Finding a niche
My first seat was in project finance in the energy sector and it just sparked a deep interest in that sector. With all the innovation that’s going on, it’s a great time to be involved, especially as the firm is a market leader in financing renewables and alternative technologies – which is something I’m passionate about outside of work as well. So, although many trainees choose to explore different sectors in order to find out what they enjoy, I knew early on that I wanted a more focused path.
For that reason, my second seat in dispute resolution was again in energy and construction. It’s different work. Although you’re trying to settle, it’s much more adversarial, and it meant I was seeing a project at another stage in its lifecycle. In project finance, your work helps to get a project off the ground. In dispute resolution, you find out about the obstacles it can meet later on. I learnt the importance of thinking about how to safeguard the success of a project right from its outset.
A move abroad
I was thrown in at the deep end for my third seat: a secondment to our Paris office. It’s smaller than our London office, which meant I had much more responsibility than I might have had there. As a third-seat trainee coming from London, I was expected – and trusted – to handle it.
There was one instance where we had to turn around a loan really quickly. The associate, who was also a very good mentor, needed me to draft all the security documents while he focused on the facility agreement. That’s not a task that would normally fall to a third-seat trainee in London, so I found it quite daunting. But afterwards we sat down and went through what I’d done, what I needed to change and why, and as a learning experience, I got a huge amount out of it.
I worked in asset finance as part of the shipping finance team which does a lot of energy-related work, but I also took on some broader general finance work as well. One of the most complex, and rewarding, transactions involved acting for a bank that was lending to a state-owned entity. The state’s representatives and their lawyers were over for a week; and getting agreement in that short timeframe meant quite a few late nights – particularly as the entity had a lot of negotiating power. But when you finally get the deal over the line on a Friday afternoon, and you go out for a celebratory lunch with your team, you know the hard work is worth it. Especially when you see the deal reported in the press soon after.
Most of the legal documents are written in English. But when you’re in a meeting with a French bank and a French lender, they’ll be discussing those documents in French. At the start, that was quite a shock – and a big learning curve. Luckily the firm gives you 30 hours of one-to-one language tuition before you go overseas. One of the reasons I chose Paris was to improve my French, and I definitely did that. By the end of my seat I was sitting in on calls that were all in French and feeling totally comfortable.
I couldn’t fault the support I had for my move to Paris. I went with two other trainees and the firm found us a great apartment right in the centre of the city. I’m a keen cyclist and they even paid to bring my bike over. The Christmas party in Paris is one of the highlights of my career. Being in a venue that felt like a film set, getting to chat to a managing partner, and sharing it all with two really great friends was unforgettable.
A second secondment
Most trainees do an overseas or a client secondment. I’m unusual in that I’ve done both. My fourth seat is with a global energy company. The firm made it happen for me because I know this is the sector I want to build my expertise in. Almost as soon as you land in your fourth seat, you start thinking about which team you want to qualify into, and there’s a really open and transparent process to help you weigh up your options and send out applications. Many fourth seaters have one-to-ones with their mentors and the head of training development to help them decide. I’m very clear on the role I want next and hoping my experience so far will make sure I get it.