Interview with a Partner of a City Law Firm

Richard started as a trainee solicitor with Allen & Overy in 1992. He has been a partner in the Corporate department since 2000. We were lucky enough to get the chance to talk to Richard about his career so far, his advice for students considering a career in law and what it’s like to be a partner at an international law firm.

AAC: How has your working life changed since becoming a partner?

Richard: I now have much greater responsibility for developing client relationships. The primary focus of my role has certainly shifted. I now do slightly less hands-on, technical legal work. For instance, I do less drafting and legal research. These responsibilities are delegated to associates and trainees, which allows them to develop their core skills.

Business development is now a major focus of my role. I’m responsible for maintaining existing client relationships and creating new ones. Furthermore, I now approach my work from a commercial, as well as legal, perspective; acting as a strategic adviser to the boards of the clients that we are working with.

The real challenge is to remain on top of everything. Delegation is essential, but you have to maintain a grasp of all the issues relevant to each transaction. Essentially, my role involves delegation without any sense of abdication. I have a constant dialogue with the associates and trainees in my team.

Mentoring a team is very important for retaining the best people. I need to give my team of associates the right diet of work; both in terms of quantity and quality. The work they do has to be stimulating, demanding and important to them, as I am also trying to develop the next generation of Allen & Overy partners.

AAC: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced since becoming a partner?

Richard: The responsibility to develop my own client base has certainly been the greatest challenge. My first two years of partnership were actually on a secondment to the Takeover Panel. I was out of the market for two years and therefore had to hit the ground running when I returned to Allen & Overy.

Fortunately, my time with the Takeover Panel helped me to develop my client base and shape my practice. However, I also had to work hard to build up my network of investment banking contacts. Once I had done a few deals though, everything started to develop from there.

AAC: What are the three most important attributes for a lawyer to have if they want to become a partner?

Richard: First, you need to develop strong technical skills and have a real interest in the law. You really do need to be a good technical lawyer. This is your base. Without this, you will not become a partner.

Secondly, you need good people skills. Clients tend to choose people that they enjoy working with. London is a very competitive legal market and, in order to win clients off other law firms, you need to be able to impress and gain a client’s respect.

Thirdly, you need to have the right work ethic. When you’re a partner you have a range of other responsibilities on top of your legal work, such as marketing, recruitment and mentoring. You need to have the right mentality as well as an ability to juggle a variety of different responsibilities. That’s what’s exciting though! It allows you to shape a demanding, but rewarding, career.

AAC: Did you always want to be a lawyer?

Richard: I grew up watching a TV show called L.A. Law, which portrayed the industry in a rather glamorous way. I think that was the initial source of my interest in the law profession!

I studied arts-based subjects at A-level. However, three generations of my family had all worked in the insurance industry and I was keen to do something different. I think my decision to study law at university was partly a reaction against what my family had done before and a desire to break that mould.

I didn’t necessarily know that I wanted to be a lawyer before I went university. However, I really enjoyed studying law and the work experience I managed to arrange was important too. It was definitely a step-by-step process.

AAC: What do you enjoy most about being a lawyer?

Richard: The legal profession is not just about being buried in books and doing the hard, technical legal analysis. Personally, I like knowing the law but also applying it in a commercial context to the different projects that I work on.

I like doing the deals, assisting with transactions and interacting with my clients and colleagues. The adrenaline of getting a deal done is what excites me; and without trying to sound too altruistic, I genuinely enjoy helping clients to reach their strategic objectives.

AAC: What has been the best moment of your career so far?

Richard: I advised the Glazer family on their offer for Manchester United. That was probably the most satisfying project that I’ve worked on. It was technical, it was tactical and it was carried out against a backdrop of antipathy from the football club’s supporters. To achieve a positive result for our client after a drawn-out process and against the backdrop of a hostile public environment was very satisfying. It was a major challenge and the fans did their best to make it very difficult.

I’m an ardent sports fan with a keen interest in football, which understandably added to my enjoyment of working on the case. I was also involved in advising George Gillett and Tom Hicks on their takeover of Liverpool FC.

AAC: What has been the worst moment of your career so far?

Richard: The possibility of my career not even getting off to a start! When I was at university, I did a vacation scheme with Allen & Overy. In my first week, I was asked to go to Norwich on the train to get some property deeds signed by the mother of the Senior Partner. She was a frail 90-year-old lady, who I was told would be waiting for me in a car at Norwich station.

Unfortunately, my first train was cancelled and I missed my connection, which made me an hour and a half late. The Senior Partner’s mother had been waiting for me in the station car park for all that time and had even been on the phone to her son checking on my whereabouts.

I thought that I’d ruined my chances of getting a training contract. Fortunately though, when I got back to the office, the Senior Partner saw the funny side of it and recognised the bad luck. It certainly taught me the art of timekeeping and to take an earlier train next time. That was a bad day!

AAC: If you could give one piece of advice to law students, what would it be?

Richard: It’s all very well having first class academic results, but we’re looking for people with well-rounded CVs. You should participate in the other activities that your university has to offer; for instance, get involved with debating, sports teams, drama societies or pro bono work. This doesn’t mean we compromise on academic ability, but you need to remember that we are looking to hire individuals with the potential to win new clients and develop existing client relationships.

Research the firms that you are considering and make educated decisions about which ones you want to apply to. Less is more! There’s a tendency for people who are completing too many application forms to use the same general content on each one. Focus on the particular firm you are applying to and really treat the application as an individual project.

AAC: If you could sum up your career in three words, what would they be?

Richard: Variety, teamwork and fun.

AAC: Why did you choose to work for Allen & Overy?

Richard: My decision to work for Allen & Overy was based on the work experience I did before applying. In the summer holiday of my first year at university, I managed to get some work experience in Allen & Overy’s general office. Essentially, I was working in the post room, handing out internal and external mail to lawyers in the firm. When they discovered that I was a law student, I was actually given the opportunity to carry out some more hands-on legal tasks.

In my second year, I managed to secure a place on the official Allen & Overy vacation scheme. These two summers of work experience gave me an invaluable insight into the firm, both in terms of the type of law it practised and its culture.

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