University: Queen’s University Belfast
Corporate finance lawyers advise clients on all aspects of the buying and selling of interests in businesses or business assets, relationships with their shareholders, corporate governance and fundraising. This includes advising on compliance with company law procedures, the raising of equity financing and, in the case of cross-border transactions, compliance with domestic and foreign laws. It is possible to work primarily on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) with public or privately-owned companies. Alternatively, a corporate finance lawyer may focus on equity capital markets work, the private equity, venture capital or hedge fund sectors, or spend their whole career as a generalist.
Originally from Northern Ireland, Luke Hackett was interested in law but, like many, he was unsure which route to take into the profession. After successfully applying for a paralegal role at Baker McKenzie in Belfast, he had the chance to test the water with some corporate style work, helping the firm with some “major cross border M&A and due diligence projects”. After working as a paralegal for a year, Luke secured a place on Baker McKenzie’s training contract programme, which took him to London to qualify as a solicitor.
Looking back, Luke is grateful for the experiences he was exposed to as a paralegal, citing it as the moment his interest in corporate finance was really ignited. He also notes that the work was an excellent steppingstone to a training contract: “I was quite fortunate to have an idea of the corporate world and the work I might be involved in as a trainee. This really made me want to apply for the firm’s training contract.”
During his training contract, Luke experienced a real variety of work. “We had a contentious seat, corporate seat and an advisory seat,” he explains. However, it was the fast-paced transactional nature of corporate finance that appealed to him the most, especially since studying law at university meant juggling deadlines was a familiar challenge. “I work best when I’m under a bit of pressure,” he says, before highlighting that his legal work experience was excellent preparation for both his training contract interview and the job itself. Experience like this “can open many doors”, so Luke advises that “anyone contemplating a career in law should seek out legal work experience because it’s a really sound base – even if you later discover that the law isn’t for you”.
In addition to the transactional side of this area of law, Luke explains that “there’s a massive advisory angle to the corporate finance team”. For example, every company on the London Stock Exchange shares an annual report, which includes information about a company’s climate change policies and what it’s doing in terms of diversity, such as how it’s ensuring the board has equal representation from all genders. Annual reports are a crucial way that companies communicate this information to shareholders; and lawyers like Luke provide integral advice to aid this process. As Luke puts it, it’s all about “helping companies tell their stories”. When reflecting on this aspect of his training contract, Luke says: “I found the whole advisory aspect really interesting and not what I expected from a seat in corporate finance.” After finding the pace, balance and advisory nature of the seat enjoyable, corporate finance seemed like the natural route post qualification.
Now a qualified solicitor, Luke manages his own work, which gives him a much broader understanding of his practice. He emphasises that the ownership of tasks helps him to acknowledge the bigger picture when working on various projects. This heightened level of involvement is an exciting change from the work he was doing as a trainee where “the idea is to experience as much work as you can so you can make an informed decision about your practice area at the end”. As a trainee, you’re involved in a few “discrete tasks” where you may “miss out on the context”. However, once qualified, associates become increasingly involved in “client and internal calls where you’re strategising about how to implement the transaction” and you get to “delve deeper into the details and technical legal aspects”, which is a key reason Luke finds his job so rewarding.
When it comes to his day-to-day work, being aware of the current state of the economy and its impact on both the firm and its clients is incredibly important. “At the moment we’ve got quite a few private and public M&A deals. Initial Public Offerings have been a bit less common, which is by virtue of the economy generally,” Luke explains. That said, he notes that while the impact of covid-19 and the war in Ukraine caused a “slow down in capital market activity, things are starting to pick up again”. This market uncertainty also means “there are business reorganisations as lots of companies have decided that now is the time to streamline operations”. There’s certainly never a dull day in corporate finance, with the area continually impacted by the backdrop of wider economic events across the globe.
In a constantly shifting economic climate, working on major deals is very fulfilling and “picking up the Financial Times to see a story about a project you’re working on” is a very exciting element of Luke’s job. Important deals can also mean periods of intense work in the office, but this is often followed by a big celebration. In fact, when thinking about a highlight of his career to date, it was one of those big celebrations that stood out in his memory: “We did a small restructuring for a client in the film industry and were invited to a movie premiere in Leicester Square. We got to walk down the red carpet, which was a bit surreal!”
From big dinners to movie stars, it’s clear why corporate finance might stand out to many aspiring lawyers – but what are the key skills required to thrive? Luke notes pragmatism and work ethic as important, alongside “being able to read complicated pages of information” to help a client to “understand the high-level points”. For example, when working with businesses on deals, it’s important to remember that clients receive hundreds of emails a day. So, when companies are looking for legal advice, the email must be short, clear and accurate: “It’s all about reading, digesting and producing something concise that someone can act on.”
As much as advice must be concise, it’s also integral that it’s up to date. The law changes every day, and the speed at which new developments emerge was something of a surprise to Luke when he first started working in this area: “I had very little appreciation for how modern the law is and how important it is to keep on top of it.” Therefore, staying commercially aware and “being proactively ready to face legal issues” is key for building a general awareness of the problems that companies are tackling. So, if you’re interested in a career in corporate finance law, take heed of Luke’s closing advice. With companies “always thinking about the next best ways to hit their goals”, Luke urges aspiring lawyers to remember “it’s about getting one step ahead of the curve”.