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Solicitors' practice areas

Financial services

Harriet Territt

Jones Day

University: University of Southampton
Undergraduate degree: Law

Since the financial meltdown of 2008, financial services specialists must surely be some of the busiest lawyers in town. This area of legal practice includes both non-contentious and contentious elements. The former involves advising financial services clients on the myriad regulations that affect their sector. Of late this has involved a great deal of work in relation to capital requirements and the implementation of Basel III rules. When things go wrong, the lawyers are called in to guide a client through, for example, an investigation into reporting failures, alleged insider dealing or money laundering.

With early aspirations to join the military (in fact, with part of a short service commission already under her belt), Harriet Territt never planned to be a lawyer. However, she was attracted to the study of law by the career doors it could open: "It seemed like a good degree that would give me a lot of different options, although possibly a bit dry. When I got to uni and started studying, I realised that law was much more interesting and commercial than I’d imagined.  I was helped by the fact my degree course had a heavy focus on commercial issues and I studied things like international trade and public international law, which has turned out to be a great foundation for what I've ended up doing."

Even while applying for training contracts, Harriet did so with her eye on multiple options, imagining that she might be a solicitor for a period of time before moving on. "No one is more surprised than me that 15 years later I’m still here and loving it," she exclaims. "Because of the way the law has developed, the role of a lawyer is often one of trusted adviser to your clients, being involved with all their commercial and business issues." 

It was that involvement on the commercial side that drew her to the life of a solicitor and led away from the Bar. "Although I like the idea of arguing in court, and do represent clients in some types of court application myself, having a fuller picture of the commercial background was important to me," she explains. "I have also developed my practice to very much focus on international and cross-border work, and far fewer barristers have the opportunity to do that."

Harriet trained at Jones Day, went on to work as a qualified solicitor at Herbert Smith and Allen & Overy, returning to Jones Day as an ‘of counsel’, before joining the partnership at Jones Day in 2012. Her practice has also transitioned from fairly general financial and commercial work to much more specific financial disputes and regulatory issues, with a focus on structured products such as derivatives and repackaged debt. "As a trainee I never imagined that I would like the litigation side of things so much, but actually, being able to solve problems through all kinds of legal process - including negotiation and mediation - very much appeals,” she explains. “I also really enjoy and am good at getting to grips with complex financial structures, which are just fascinating to look at; I’m a very visual person and there is always a plan to them, which appeals to me."

Again, it is the international aspect that proves a draw card: "Finance is one of the most global trades of all. The amount of money that moves around the world every day is astonishing. For example, a US bank needs to pay someone in Euros but doesn’t have lots of Euros available. It will have what is called a ‘correspondent account’ with a European bank where they agree to swap dollars for Euros."

It is impossible to discuss the world of finance without referencing the economic crisis of 2007. For Harriet, the result was "a huge amount of very interesting and complex litigation" and clients who needed lawyers who were able to get to grips with their problems quickly: "It was incredible experience and hard work, but in terms of understanding the market, I couldn’t have asked for a better primer of all the things that could possibly go wrong." 

Looking ahead, as the spectre of the crisis fades, Harriet predicts that the "hard-core litigation" will drop off: "Litigation is counter-cyclical, so there are generally more disputes in a recession, and less when things are more financially stable. However, because there are brand new regulatory regimes which apply around the world, as well as there being a hangover from the crisis about risk management, lawyers are involved much earlier when it comes to structuring deals. I work very closely with our banking lawyers, for example on new products and deals which are coming to market now."

One of Harriet’s proudest professional moments involved a complex litigation involving German, Swiss and English parties and multiple proceedings but affecting a major client of Jones Day in the United States. She was able to find a way for her client to move the dispute to being heard by a court in the United States, the result being that it was resolved very quickly there, and to her client's satisfaction. "They say that "No plan survives first contact with enemy", but knowing what you need to do and having a strategy that pays off feels great. It’s very satisfying to have clients that trust me to advise them what they should do and why. An outright win in court is relatively rare (most cases settle long before the courtroom steps), but it’s brilliant when it happens."

Another particular memory was when Harriet acted for a well-known company that manages public services, which had entered into a service contract with a government entity. The contract was drawn up well before the financial crisis, so the structure no longer worked for either party and they were headed for aggressive litigation. Harriet sets the scene: "During the mediation, both sides were very entrenched and neither wanted to settle. Over a couple of days, there was a small shift and I was able to directly ask the commercial director on the other side what exactly they wanted to achieve. Suddenly, the whole thing unlocked - they were able to be frank, revealing that they wanted to tear up the contract without being penalised and my client was actually OK with that - although they never would have said that outside the mediation. Within about 15 minutes, there was a deal in place. That was a personally very satisfying moment."

Harriet’s practice encompasses sanctions work, particularly since the situation with Russia and the Ukraine has worsened. "I think that sanctions law is some of the most interesting out there because it is political will written into law, and usually very short and draconian," she explains. "It doesn’t always take into account the complexity of global business. It makes it a very interesting time for clients having to navigate a new political environment. I don’t think that sanctions are going anywhere for a while and they are really having an impact on European business." 

In terms of the demands of the job, Harriet emphasises the need for a realistic view of the effect on your personal life: "There have been times when my husband has had to forcibly remove the blackberry from my hands! It can become all-encompassing, if you let it. Clients can be demanding and often don’t work in our time zone, meaning you have to get up for phone calls at 3:00am. So you definitely need supportive friends and family as well as an ability to keep a sense of proportion about what is really urgent and what can wait until you've had a bit more sleep!" 

Especially so when it’s not just the phone calls keeping you up at night: "As a partner, the knowledge that the buck stops with me does keep me awake at night! I sometimes sit bolt upright and wonder, “But what if I’m wrong?” I can be a on a call with lots of intelligent commercial people, who have their own, legitimate views, and all of sudden everyone is looking at me to advise on what the right decision is. I still find that quite terrifying – in a good way! Generally, you’re giving clients options, but they also want your view on what they should do and that can be one of the hardest parts." 

Developing and maintaining those client relationships are an essential part of commercial law, even in litigation, where as Harriet explains, most clients will only have one big complex litigation matter every five or six years: "Although you may not see them in the intervening period, we have great relationships at an institutional level and they will phone up about a problem that is going on in the background.  I would say there is a definite group of my clients who consider me a trusted adviser and are happy to bounce stuff off me from both a legal but also a business perspective. It helps me to understand their broader commercial needs; without that, the risk is that you only see the bad stuff." Remembering that clients are driven by more than just the legal imperatives is key: "Law is just one aspect of a deal. It may even be number four or five on the list, after the commercials, internal considerations and more. Clients want law to be an enabler, not a blocker, so you have to think about things the way they do." 

Harriet advises keeping an open mind about the sort of law you might ultimately practice: "While it’s great to have an interest in a particular area, it’s also important to be open to new possibilities. I came in as a trainee with a very fixed idea, but I’m now doing something completely different." She emphasises the need to develop an understanding of how business works, at a global level: "The world is so interconnected, but a lot of material for students is focused on national law – you need to lift your head up and understand some of that interconnectedness. The Economist is a great resource; you don’t have to read it cover to cover, but it’s worth dipping into those articles that snag your attention." 

Cultural awareness around the ways of doing business in different parts of the world is also important and something to draw on at interview or in your applications: "If you’ve had experiences overseas, can show an understanding of business and cultural issues outside Western Europe, or have heard judges or professionals from other jurisdictions speak, that’s great. I am impressed by those who understand it’s not solely about English law in England, but how those aspects work as part of a global business."