How I became a City law firm partner at just 36

Hogan Lovells’ Richard Goss shares his tips for aspiring lawyers

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At 36, and having just become a partner with Holborn-based international powerhouse Hogan Lovells, Richard Goss has reached the holy grail of many solicitors at a young age. He enjoys his new role, enjoys his work — which is mainly in asset finance, with an emphasis on aviation finance — and, outside the office, enjoys life with his wife and two young children.

Rather resignedly, following Leeds United’s defeat in the FA Cup to non-league minnows Sutton United, Richard admits that he doesn’t always enjoy the team he has supported since he was a boy, but all in all this modest, quietly spoken man seems every inch the type who knew, perhaps even before he was a teenager, that he would go on to be a lawyer.

Remarkably, though, Richard — who also sits on Hogan Lovells’ graduate recruitment interview panel — had no idea that he would go into law, let alone become a partner, when he started in his first year at university.

“My A levels were in History, Geography and Economics,” says Richard, “and I enrolled at Oxford to study History. I had absolutely no idea what I’d do with it, as a degree, or what I’d do to make a living once I’d graduated.”

How, then, did Richard go to excel, so quickly, in the legal world — and what tips might he have for those at the outset of their legal careers?

“I’m very fortunate to have become a partner at a relatively young age,” says Richard. “There are various factors involved, from making the business case — your ability to generate and maintain work — to proving that you can work as part of a team and that you’re viewed as a trusted advisor by your clients. So as much as being able to do the work well — having the capability to be a good lawyer — being good at relationships is also vital.”

If a blend of qualities is essential for a solicitor to rise through the ranks and become a partner, Richard says the same goes for those just about to begin their legal careers, explaining:

There is no one, overriding thing that will secure a training contract. It’s more a combination of things, of parts that make up the whole.

In Richard’s case, once he’d settled on law as a career at the end of his second year at Oxford, he “began at the beginning — I started researching law firms and careers, finding out as much as I could about what being a lawyer entailed and what law firms do. There’s a tremendous amount of information available in today’s world. I’d advise anyone interested in the law to make full use of it.”

But information in a vacuum is not enough. “Next, try and get hands-on experience in a law firm, or, perhaps, do some work at a law centre,” advises Richard. “Getting involved at the coalface will give you a very good idea of whether what initially seems abstract is, in fact, for you.”

In Richard’s case, a summer vacation placement at a mid-tier City firm gave him a good grounding in legal life. “The experience was invaluable. I sat in different departments and saw how they worked together, and got a feel for what the trainees were doing. I shadowed lawyers on trips around London, for example serving claim forms and notices on defendants. It really opened my eyes, and reassured me that this was a profession I’d enjoy.”

While at Oxford, Richard also made sure that he spoke to law firms and their ambassadors at university law fairs, and he also developed his business and commercial nous. Says Richard:

It’s a cliché, but careers advisors are right when they tell students to read the quality press. You’ve got to know what’s going on in the world. One of the classic interview questions is ‘What issue in the business world has caught your eye in the past few months?’ It’s no good turning up for an interview and not having an answer.

Richard read the FT regularly, as well as the law pages of The Times, and generally kept abreast of political and commercial affairs. He counsels that being tech savvy is no bad thing, either: “Most undergraduates are up to date with devices of one kind and another, but if you’re not one of them make sure you improve these skills. They’re very important in today’s law firm.”

Does Richard have any other tips for undergraduates who’ve decided on law? “Perseverance,” he says. “You’ll make plenty of applications and get plenty of knock-backs. It’s a very competitive market. But you’ve got to keep going.”

From a man who started as a trainee at Hogan Lovells in August 2004, qualifying two years later and becoming a partner in under 13 years, that’s good advice.

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