University: Kingston University
Funds lawyers advise clients on how to structure new funds, help private equity firms negotiate terms and act on behalf of a private fund when buying or selling investment. They deal with all aspects of a funds transaction, from guiding investors through direct private equity, real estate and infrastructure co-investments to sourcing fund finance and advising asset managers on complex tax regimes and potential regulatory issues. The funds space is ever changing and certainly one to watch.
The trainee experience is different for everybody but for Megan Law, who started her training contract in September 2019, training during the pandemic put a distinctive spin on the experience. Especially, as Megan explains, because she was drawn to the solicitor route for the “opportunities to work collaboratively”. However, this collaboration became a whole new task when the world went virtual in March 2020.
Commenting on this aspect of her time as a trainee, Megan says: “Travers Smith handled the transition and its related challenges very well. We all quickly moved to establish a working from home pattern, transitioning to Microsoft Teams meetings and virtual catchups. Although, there was inevitably less learning by osmosis because you could no longer listen to partner calls that were happening in the background with one ear!”
During her training contract, law graduate Megan sat in four seats and completed a three-month virtual secondment in 2020. Following her virtual secondment, Megan tried to squeeze “as much experience into the remaining three months of her funds seat as possible”. Megan qualified as a funds associate in September 2021.
While explaining how her role has changed since qualifying, Megan reflects on the similarities between the training contract and her role now as an associate, not just the differences: “I was previously, and I still am, involved in drafting documents and matter management.” Nevertheless, “there are more opportunities to take ownership of tasks and show greater initiative during transactions” as an associate, Megan says.
Much like any area of the law, Megan explains how the skills necessary to be a successful funds lawyer are “important for any solicitor” at any level, from trainee to associate and partner. In addition to the general need to have good attention to detail and communication skills, having a practical mindset is an essential attribute for any aspiring solicitor to possess and, of course, develop throughout their career. Breaking down what she means by a ‘practical mindset’, Megan says that “when working on a transaction you need to understand the needs and desired outcomes for your client. This affects the approach you take during a transaction and how you negotiate documents”.
She adds that this skill “allows you to have a commercial awareness of what’s important to the clients and the points they want to push compared to those they’re prepared to concede on”. Alongside this, Megan emphasises the need for a “can-do attitude” and a genuine desire to “want to learn and progress” – characteristics that will help aspiring lawyers stand out in applications and beyond.
Like many lawyers, much of Megan’s time is spent drafting legal documents, negotiating contracts and liaising with clients. However, when talking more specifically about her day-to-day work as a funds lawyer, Megan describes the variety of work her team are required to complete – particularly at the start of the funds lifecycle.
“To name a few, we need to consider:
Although this may seem like a complete list, or at least enough to keep anybody busy, Megan adds that the team “also represents investors looking to invest their money” which is another aspect to the role.
The funds space is constantly growing in light of the evolving market and that’s what makes working in this practice area so exciting. Talking of the need for continual growth, Megan says: “The consequence of this is that we must attract diverse solicitors and develop our offering to the market. I’m very grateful to have worked and trained in a team that has extensive experience in these up-and-coming areas and have learnt from market-leading partners.”
In addition to working in such a fast-paced area of the law, Megan considers how the pressure she’s experienced during these busier stages of a transaction has enabled her to grow and improve as a solicitor. She notes, “having those stressful situations that are slightly higher pressured allows you to learn quickly and develop your ability to perform efficiently under pressure – some of the peak moments in a transaction can be the most exciting.”
Retailisation and secondaries are “two very exciting areas” that are quickly developing in the funds space, Megan explains. On one hand, there’s “a big focus on different retailisation structures” and on the other, the continued development of “the secondaries market”. ‘Retailisation’ refers to the trend in retail investors seeking alternative sources of returns that can offer diversification from traditional market and ‘secondaries’ is the name given to funds that purchase existing interest or assets from private equity fund investors.
For Megan, both involve structuring a transaction in a distinct way, while working with her team to offer the best possible advice to the firm’s clients. Although often demanding, these developments “present a really big opportunity for associates to develop our understanding and learn while helping with these transactions”. These two recent developments continue to challenge associates, like Megan, daily.
It's the challenges and opportunities that come with this type of work that solidify Megan’s confidence in her choice of career. Despite only qualifying in 2021, she can already recall a number of highlights that stand out from the past couple of years. One in particular involved experiencing “the full lifecycle of a transaction”. She was given a lot of responsibility during the transaction and “really enjoyed having the opportunity to manage and progress the matter”. Alongside her day-to-day role, moments like this remind Megan why she originally wanted to qualify as a solicitor. The highlights don’t stop there though; there are various aspects of the job that Megan outlines as high points, including “problem solving, learning and understanding new areas of law and documents I hadn’t previously looked at”.
So, how do you get to this point? When considering a career in the profession, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel somewhat daunted by the pressure involved. But what advice does Megan have for those who are contemplating a career as a solicitor or a career in law more generally?
“Gain as much experience as possible, although I understand in this market that can feel difficult,” she says. Megan is keen to emphasise that the “experience” you gain shouldn’t be limited to just vacation schemes: “Working as a paralegal or any corporate experience allows you to learn, develop and demonstrate vital key skills.” Any experience, legal or not, is valuable when it comes to writing your applications and lacking exclusive legal experience certainly shouldn’t discourage anybody from applying to their chosen firm and going after a career in the profession.
When asked whether there’s anything she wishes she’d known about being a solicitor before she embarked on this path, Megan didn’t hesitate: “Don’t to be afraid to ask questions.” Although this isn’t necessarily the easiest advice to put into action, particularly in the earlier stages of your career, Megan urges aspiring lawyers to “feel confident and empowered to ask questions”. Remember, the time you spend as a trainee is an opportunity to learn and grow. While it's useful to recognise that everyone around you is “impressive” (including yourself!), Megan can’t emphasise enough the importance of asking questions. It ultimately “shows others that you’re interested and engaged with the work”, which is a fantastic impression to give off early in the process.