Walker Morris LLP
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University: University of Liverpool and Humboldt-Universität, Berlin
Degree: English and German law
Year of qualification: 2013
Position: Senior associate
Department: Banking and finance
What attracted you to a career in law?
Without wanting to sound clichéd, I liked the idea of working with and helping people. I initially considered training as an accountant, but I realised it just wasn’t for me after doing some work experience. I started to explore other options and managed to secure some legal work experience, which I really enjoyed. I found the office environment to be more sociable, while assisting clients in getting their important deals over the line matched my ambition for a career which involves working closely with and helping others. Other than working in one of the caring professions, being a lawyer is actually one of the best jobs for being surrounded by people.
Why solicitor not barrister?
I considered the Bar, but was ultimately more drawn to the solicitors’ profession by the greater amount of client contact, as well as the prospect of job security. Barristers are self-employed and that seemed like a less secure route when I was starting out. Plus, there are opportunities for future trainee solicitors to have their Legal Practice Course fees paid for by their firms, which is a huge financial consideration when you have just left university.
How did you decide which firms to apply to?
I was sure that I wanted to live in the North and work in either Leeds or Manchester. I also wanted to experience high quality and varied work in order to make an informed decision about where I would qualify, which ruled out applying to a smaller, niche practice with just one or two specialisms. Retention rates also played on my mind when considering where to apply – clearly, I wanted a good chance of a job upon qualifying. All of these factors pointed me towards Walker Morris.
How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?
I did quite a bit of work experience at smaller, high-street firms while I was at school and university. I also completed three vacation schemes, at which point I secured a training contract. Experiencing a vacation scheme is really important as it gives both you and the firm a chance to see each other over the course of a week.
What do you think made your application successful?
I was interviewed at the end of my vacation scheme and was offered a training contract there and then. Taking part in the vacation scheme enabled me to demonstrate the skills I had to offer in both the department and the assessment centres that take place during the week.
Which departments did you train in?
One of the great things about training at Walker Morris is that you complete six four-month seats, rather than the usual four six-month seats. This obviously means that you get to experience more practice areas before deciding where you want to qualify; it also allows for greater flexibility because you can return to a department for a second seat if you really enjoyed it.
During my training contract I completed seats in banking litigation, real estate litigation, corporate and a secondment to Lloyds Bank in Edinburgh. My time spent on secondment was probably the highlight of my training contract – it gives you a great opportunity to build client relationships and to experience a different working environment.
The start of my training contract was deferred because of the recession and Walker Morris’ policy was to offer all deferred trainees paralegal roles until their training contract start dates. This led to me working in banking litigation for 18 months before starting my training contract, which I really enjoyed. When I began training, I decided to focus my seats on financial departments based on my previous positive experiences.
How does the qualification process work at the firm?
The process is dealt with really early at Walker Morris, which is a real advantage because it means that if you are not going to be retained, you can get out into the market and start looking for a job much earlier than trainees at other firms.
Around March a list of newly qualified (NQ) positions is distributed, at which point trainees let HR know which positions they would like to apply for. After this, the process can differ slightly from department to department – most require an interview and written test – but it also depends on the number of applicants. For example, this year only one trainee applied for the banking NQ position, so there was no need for a full interview process; whereas when I applied, five of us were going for the same job, so the process had to be more thorough. You find out whether you were successful very quickly – I remember being interviewed on the Tuesday and being offered the position on Wednesday.
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
Our department is split into banking and finance on one side, and insolvency and restructuring on the other – so broadly ‘good book/bad book’. I work solely on ‘good book’ work, which involves corporate lending for banks, financial institutions and companies. When acting for a company, the client you actually work with is usually that company’s financial director.
We do everything from acquisition and real estate finance, to helping clients move to a new bank. Deals are generally high value – one I’m working on at the moment is a £7 million acquisition finance, while another deal I worked on earlier in the year was valued at £64 million. We also do a lot of asset-based lending and invoice discounting.
I tend to work on one or two big transactions at any one time and there will generally be a partner in overall charge of the transaction, who I am assisting, as well as a trainee or paralegal who will be assisting me in turn. The banking and finance department is very team-focused in this way because the transactions tend to be so big and involve so many documents – we don’t usually run cases on our own unless the transaction is much smaller.
On a daily basis, I’m responsible for reviewing the main finance documents, such as facility agreements and security documentation, and supervising our trainee, who produces the corporate authorisation documents such as board minutes and shareholder resolutions.
What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?
I love the buzz of achievement that comes with closing a deal. The client is always so elated and grateful that you have sealed the deal – it’s great to know that your hard work is appreciated!
In transactional work, long hours come with the territory – that’s probably the least enjoyable aspect of my job. It’s not that I’m here for 15-20 hours a day, every day – we are either in the office until late every night when we are working on a deal or we can leave at 5:30pm/6:00pm during quieter periods. There are peaks and troughs in the workload and it can be unpredictable, but I knew what I was signing up for and it’s part of the job – I just wouldn’t be human if I said the hours are always ideal.
How involved are you with business development and promoting the firm?
All levels of the firm are heavily encouraged to get involved in business development – trainees, NQs and partners. The type of involvement obviously differs depending on your level – I tend to meet with more junior bankers and I enjoy establishing those relationships, while I also help to prepare tenders and provide training to various banks and companies. Internally, we make use of social media to promote our articles and I am involved in running the firm’s Twitter account.
What makes your firm stand out from the rest?
One of the big advantages of Walker Morris is that our work is at the same level as other top national firms, but we do everything from a single office. It’s great to know everyone you’re working with in person, and if you have a query, you can walk down the hall to talk to someone rather than pick up the phone. In terms of a training contract, the six-seat system also differentiates Walker Morris from the other big firms in Leeds, as they mostly offer four-seat training contracts.
What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?
You need a really broad range of skills, among the most important of which is communication. You have to be able to communicate easily and clearly with clients and colleagues. Time management is also crucial because you will be working to deadlines – no one will be impressed if you miss one. Attention to detail, organisation and teamwork are also paramount.
What’s your signature dish?
Cake of all kinds! In my department, we run a weekly bake-off where we score each other and add up the points at the end of the year. Some love the friendly competition aspect, but the best part is definitely getting to eat so much delicious cake!
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