An offer I couldn’t refuse
I was offered the role of graduate recruitment partner soon after my fourth son was born. I was hugely flattered and really wanted to accept, but, equally, I had no spare time. I’d already been juggling three children and the fourth was another plate to spin. Plus, things were very busy at work. Even with all that, I found I couldn’t say no. I’d be an ambassador of the firm and a major influence on its future.
Having now been in the role for a couple of years, I’m really enjoying seeing students I recognise from open days, vacation schemes and assessment days start as trainees. It’s great to watch them transform from nervous applicants to people with the confidence to get stuck in to the thick of a deal.
A showcase deal for Africa
A trainee in my team could expect to work on a deal such as the recent financing of a 200MW gas-fired power plant in Ghana. There were two phases to the financing. In the first, the construction contractor provided 100% of the financing solution for the construction costs, but rather than more simplified vendor financing arrangements this was structured on a long term project finance basis, which is rare. A portion of the contractor’s debt exposure was wrapped by a guarantee from GuarantCo, a development finance institution, also on the basis of a very novel structure. The second phase still continues and is a more traditional financing structure with a number of banks, development finance institutions, export credit agencies and political risk protection.
It’s a complex finance document structure layered on to a complex project structure - for example, there are two separate project companies (with different ownership arrangements) – a power company and an infrastructure company – rather than one, and there is an unusually complex fuel supply arrangement. Once we had found solutions to everything and agreed documentation, we then had to address the impact of some new local content regulations issued by the Ghanaian government – never a dull moment! It’s a showcase deal for Africa, and for the firm.
Juggling deals like that while trying to plan for the future isn’t easy. You still have to get out, see your clients and develop the business. If you’re not driving hard to stay on top of your business development plan (or not adjusting your business plan in the wake of a changing market), you will miss opportunities and the deals will dry up.
One of the ways in which we’ve changed the way we work over recent years is in the range of tools we can access to automate and streamline some of the more process driven tasks. Our Newcastle Hub is developing and implementing some great technology solutions on this front. It’s about working differently, working more efficiently and more effectively. Some of the push is driven by pricing pressure from clients and a need to become more cost effective on this type of activity, but some of the push is driven by the complementary need to better deploy lawyer time on the more complex aspects of transactions where we can add real value.
Our clients can access some of these tools too, and some of them are fantastic in giving clients a more direct and user friendly ability to see, consider and manipulate the data. These technological innovations are changing the legal landscape; they are helping us push boundaries and stay ahead of the game when it comes to advising clients and winning new business.
We’re in a service industry. We work hard. It’s long hours, it’s demanding work, and we make sacrifices. At the same time, it’s very rewarding working on the biggest and the best deals in the market, but we also recognise that people aren’t robots and it can’t be a 24/7 no sleep no break culture; families, friends and out of work interests are hugely important and everyone needs to have that balance. Sure there are times when maybe the balance isn’t perfect, but we strive to ensure that people get the time they need to break away from the office; the culture here is very supportive and friendly.
We always try hard to accommodate the needs of our people, and we have a tremendous agile working policy (which is implemented and applied, not just written out as a concept). At one end of the spectrum it’s the little things - for instance, having four boys, I'm always keen to go to sports days and end-of-year, in-classroom parent support days when I can, and invariably I do – but at the other end we might need to more structurally tailor a working arrangement to an individual’s specific needs, for instance working fewer days or working from home some days, so that we don’t lose the talent we’ve invested in. To give an example, one of my associates came to me a few years ago, very upset, saying she was going to have to resign as her partner was building a business in Zambia and she wanted to go out to join him. The partners in the team had a chat and we suggested that, instead of leaving completely, she did consultancy work for us from there. So, we helped her set that up, put her on our consultancy platform and now she keeps extremely busy working for us from Lusaka. I see her when she comes back to London and she continues to be one of my best associates. It couldn’t have worked out better for both of us.
“I’m really enjoying seeing students I recognise from open days, vacation schemes and assessments start as trainees.”
“It’s a complex finance document structure layered on to a complex project structure.”
“These technological developments help us push boundaries and stay ahead of the game when it comes to advising clients and winning new business.”
“Families, friends and out of work interests are hugely important and everyone needs to have that balance.”