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Career Envy

Training with a Magic Circle Firm Career Envy

Training with a Magic Circle Firm
Two quite different secondments

Does a client secondment at Arsenal Football Club and an international secondment in Singapore as part of a training contract with a magic circle firm sound like your dream job? We thought so! Nick Johnston graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Classics and English and initially worked in publishing before switching to law. He started his training contract with Slaughter and May in 2012 – and he hasn’t looked back since!  


What stage of your training contract are you at now?

I am halfway through my fourth seat, now in Singapore. My first seat was in the Financing department, my second was in Corporate, and for my third seat I was seconded to the in-house legal team at Arsenal Football Club. The Corporate and Financing departments at Slaughter and May are both extremely large, so most trainees can expect to do seats in both of them, and they were in fact the two departments I had the most interest in at the start of my training contract.

What made you want to apply for a magic circle firm for your training contract?

The big-name clients were a huge draw for me – the prospect of working on deals that have a major impact on the world we live in was very exciting. Also an inevitable by-product of having such large and complex clients is that the type of work you get called on to do is often highly innovative and intellectually demanding, and I was looking for a challenge.

How did a secondment at Arsenal FC come about?

Arsenal is a client of the Firm and for a couple of years now a Slaughter and May trainee has spent one of their six-month seats working in their in-house legal team.  I was offered the position and jumped at the chance!

What kinds of duties did you carry out on this client secondment? Was it what you expected? Did it differ a lot compared to the Slaughter and May office?

Since I was taking over from an existing trainee secondee I had a well-defined role in the Arsenal legal team – and a lot of work to be getting on with right from the start!  Arsenal’s in-house team has several relatively senior lawyers, so the trainee’s role is really to be the junior, supporting them by doing a lot of the day-to-day commercial heavy lifting.  

I undertook a huge variety of work, with my main role to act as point of contact for a large number of in-house clients within the business and help them with whatever issues might crop up.  This included drafting contracts, checking terms and conditions, chasing outstanding debts and assistance on pretty much any legal point that happened to arise – it was very wide-ranging.

The work was very different to what I had experienced in the Slaughter and May office.  Back at the Firm I was not often the main point of contact for a client, whereas at Arsenal I was the main point of contact in the legal team for a large number of staff – a great way to develop my communication skills.

My hours at Arsenal revolved around when people were in the office, which meant that although I was usually extremely busy during the daytime, I had fewer late nights – I certainly didn’t complain about that …

Has it changed your perception of the sports industry at all?

It was fascinating to see just what a huge business a modern football club is – sometimes I would spend so long concentrating on the commercial side of the business that I would almost find myself forgetting that I was working for a sports team!

How did the opportunity to go on secondment in Singapore arise?

Slaughter and May runs a programme of international secondments for trainees in their third and fourth seats. Some will go to the firm’s Hong Kong office, while others are sent to our relationship law firms around the world. Since travelling around South-East Asia after finishing university I had always wanted to come back here, so Singapore seemed like the obvious choice for me, and fortunately the Firm agreed!

Why did you want to do an international secondment?

An international secondment is a great way to get out of that London comfort zone and experience living and working in a different country for a sustained period of time. In addition, being at another firm means you become accustomed to differences in culture and approach, which really helps you to develop the ability to focus on problems from a variety of angles.

What are you doing in Singapore? How are you finding the experience?

I’ve been seconded to the Corporate/M&A department at Allen & Gledhill, where I’ve done a range of work from drafting the share purchase agreement for a public takeover to assisting with regulatory issues in neighbouring jurisdictions such as Thailand and Cambodia. It’s been a great experience so far, and I’ve been assigned interesting work right from the get-go.

My colleagues at Allen & Gledhill have been extremely welcoming and friendly, and team lunches and Friday-night karaoke are de rigeur. And as there are around sixty trainees from London law firms on secondment in Singapore at any one time, it’s never hard to find something to do or someone to do it with!

What has been your Singapore highlight so far?

My highlight so far has definitely been flying to Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat. Despite the heat and the crowds it simply has to be seen to be believed. Before I went I simply did not realise the scale of the place – at its peak in the 12th century it was the largest city in the world, with over a million people. To see that such a vast and powerful civilisation could be swallowed by the jungle and forgotten for centuries was profound and humbling.

Could you get used to jet setting as a more permanent feature of your career? Will there be further opportunities to do this once you’re qualified?

It’s certainly a lot of fun! Although I’m determined to settle down for a while when I get back and focus on my career as an associate in the London office, there are other opportunities in the future. For example, the firm does regular associate secondments to our Hong Kong office, and if that was on offer I would be unlikely to say no …

How do you think undertaking two secondments has helped you in your training period?

I have found doing two quite different secondments to be a fantastic experience. It’s broadened my mind as well as my practice and made me confident in my ability to go into a new role and start contributing helpfully right from the start. Hopefully in the long run it will make me into a more flexible, better lawyer.

Do you have any particular goals you would like to achieve in the future in your career?

Well after a year out of the office, my current goal is just to get back to London, knuckle down and really focus on developing myself as a lawyer for the next few years. I’m still learning so much every day and I don’t see that process stopping for a second after qualification. I’ve had a great experience as a trainee, and wouldn’t have believed someone if they had told me the sort of things I would have been doing at the start. So I’ll just keep at it and see what happens …

If Nick’s training contract experiences tick your boxes, you can find out more about graduate opportunities with Slaughter and May here.

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