University: The University of Westminster
Undergraduate degree: Finance with management
Banking and finance is a global industry involving a wide variety of financial products, ranging from simple bank loans to companies, to highly structured financing arrangements across multiple jurisdictions. The rise of internationalisation and the development of increasingly sophisticated financing structures mean that modern banking law and practice is becoming ever more complex. In the post-financial crisis era, banking and finance lawyers find themselves at the forefront of the evolution and recovery of the industry.
“I think it is personality-related,” begins Owen Giles as he considers what made him choose the solicitor route over a career at the Bar. “I like working as part of a team and having boots on the ground. I think I knew I was going to be a transactional lawyer and getting deals across the line appealed to me more than standing up in court. For me and my personality the solicitor pathway was the more attractive of the two.”
After completing an undergraduate degree in finance with management at The University of Westminster, Owen went on to study his LLB at City, University of London. A “pretty swift” two-year training contract with corporate law firm Macfarlanes followed.
Day-to-day: check your interests
Looking back on his experience as a trainee at Macfarlanes, Owen remembers his seat in the banking and finance team as “the most positive” during his training contract, which made his qualification choices that bit easier: “I was given so much responsibility even as a trainee, so when it came to making my qualification choices, it was easy to picture myself as a solicitor in the team. As a trainee your role is to help your small team to complete conditions precedent, which is all the ancillary documents, evidence or agreements that must be completed before a deal can go ahead.”
As he transitioned from trainee to qualified solicitor he became “much more hands-on with big-ticket negotiations”. Now as part of the banking and finance team at Macfarlanes, Owen’s work covers debt financing as well as other related fields, including restructuring and insolvency. Clients are “either borrowing money or lending money, so the bulk of what we do is agreeing terms between borrowers and lenders for that financing,” he explains. “When you qualify, you move to dealing with the main operative agreements that govern the terms of the financing, which is the natural progression that happens when you transition from a trainee to a solicitor.”
The fast-paced nature of the job and the pressure that comes with getting a deal across the line on time is an aspect of his career that Owen thrives off. Describing his enjoyment of a fast-paced role, Owen recalls a “testing two-week transaction” as a particular highlight of his career to date: “It involved very late nights and intensive negotiations with the other side to get the deal across the line in time with quite a hard deadline. When you pull through against the odds in circumstances like those – as well as being pleased to catch up with some sleep – you’re also proud that you’ve managed to get the deal done under tough circumstances, and with a positive outcome for your client.”
As a banking solicitor Owen often liaises with lawyers from different practices across the firm: “Even though I work in the banking and finance team, I often work closely with our corporate and investment management groups, as well as other specialists.” The teams that he collaborates with depends on the type of financing that his team is dealing with. He adds: “Liaising between teams is always satisfying, especially when you’re all working to a tight timescale with the same objective.”
You must be sure that you enjoy what you do – I love my job, so the thought of working long hours doesn’t fill me with dread.
Although Owen thrives off the pressure that working as a banking solicitor offers, he also emphasises how significant it is for aspiring lawyers to identify which area of law it is that they enjoy the most, as working late is not uncommon: “You have to accept that the job becomes a very substantial part of your life. You must be sure that you enjoy what you do – I love my job, so the thought of working long hours doesn’t fill me with dread.”
Moving with the times
As the world continues to weather the effects of covid-19 and law firms have been forced to move online and work remotely, Owen praises how well this necessary transition has gone as firms across the country were required to employ the most recent technology to ensure their employees could effectively work remotely. “The current events have shown that law firms can continue to work remotely, which is not something I think they’d have been able to do a few years ago – technology has been the largest driver behind that. The ability for people to work remotely and to do so seamlessly has been really impressive.” The global pandemic has also initiated a change in the way that his team completes deals remotely: “We have been using electronic signing software for our clients to sign documents, and for us to exchange signed documents between lawyers. While it was possible to do this before the pandemic, lawyers have now been forced to get used to adopting this technology so I would expect more deals in future to be signed in this way.”
Going forward, Owen believes that using new technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) will be crucial to the legal world. “Over the next five or so years, as clients become more cost conscious and want to drive efficiencies with their fee quotes, law firms must work on their internal efficiencies. Part of that will be using new technologies, whether that’s AI or otherwise, to meet those requirements while still providing the high-quality service that clients are expecting”.
Keep an open mind
He emphasises that as aspiring lawyers set out on their journey into the legal profession, they must have the right attitude and be motivated. There is understandably a “fear of the unknown” aspect for all trainees waiting to start their training contract: “As a trainee there is a fear that you’re expected to know everything, but you’re not. I think the key is to understand that it’s a learning process and you’ll quickly realise that there are a lot of opportunities that will continue to fall into your lap, very much so in this team, which will lead to you picking up knowledge and experience very quickly.”
He also highlights the need for trainees to approach their training contract with confidence and offers some suggestions on how best to find this confidence for aspiring lawyers who are naturally worried about the experience. He explains that “a positive mindset and a proactive choice to be confident in what you’re doing can go a long way. This positive mindset comes from settling into the fact that you might not know what you’re doing but also nobody expects you to know what you’re doing at this stage”.
Finally, Owen recalls how a large proportion of his trainee cohort at Macfarlanes qualified into a different practice to the one they had initially imagined. He offers his advice to those trying to identify the right area of law for them: “Don’t limit yourself in terms of what you believe will be interesting for you as you start your career. Keep an open mind and you might be surprised.”