University: University of Cambridge
Undergraduate degree: Law
Restructuring and insolvency lawyers are called in when a company, individual or other organisation is in financial difficulties and is facing possible liquidation, administration or bankruptcy. In such situations, restructuring and insolvency lawyers work to advise the organisation’s management and other stakeholders on what to do next, which could be filing for administration or a distressed merger. A restructuring and insolvency lawyer’s work is also to advise organisations that have not yet become insolvent on how to avoid such a situation and formulate contingency plans. In addition, restructuring and insolvency lawyers will also advise an organisation’s creditors where their borrower is facing financial problems.
Although Rachel Beddoe knew that she wanted to pursue a career in the legal sector, she was not entirely sure in which area she wanted to specialise. While studying law at the University of Cambridge, she found that she really enjoyed the practical-minded, commercial side of the profession, which Cambridge was excellent at catering to. It was a vacation scheme that she undertook at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in London, and the hands-on experience that she gained there, that consolidated her wish to become a solicitor rather than a barrister. Indeed, she wanted to be involved in deals from start to finish rather than becoming involved at the point at which contentious issues arose. Even though she chose to be a solicitor, there is still a lot of advocacy in what she does, but this aspect is more client-facing, which suits her perfectly as she feels more part of the process all round.
After graduating, Rachel began her training contract at Akin Gump. It was a great place to train as it has a very small intake and a vested interest in the development of all of its trainees. It is also a relatively small office, so colleagues are really involved in the process. It was this support from the firm that formed the basis for staying on there once the traineeship had come to an end: “Akin Gump makes your experience as a trainee as close to junior associate as possible, which makes you really well equipped when you qualify.” She has now worked at the firm for three and a half years in total, during which time she has honed her skills as a solicitor and taken on more responsibility. “Akin Gump’s philosophy is immersive learning, so I always feel comfortable getting really stuck in as much as I can and learning about the clients and the businesses that Akin Gump works with every day.”
“Not only is there the technical part of the transaction, but also how the transaction is perceived and what people are saying about it"
Rachel experienced a broad range of practice areas during her traineeship, but restructuring and insolvency – where she now practises – proved to be the main draw. In this work area, there is no such thing as a typical day. Dealing with clients and companies makes the work dynamic and ever-changing, which requires flexibility of character as well as good technical legal skills as so many different processes can be used to restructure companies. As she says: “No two restructurings are the same, which is the beauty of the job – it always varies and that’s what keeps it so interesting and challenging; the exact same thing is never going to cross your desk twice.”
Embracing the new
As we are seeing in many practice areas, factors such as technological advancement, social media and Brexit are having a major impact. Indeed, it is an exciting time to be part of the sector. Social media is shaping the way that businesses are perceived and the way in which news travels. As she says: “This is something that lawyers are increasingly having to grapple with, not only is there the technical part of the transaction, but also how the transaction is perceived and what people are saying about it.” Another issue partly linked to social media and the way in which businesses are perceived is the emphasis on consensual workouts rather than entering into a formal insolvency process such as administration. While this is not necessarily new to the field, it is true that the effect has been enhanced by social media, especially with high-profile restructurings where it is a challenge to deal with the fact that the news surrounding them will travel fast. Whether that news is accurate or not is a different question. This development is interesting not only from a technical perspective, but is showing a new way that perceptions of transactions can be shaped. While these developments are not always viewed positively in the sector, it is important to be on top of them.
Brexit has created much uncertainty, which is felt not only by the legal profession but also by the clients involved in restructuring and insolvency processes. However, it is making it an even more exciting and fast-changing field, as continental rules are constantly changing. Keeping on top of these changes offers a very rewarding career. Working long and hard on major restructuring cases also fosters camaraderie, says Rachel: “It is good to feel part of the team and share in the sense of achievement at the end of a deal.”
When working out whether this is the sector for you, Rachel says that above all you must have emotional intelligence, as restructuring cases can often be very stressful and you must be able to stay cool and calm in hectic situations. The job is largely client-facing and you have to respond to the individual needs of each client, which can vary from case to case, which is why emotional intuition is key, as well as being a critical and strategic thinker. You need to be organised and a deft project manager because there are usually so many elements in a restructuring, and you need to keep track of the progress of all of them.
As for advice that Rachel wishes that she had been given herself when she was starting out, she would have liked to have known that being a solicitor is very different from studying law. With real clients introduced into the picture, the work is much more dynamic and never exactly fits the case law that you study at university. She no longer spends all of her time with her head in a textbook as her day-to-day practice draws on so many other skills: “It’s so much more than being book smart, you have to be people smart as well, which isn’t always obvious from your law degree when you’re buried in books all the time! It’s the interpersonal elements of the job, which make it so rewarding”. Rachel says that to succeed as a restructuring and insolvency lawyer, it is vital to always have clients’ interests in mind and to “always be a team player, because ultimately you want the best outcome for your clients and the best way to do that it to help your colleagues and get the deal done”. Further, a keen sense of curiosity will get you far: “Question why things are being done and the way that they’re being done.”
In terms or researching this area, Rachel suggests that those interested should “do as much reading as you can, restructurings are very public so there is plenty that you can read on them. Talk to people, go to careers events, see if you can get involved in some work experience and research the firm before you apply. Ask as many questions as you can and be curious about everything. There are so many paths that you can take, a law degree opens many doors for you, it’s just a case of working out which ones to push open. To do that you really need to delve in, read around it and see what takes your interest and go from there. Ask for people’s time to find out more, that’s the only way you can work out which way to go.”