to be too disheartened when things don’t work out with a particular firm for whatever reason. If a firm decides not to give you an offer, it means that firm probably isn’t the best fit for you.
In addition, candidates should ensure their application is tailored to the firm – don’t just replace the name of one law firm with another. I would also encourage those applying to get their applications in early because some firms review and make offers on a rolling basis, so this may increase your chances of getting an interview with that firm.
Finally, candidates should remember that firms are looking to hire personable individuals who they think fit the firm’s culture. It’s important to highlight your personality as well as your soft skills, such as trustworthiness, dependability and a willingness to roll up your sleeves, during the application process.
What is the wider culture like?
We have a women’s initiative, which is very active. There are lots of London-specific and firm-wide events, which are very well attended. Clients attend some of these events as well, which is great for networking.
There is also a London-specific diversity and inclusion (D&I) committee which complements our firm-wide D&I initiatives headed up by our global diversity and inclusion manager based out of our Houston office. The London D&I committee hosts regular D&I book club and other events. The firm also has an active environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiative.
We also have regular social events in London ranging from theatre trips and sports matches to pub quizzes and karaoke. There are also plenty of opportunities for informal socialising outside of the organised events.
Describe the firm in three words.
Friendly, smart, Texan.
How often as a trainee were you communicating directly with clients (calls, attending meetings)?
Trainees are encouraged from day one to be fully involved in transactions and cases as an integral part of the team. If they’re ready, they will be encouraged to attend calls and meetings and communicate with clients directly.
Where is your dream holiday destination?
Hiking in the Himalayas.