Former Latham & Watkins and Slaughter and May man learned lots from private practice, but doesn’t miss it — he tells Legal Cheek
Rarely has such debate been generated by the departure of a candidate from The Apprentice as when Lord Sugar booted ex-City lawyer Felipe Alviar-Baquero off the show on Wednesday night.
Alviar-Baquero’s crime? Interpreting in a rather flexible way Sugar’s instruction to find and then purchase an “anatomical skeleton” for the best price possible. Instead of wasting hours trawling around London to obtain the real thing, Alviar-Baquero had the bright idea of simply buying a cheap flat-pack skeleton of the type widely found in toyshops.
His impressed teammates loved the idea, but Lord Sugar hated it, viewing it as a lawyer’s clever — but self-indulgent — trick, rather than a move that a true entrepreneur would pull. Viewers were similarly split, with some distraught Felipe fans launching a #JusticeForFelipe hashtag, and others reckoning that he was just a little too clever for his own good.
“Your clients come to you with a problem, you look for a solution — it’s what I was trained to do,” says Alviar-Baquero of “skeleton-gate”, speaking to Legal Cheek in his first interview with the press after exiting the show.
And what training he has had, with Colombian-born Alviar-Baquero’s legal education including a stint at Oxford University, where he got a distinction in the prestigious Bachelor in Civil Law (BCL), followed by four years each at Slaughter and May and Latham & Watkins, two of the world’s elite law firms.
In such a hot-house environment, as one exceptional legal mind among many, Alviar-Baquero was constantly expected to perform impressive moves. To describe the BCL he uses a car metaphor:
“When you get there you are expected to be able to take a car apart, then put it back together and then convert that car to Formula 1. It was a brilliant year, but the most difficult one of my life.”
City law required brain power too, but was perhaps most about getting deals done in a hyper-commercial culture that required incredible stamina.
“The stories about the hours are true. I was one of the few people with a young family [Alviar-Baquero has two daughters aged 4 and 7] and sometimes I didn’t see them for a long time,” he says, adding that 8am to 10pm days and working weekends were common.
Alviar-Baquero’s time in the City falls into two chunks: the noughties boom years working round the clock on mergers and acquisitions as a rookie at Slaughter and May, where he did his training contract after the BCL, and a post-financial crisis spell doing international deals largely out of Singapore for Latham & Watkins.
Of the magic circle chapter, Alviar-Baquero remembers:
“Although the hours could be horrific, I loved Slaughters. It was the best time I had as a lawyer. I’m still in contact with a lot of the partners and still go to lunch with them from time to time.”
Latham & Watkins, which Alviar-Baquero joined because of its intention to open up in Brazil, didn’t work out quite so well.
“As a South American I was interested in working and being based there,” he says. “But unfortunately the regulations regarding foreign law firms setting up in Brazil changed, and so the office opening didn’t go ahead. I was sent to Singapore, where I worked on international projects, which was hard with a young family. In the end we decided we didn’t want to relocate.”
Alviar-Baquero, 34, quit Latham in April, did the filming for The Apprentice soon after, and then started work as an in-house lawyer at INDECS, a consulting and risk management firm to which he was introduced through City contacts.
The step away from the law fits his yearning to be as much a businessman as a lawyer, plus he now “sees the kids everyday” — a benefit that far outweighs the pay cut that commonly follows an exit from private practice. And he also gets a little more time to oversee the children’s theme park venture that he amazingly managed to get off the ground while working at Slaughter and May.
“It was the experience of founding my own business, Tiny Town in Kent, which I designed while travelling to work every day in the City, that made me want to go on The Apprentice — one of the few shows which conveys the entrepreneurial spirit that really inspires young people,” he says.
All in all, not a bad run for someone who came to the UK from Bogota aged 17 unable to speak English (but with a connection to the country through his English mother). So what’s the Colombian’s advice to today’s law students?
“Enjoy uni, but work extremely hard and participate in different societies: some people think first year is for fun and then only start working in the second year, but that’s too late,” replies Alviar-Baquero, who did his undergraduate degree at Kent University while working in a non-graduate clerical role at the Department for Work and Pensions. Despite combining the two, he got a first.
“Then find out what you want,” the solicitor continues, “Do your research, discover what it’s like to work in a law firm. See if it is suited to you.”
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