University: University of Nottingham
Technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) is one of the fastest-developing sectors of the legal market. The constant evolution of technology pushes legal boundaries and begs for the provision of innovative legal advice. In advising their clients, TMT lawyers are required not only to apply black letter law, but also to take into account market developments, regulatory considerations and commercial and technical issues. Outsourcing continues to be a particularly hot topic.
Leo Spicer-Phelps settled on the idea of becoming a solicitor after completing his politics degree at the University of Nottingham. This understanding of the machinations of politics has instilled in him an underlying interest in scrutinising the regulation of the ever-changing and evolving world of technology law in which he now practices. While he did not really consider taking the Bar, Leo was immediately drawn to the business-focused world of being a solicitor: “I wanted to work in a broadly commercial space, working directly with companies in a more engaged fashion rather than on an ad hoc basis and being a solicitor seemed like the best way to do that.”
During his training contract, Leo appreciated the opportunity to get stuck into all aspects of practising as a solicitor and believes that the on-the-job training and the level of responsibility afforded to him helped him to hone his craft and develop the skills required as a junior and mid-level associate: “I really valued the training experience and think it played in to how I learn best. As a trainee at Cooley, if you demonstrate that you are capable of doing something, you are happy and engaged with that work and you are curious to learn more, there is a huge will to ensure that you get to take on greater responsibilities.”
Passionate about all things tech-related, things began to fall into place when Leo secured a secondment at an internet powerhouse in his second seat during his training contract: “I absolutely always wanted to work in technology and I love learning about technology,” and in a market that is constantly shifting and developing, this desire for knowledge has proven to be invaluable, particularly as Cooley is well-established in Silicon Valley and the venture market, serving clients “who are trying to do new things in new ways, or old things in new ways.”
"There must be some point where a self-driving car has to make a decision between injuring the driver of the car or injuring a third party on the street. Is there a regulatory framework that coders would follow in creating the code which makes that decision?"
Building client relationships
Leo obviously made a great impression during his secondment and that client would frequently call on him directly for a selection of commercial contract work. It is this aspect of the job that Leo enjoys most; building a relationship with a client who then seeks out his input and uses him as a sounding board for new ideas and ventures. As a tech law specialist Leo also relishes collaborating with companies and watching as they grow from a nascent brand tapping into a niche in the technology market, to an established and successful name. The fact that the world of technology is continuously shifting and evolving means that the expertise of technology lawyers is in constant demand; whether that be for a US company looking to launch a new product in the United Kingdom or for a global household tech brand that is looking to acquire a key player in a disruptive technology.
However, this perpetually changing market means that tech solicitors must be readily available and as Leo advises, this can be difficult to get a handle on: “There is a need to ensure you integrate your work and life in a sustainable way. In a world where we are expected respond to clients immediately, this needs to be factored in to how you do your job. However, this becomes more manageable if you can effectively find a way to blend the two and strike a balance.”
Looking at the state of the profession generally, Leo has concerns that solicitors are falling behind when it comes to accurately reflecting the community at large and this is something that needs to be addressed: “There is a real need to ensure that we meet the moral and business imperative to be representative of our clients, as well as the wider society and nation in which we live. Across the legal profession, our clients are, generally speaking, way ahead of us and we should take equivalent steps to ensure diversity and inclusiveness occurs across the legal world.”
The question of AI
Looking specifically at the tech sector, Leo’s passion is palpable when he ponders the conundrum of how governments must work out how to regulate evolving and future technology: “The regulatory framework for the world of tech is not moving fast enough, take artificial intelligence (AI) for example, how will they regulate it? There must be some point where a self-driving car has to make a decision between injuring the driver of the car or injuring a third party on the street. Is there a regulatory framework that coders would follow in creating the code which makes that decision? Although the EU has proposed legislation, and the UK has recently started to talk about sectoral self-regulation, no major legal system has put in place a coherent regulatory framework. They are really behind the regulatory curve when it comes to the development of AI.”
For budding lawyers, Leo suggests that one characteristic is key and that is enthusiasm: “You really have to be genuinely enthusiastic about what you do. Try and work out what sectors you are most interested in and what you enjoy most at law school or university – whether that be mooting or negotiation workshops – and then try and find something which incorporates those elements. Then you can target in on firms that publicly manifest an interest in that sector or area. Firms want to see applicants with enthusiasm in a given field, two lawyers working together will have an infinitely better relationship if they are both interested and passionate about the work they are doing.”
Aside from enthusiasm, Leo is keen to stress the fact that the route to becoming a successful solicitor is varied and that it is an incredibly diverse career: “My job and profession is too varied for an easy one-size-fits-all piece of advice. Not all solicitors are the same and you can really carve out a niche and make your own path. When firms look for entrepreneurial individuals, what they really want is someone who can take the initiative, identify what they enjoy and carve out their own path within and without the firm.”