Company & commercial

Company & commercial

Fiona Ghosh

Addleshaw Goddard

University: University of Oxford, Lincoln College
Degree: Jurisprudence

A commercial lawyer's practice covers many sectors from financial services, energy and infrastructure, consumer and retail, digital, health and life sciences to industry and transport. Typically they undertake a wide variety of work, which includes advising on IP rights, IT deals, procurement contracts, digital banking and payments work, outsourcing and manufacturing, supply chain and advertising arrangements. As a result, clients often range from sole traders and start-ups to FTSE 100 companies and global financial institutions, all of whom require their commercial lawyers to have a deep understanding of both their individual business and the markets in which they operate. 

Fiona Ghosh has enjoyed what you might call a grand tour of the legal profession, including vacation schemes at two magic circle firms, a stage at the European Commission, legal work experience in Washington, pupillage and qualification as a barrister, and working as a solicitor at both US and UK firms. Now dual qualified, she is a solicitor advocate and partner in the commercial team at the City office of Addleshaw Goddard. She comments on her route: “My vacation schemes gave me a good idea of what to expect, but they also made me realise that I didn’t want to train at a magic circle firm. Then I was fortunate to be offered pupillage at Cloisters, my dream set. I completed that, and was then offered a role at a major US law firm (Weil Gotshal) and was advised by the clerk in chambers that I would be silly to turn the offer down. I worked there for several years and then moved to Leeds for a couple of years before moving back to London and working here at Addleshaw Goddard. I was offered partnership by Eversheds’ City practice at six years PQE in 2006, and then returned here in 2014 as an equity partner. Although I have moved around somewhat, my reasons were always deliberate – if a great opportunity was on offer and I felt that I had told my story in my current job, then there was no reason not to accept and move on. It’s also worth bearing in mind that those moves happened over a period of 14 years and not overnight!”

This unique vantage point of both sides of the profession has given her a unique insight into the advantages of life as a lawyer: “As a solicitor, I really enjoy the ongoing client relationship and the greater emphasis on day-to-day teamwork; it can be a more solitary lifestyle at the Bar. I also enjoy the international aspects of the role, the fast-paced nature of the work and greater emphasis on the pragmatic application of the law. Frankly, I really enjoy doing deals and being a strategic business adviser.”

Cutting-edge work

While her practice as a commercial lawyer focuses predominantly on the financial services market, Fiona enjoys being at the cutting edge of that field. “I engage in a wide variety of commercial work, mostly involving large, complex financial transactions of regulated entities,” she explains, “but a big part of my practice is around digital payments. I have recently been involved with the launch of mobile wallet programmes for banks, including Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay. I also give advice in relation to joint ventures and strategic alliances between big brands in this market. That naturally brings me to advice on data, its use and exploitation.”

She offers more detail on the fast-paced world of digital banking: “The launch of Apple Pay has been great; we acted for more issuing banks than anyone in Europe, so as a team and a firm we feel very proud to be involved. It is ground-breaking work, challenging the status quo of the financial services retail market - that is an exciting and innovative thing to be a part of. I am lucky to do a lot of work for interesting and compelling clients and the financial services market is changing very fast. Not a day goes by when we don’t talk about something disruptive or challenging, a new concept, idea, legal problem or risk. There’s never a dull moment!”

“I am lucky to do a lot of work for interesting and compelling clients and the financial services market is changing very fast”

In-depth access to and knowledge of this market makes Fiona and her ilk true specialists in the field, and much sought after: “I recently chaired the plenary session panel at PayExpo, the largest payment get-together in the United Kingdom. I have been invited to speak at a cross parliamentary forum on payments technology, an Africa fintech event in the City and sit as an expert on the board of a leading fintech legal journal. It’s always interesting to meet players from all sides of the fence.”

While this all sounds very exciting, there are downsides to a senior role in such a dynamic international field, as Fiona explains: “The hours can be unpredictable. I have two young children and balancing a challenging career with the needs of a young family can be hard. However, if you’re passionate about your time spent working and enjoy it, have the talent and tenacity, it is eminently doable. I never thought it wasn’t worth pursuing after having children; but that’s not to say it’s for everyone nor that it’s easy, or that there aren’t sacrifices involved. That’s the role of many parents today, in all walks of life.”

A fintech revolution

Fiona muses on some of the big changes ahead in the burgeoning fintech sector and the ways in which her work – and clients – might need to adjust: “In the next five to 10 years, we will see a significant change in the way we all transact on a day-to-day basis. The focus on regulation of this market will continue, but it will also continue to shape the market and present new opportunities for those who are agile and quick to respond – mainly the non-traditional financial market players. The advent of the General Data Protection Regulation  in 2018 will likely cause nervousness in the market as people get to grips with a new framework for the retention and exploitation of data. We will continue to see challenges in the way in which tech companies use data. These exciting times present opportunities for clients, but also challenges, and that’s where we step in.”

The nature of the work means that it often features in the press, so if this sounds like the type of lawyering you’d like to do, you need to keep up to date with current affairs and tech developments – “you only need to open the paper to read something about Blockchain or Bitcoin” – and do as much work experience as you can: “Gain exposure to as many different types of legal environment as possible – in London, regionally and at the Bar, small and large – because for a graduate who hasn’t been in the workplace you don’t yet know what will push your buttons. The more experience you can have in different working environments, the better. You are then armed with information when you come to make the decision about which way to jump.”

And she speaks from personal experience: “I had experience as a solicitor, but wanted the technical rigour of the Bar. I worked in the regions, the City, a US firm, a UK firm – it was all good experience. The most important thing on starting out is that you don’t make a decision that shuts doors which you may one day want to re-open. The world was a small place when I started, but it truly is connected now - you should never forget how important the power of the network can be.” 

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