There was no one specific moment that resulted in me deciding to pursue a career in commercial law. Rather it was a culmination of many experiences and interactions.
The first notable moment was when a woman from a local high-street law firm came into my secondary school to speak. I was about 14 at the time and it was my school’s careers day. This was my first proper interaction with a lawyer. As I sat there in the school assembly hall hearing about the type of work she did – I remember thinking that it sounded interesting and I wanted to do the same type of thing too.
I remember chasing after her to her car telling her how amazing I thought the work she did was and was super keen – she gave me her business card and after weeks of corresponding with her secretary – I was able to get a work experience placement. This gave me first-hand insight into the day to day of a solicitor. After this experience, I then secured more placements at other local law firms and through this; I became more certain that I wanted to be a lawyer. I wasn’t sure what type of lawyer at this stage though.
At this point, I also had a history teacher who had a wife who was a lawyer – when he found out about my interest in the legal profession – every month he would bring me in copies of the Law Gazette. So early on, I started reading about legal cases and transactions just for the fun of it not realising I was building what I now know to be commercial awareness.
At university, I began learning more about commercial law. I studied modules such as the law of business organisations, which focused on company law that I found interesting. Then I secured a place on Rare’s articles programme – which included trips to law firms, classroom based learning and one-on-one coaching sessions. This was such a transformative experience for me and really reaffirmed my desire to be a commercial lawyer. I also went on vacation schemes and was awarded the Herbert Smith Freehills Roger Leyland Memorial Scholarship.
On my first insight day at Herbert Smith Freehills, I was in a presentation by Ian Cox where he described the firm as a “twin engine”. This message really resonated with me because at the time I was equally interested in contentious work and transactional work therefore, wanting to work at a firm that was equally strong across the board became my initial motivation for choosing Herbert Smith Freehills.
Through being selected for the Roger Leyland Memorial scholarship, I then gained an unparalleled insight into the culture of the firm. Specifically, I wanted to work in a place that I would be part of a collective but still treated like an individual.
At some firms, it can feel like you’re just one Trainee part of a large cohort and you can feel lost in the crowd. But throughout all my experiences at Herbert Smith Freehills, I very much felt like people would match my energy – the more enthusiastic and conscientious I was – the more opportunities I was provided with. I am an ambitious person so being in a space where hard work was rewarded was really important to me. Likewise, the very existence of the Roger Leyland Memorial Scholarship reflected the firm’s genuine commitment to diversity.
My first seat was in core Real Estate, then I went to the Dispute Resolution department where I worked mainly on cases relating to class actions, professional negligence and defamation. My third seat was in Finance where I did a variety of project finance and acquisition finance transactions mainly in the energy and infrastructure sector. In my fourth, I went on an international secondment to the Paris Finance team.
The best part of working at Herbert Smith Freehills is when I feel like I am part of the solution. What this looks like in practice varies widely.
For example, when I was in the real estate department, it might be finishing a particularly tricky bit of drafting that allows the client to have a right that had been heavily negotiated. Alternatively, in dispute resolution it might be undergoing a research task on a complex area of law – finding and summarising key cases that support the client’s position. Whereas in finance, it could be efficiently managing the conditions precedent process that allows the deal to sign by a bid deadline.
Ultimately, the best part is when I feel like the work I am doing is important, valued and that I am helping the client achieve their goal.
My top tip is to really take the time to research the law firm. As a rule of thumb, if you can copy and paste an answer for one application into another application, then your response is probably too generic.
A piece of advice I was given many years ago by a friend was: “who you are is your CV and how you make them feel are your references”. Of course, academic ability, knowledge of the firm and commercial awareness, leadership, and teamwork skills and so on are all incredibly important. However, over and beyond this when it came down to how I stood out later on, it was largely down to who I am and how I made them feel. The one thing you have to set yourself apart is who you are. That is what makes you unique.
So my advice would be ahead of your interview, take some time to understand your personal brand. Try and figure out what sets you apart from everyone else and utilise that to your advantage. I think a lot of people disregard some of the great things they do when it comes to interview answers because they feel it is not “legal” enough….but that part time job you did all throughout school, that sport you spend your time training for, that hobby you love doing, that charity you feel passionate about. They all contribute to the narrative of your life and make you personable, so do not undervalue yourself and do not shortchange the interviewer from experiencing you and your various selves.
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