University: University of Surrey
Degree: Law with criminology
Year of qualification: 2021
Department: Disputes team
When I was about 11, my parents let me stay up late one night and we watched an episode of The Bill. I saw one of the courtroom scenes, which sparked my interest in the legal profession. From there, I went on to study law at college and learned more about the career as I progressed through my education. At college, I studied contract law, which helped to direct my attention to that specific type of law and is part of the reason why I’m where I am today.
When I was deciding which firms to apply to, I considered the type of work I wanted to do and the sort of environment I wanted to work in. I was very attracted to US firms because I liked the sound of the international work, as well as the complex disputes and issues. I knew that I didn’t want to work in a large team where people might not know each other very well and partners wouldn’t necessarily know your name. As a result, I felt like the US firm structure was perfect for me because I’d be involved in high-level, complex work, combined with a close-knit culture and a small office of a very large firm. US firms also appealed to me because they provide the opportunity to take on a lot of responsibility and work closely with partners.
During my time at university, I’d been a paralegal at a local law firm in Guildford for a short period of time for one/two days each week. Other than that, I didn’t have much legal experience. However, I found that it wasn’t a detriment to my applications – I’d encourage aspiring lawyers not to worry if they haven’t got sufficient legal experience because I think the reality is that as long as you can show you have the skills required to be a solicitor, whether from legal or non-legal experience, it’ll go a long way.
I started in corporate and then went into disputes. My third seat was in aviation finance and my final seat was in competition.
In terms of choosing an area to qualify into, I had a slight bias towards the disputes team following my vacation scheme with the firm. I sat with the team for one week out of the two-week vacation scheme (it’s now a one-week scheme) and found that I liked the academic nature of the disputes work. When I did my training contract seat with the disputes team, it confirmed my passion for this area of law. I preferred the opportunity to raise arguments about the law, which differs to the corporate team where it’s much more black and white, and you have a practical process to follow for each transaction – there’s not much opportunity to think about how the law works and how it applies, it’s more about applying it and executing the transaction.
The disputes work aligned more closely with what I had in mind when I imagined myself as a lawyer. I also got on well with the partners and associates in the team.
My area of expertise is broad because our disputes team covers litigation, arbitration and regulatory investigations, so I do a mixture of all three. For me, a typical day involves drafting emails to the internal clients (ie, the partners), as well as to the clients themselves. I also do a lot of research, looking at specific questions that arise in any of the disputes that we’re working on and how we’re going to argue particular points or respond to the other side if they’re disagreeing with something that we’ve asserted in the matter. I attend meetings, either internally or with clients. These usually take place on Teams, with the odd in-person client meeting if there’s a big topic that’s easier to cover face to face – for example, if we want to interview an individual at a client about something or if we’re helping the client to prepare for a hearing.
Alongside those tasks, I draft pleadings – requests for arbitration, statements of defence, letters and formal correspondence with the arbitral institutions or the tribunal. I attend hearings several times a year, which will either take place in court or in hearing centres such as the International Dispute Resolution Centre. When attending the hearing, we support the barristers; sometimes the Winston & Strawn partners do the advocacy and so I support them with the relevant documents and make sure they have everything they need to present the arguments.
As an associate, I take the lead with things as much as I can and act with initiative to keep a matter progressing. For example, if I were to receive an email from the client, the supervising partner would expect me to take that on and draft a response without waiting for the partner to request that I do that. I’m also expected to prepare first drafts of documents such as letters or pleadings, as well as managing aspects of a dispute such as the disclosure phase.
Outside of that, my role in the lead-up to a hearing would involve a lot of the work mentioned above, as well as working with the more junior members on the team to prepare bundles and to make sure that we’ve got everything set up for the day such as transcription services.
I most enjoy the opportunity to take on work and run with it, with appropriate supervision when needed. Generally speaking, the partners are happy for us to take the lead with drafting so there are great opportunities to develop your skill set and gain experience of shaping a case in terms of how we’re going to present it and putting the client’s best foot forward in the written advocacy. Attending the hearings themselves is always exciting because you get to either see the partners do the cross-examination, or the barristers. It’s interesting to watch how witnesses react in these scenarios and how they perform on the day when giving their evidence.
I least enjoy the hours, which can sometimes be tough but I think that’s just the reality of the job – nothing in life worth having comes easy. When you sign up to this career, you likely already know that you’re going to be faced with some long hours, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Winston & Strawn stands out from other firms due to the opportunities to take on high levels of responsibility – for example, one element I think is quite unusual is the chance to do advocacy at a junior level when the opportunity arises. In fact, I’m currently completing an advocacy course with hope of doing some advocacy at a hearing in the future. Most firms tend to pass on the advocacy within a case to external counsel or barristers so, for me, the opportunity to get involved in advocacy at a junior level is great!
The environment we’ve built at Winston & Strawn is also something we’re really passionate about as a firm. We try to cultivate a culture of closeness and strong collegiality. I can honestly say that I’ve met some of my closest friends through this job and the people I work with.
My main advice for budding solicitors is to make sure you develop your resilience and have a thick skin. With the hours involved in this job, you must be able to bounce back and keep performing – this comes from not taking things too personally and making sure that you take a step back to view things objectively. If a partner or a client wants you to do something differently, it’s not a reflection on you – you must be able to handle the feedback, respond appropriately and move on.
My team largely works independently. That said, we sometimes work with the corporate team if we need advice on the mechanics of a dispute – for example, in a previous arbitration involving the exercise of a put option, one of the corporate partners got involved to ensure we could articulate the arguments around the provisions of the put option precisely.
There’s also the opportunity for cross-selling between teams. Quite often we have referrals from the corporate partners when disputes have arisen for their clients in connection with transactions they’ve entered into or share purchase agreements and their earnout provisions that haven’t been fulfilled.
The biggest opportunity I’ve had was in connection with a high-profile matter that was probably the largest matter the disputes team had worked on for a few years. I was able to run that matter with the partner soon after qualification. I took the lead on conference calls with the client’s in-house legal and commercial teams. It was an exciting opportunity and I had exposure to senior members of the client’s legal team, which I don’t think I’d otherwise have got at this stage of my career.
I appreciated the fact that the partner trusted me with that role and I learnt a lot from it because I not only had to lead strategy calls with the client on a weekly basis, but I was also managing the whole discovery process – that is, working with the client’s IT teams to gather all the data that we needed to review and then disclose, subject to a privilege and a responsiveness review.
I’m currently reading The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday, which is helpful for this job because it reminds you to take a step back. As one of the partners that I work with likes to say, “it’s just a job”.