Weil, Gotshal & Manges (London) LLP

Ellie Fialho
Weil, Gotshal & Manges (London) LLP

Weil, Gotshal & Manges (London) LLP

University: University of Cambridge
Degree: Music
Year of qualification: 2012
Position: Associate
Department: Corporate

What attracted you to a career in law?

From about the time of selecting A level subjects at school, I suspected I might want to pursue a career in law. However, having been very involved in music and performing all through school, it seemed strange to give it up when it came to choosing a degree, so I decided to study music at Cambridge. I knew it was possible to tailor the course to be quite broad in subject matter and essay-based, and that a law conversion would be possible further down the line.

The main thing that attracted me to a City legal career was that I hoped it would offer a fast-paced working environment with involvement in key commercial and financial developments, but in a way that would be more word-based than numerical. In practice, as a solicitor we are using words all the time in drafting and emails, although surprisingly knowing how to use Excel has been really useful in my practice area.

Why solicitor not barrister?

I enjoy working collaboratively and, at Weil, I feel part of a dynamic team in a collegiate environment. I enjoy fielding phone calls, sending emails, popping into different people's offices to discuss issues and generally dealing with lots of things at the same time.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

I used the university careers service, which was really great and much needed as a non-law student, particularly coming from a subject where there wasn't much of a precedent for converting to a legal career. As part of my preparation, my careers service recorded me doing a practice interview - this was incredibly helpful as I hadn't realised how much I was forgetting to smile when concentrating on giving the answers. They also helped me to realise that I didn't have to apologise for my non-law background. You can definitely use it as an advantage and that helped to change my mindset when going to interviews.

I attended as many events as I could and that, combined with a lot of online research, helped me to realise that one of the things I liked best about being part of a collegiate university was being part of a college community, which meant you got to know people well. I liked the sound of immediately being part of a core team and being part of a large cohort of trainees didn't appeal so much.

How much work experience did you do? Why is it so important?

Initially, in the summer holidays following second year, I got some work experience at a local solicitors' firm near to where my parents live, followed by a mini-pupillage at Erskine Chambers. In my third year, I did several vacation schemes, two at Easter and two in the summer. In my opinion, work experience and vacation schemes are the only way to really get a true feel for what working at a firm may be like on a day-to-day level.

Which departments did you train in?

My first seat at Weil was in our Intellectual Property (IP) department. The department do some standalone IP advisory work, but a lot of their work involves providing the IP expertise on the firm's main corporate transactions. As things have turned out, it was a great first seat because I was able to get exposure to the type of work I would be doing in the corporate team - due diligence reports, warranty deeds, and the general timing and mechanics around signing and closing a deal - before arriving there in my second seat in the corporate group. I thoroughly enjoyed my seat in corporate and went on to spend my third seat on secondment to the corporate department in the firm's New York head office. Finally, I returned to London to complete my fourth seat in the firm's banking and leverage finance department.

As you can see, my training contract was very transactional focussed. Given the type of assignments and working style I had always preferred through school and university, I had suspected I would prefer to qualify into a transactional group.

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

When I was in my corporate seat we acted on the first London buyout for the private equity arm of a large Canadian pension fund. Every deal is important, but there is obviously a particular amount of pressure when acting for a new client on their inaugural UK deal, as everyone wants to ensure that they are impressed by the firm's performance and for the transaction to run smoothly and unlike with established clients, no one on the team knows of any nuances as to how the client likes to run a deal. It was an interesting deal, and the key to successfully playing my part was being super-organised and not being precious about taking on the less interesting, practical jobs, like labelling documents, updating the completion agenda and checking that every action item in the structuring paper was covered in our agenda. In conversation at the completion dinner, the client's general counsel mentioned how impressed she was at the way our due diligence (DD) report had been presented. As it was her first London deal, she wasn't sure whether all English legal DD reports were structured that way. I explained to her that our reports are based on our unique ‘Work Smarter' policy, which ensures that our reports are concise, commercially-focused and written in clear, non-legalistic text, highlighting issues of genuine practical impact rather than describing everything we have reviewed. The positive experience and feedback from this deal were what confirmed to me that I wanted to qualify into the corporate team.

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

Being organised, succinct and clear is very important. The way to shine as a trainee in corporate is to be able to take ownership of tasks such as running a completion room in a seamless way, maintaining an organised signing agenda, and generally through ensuring that you are a safe pair of hands, showing great attention to detail and devising a methodical process for tackling the tasks you are asked to handle. You should also be resourceful and think things through so that, before checking something with your supervisor, you've already given it some detailed thought, and come up with an idea as to what you think the answer or solution may be.

Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?

One of the things I enjoy about being a corporate associate is that it is difficult to describe a ‘typical' day or a ‘typical' deal as each is different. Last year, among other things, I worked on a high-profile IPO, the merger of two large insurance brokerages and a very fast-paced private equity buyout, where we were instructed on Thursday to pre-empt an auction process and sign a deal by Monday.

The types of task that I am involved with vary too, and include acquisition-related work - drafting and reviewing purchase agreements, warranties, due diligence reports and equity-related work - both at the time of a transaction and also ongoing for our private equity clients' portfolio company teams. The firm also places a strong emphasis on getting involved with pro bono work and developing know-how materials.

What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?

Now, at just over three years' qualified, I am starting to be the point person for calls and emails from clients on the deals I work on. The culture at Weil is very entrepreneurial and if you want to take the lead and you're capable, then you can. That can be stressful at times, but when you figure out a way through a problem, it is very gratifying.

The atmosphere in the office is friendly and open. There is definitely not a culture here of working weekends or staying late when it is not needed. That said, when working on big transactions running in parallel the hours can become quite intense - fortunately, I've never found them to be relentlessly so.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

At Weil you get the best of both worlds in terms of UK vs US firms. In the London office there is scope to get involved in calls, meetings and drafting right from the off, and that is the best way to learn. Unlike some US origin firms, the London office is made up of predominantly English-qualified solicitors; everyone is approachable, you get to know the partners well and you're never afraid to ask questions. It is also a meritocracy and if you show willing and are capable, people are very happy to let you run with things.

What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?

Researching the firms you choose to apply to is so important; many look very similar and you won't be able to tell the difference on paper. Try following a deal in the press and learning more about the background as a way of getting noticed. Use your careers service - mine was incredibly helpful - and take your time on your applications; in my third year, I think I spent more time on my applications than I did on some of my modules! Also try and find the right environment for you; for example, size of intake may be important - in a big intake, you may get more formal training, but less exposure to work. Go to drinks evenings, campus events and try to get a feel for that firm by talking to those who already work there. Think also about finding legal work experience; it can be tricky, especially on formal schemes which are so competitive now, so the first step may well be getting something unpaid and at a local firm, not necessarily in the practice area you think you may be interested in. You have to start somewhere and it shows willingness and initiative.

Where is your dream holiday destination?

I love holidays and Weil's holiday allowance is pretty generous, so I should add that to my list of favourite things about the firm. Over the last couple of years I've been to Brazil, Chile and Colombia, so have developed a bit of a thing for Latin America. I love Robinson Crusoe-style beaches and islands, snorkelling and sampling the local tropical fruit (and cocktails).  Somewhere like Belize or Costa Rica is very high on my hitlist at the moment.

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