Countdown to completion: My four weeks of hell as a London corporate finance lawyer

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By Jaded Lawyer on

Three hours sleep and no social life — what the glossy graduate recruitment brochures fail to divulge


An anonymous junior banking & finance lawyer practising at a firm in the City of London lifts the lid on the brutal reality of a deal…

Countdown to completion: Four weeks

Several weeks of gradual build-up and the deal has now kicked into full swing. It’s time to clear the social diary for the next month and let friends know I’ll be ‘off the radar’ for the foreseeable future. A brief glance at the ‘CP checklist’ (for non-banking lawyers this is a list of all of the documents which need to be satisfied in order for the deal to complete. Essentially, the information and the security the bank has based its decision to lend on).

There are hundreds of documents on the list, some will need to be drafted, others negotiated and the remainder located. Usually it is a trainee who runs this checklist, taking responsibility for tracking the documents, chasing down the outstanding items and circulating the list, but given this is a billion pound transaction and the list runs into hundreds of documents this time I need to assist and take a more hands on role with the checklist.

A feeling of dread begins to set in as the client makes it clear on a phone call that this deal MUST be completed within the next three weeks (even though they sat on our fee quote for weeks). I wishfully look to the partner, hoping she will push back to the client on this deadline. After all, we have another three deals, each with their own separate checklist which need to be completed in the same time frame. No, the partner confirms we (i.e. me, the trainee and the senior associate) will deliver. “So you have capacity?”, the partner asks — which, in banking law actually means how much sleep do you need between now and when these deals need to be completed?

I have no choice but to answer “yes”.

Countdown to completion: Two weeks

Most of the legal documents are now drafted and negotiations are in full swing. I have some down time late one evening while I am waiting for comments from the other side. I take this time to attend to my other less urgent matters. I need to get a whole load of documents ready for a client to sign in the morning on another deal which will take me a while but instead I take several hours responding to a last minute query from said client (the documents have been agreed for over a week).

When we meet in the morning, he asks me why I was still in the office after midnight. I laugh it off but inside I am thinking (a) gosh, I didn’t even realise it was past midnight — the days blur into one, and (b) perhaps if he had raised his query earlier I wouldn’t need to have stayed so late! I spend much of the next day liaising with foreign counsel and chasing other departments for their input on the various legal documents on the current deal. The partner asks me to update her on the entire CP checklist. I don’t think she has even read the list, never mind that this is a half a morning job in itself!

Countdown to completion: One week

I get woken up by my blackberry at 7:00am (after three hours sleep) with a request from the same partner asking me to review a set of documents (totalling 250 pages) on a new deal just in. This is shortly followed by a second email from the same partner asking for all outstanding documents to be satisfied by the end of the day on the current deal. Before almost having a nervous breakdown I push back and ask the partner which deal to prioritise. She reluctantly picks the current deal — lucky escape for me.

Friday at 7:00pm: having sat on some documents for over a week the other side responds and copies in all parties to arrange a conference call first thing Monday morning to resolve any final items outstanding. Great. I look forward to working another Friday night and all weekend.


Completion happens over the phone, eight sets of lawyers across multiple time zones and a 10 minute conversation. Deal done. We (I, the trainee and the senior associate) receive no thanks from the client (who thanks the non-existent partner direct). It feels like one big anti-climax. We have done what is expected — our job. Instead, my thanks from the partner is a request for me to update her on the other three deals which are now nearing to completing.

When work gets back to the normal nine to seven, I take the chance to catch up with friends, eat properly and actually do some exercise. It feels weird not to be on call 24-7 but the joy is short lived as I am pulled into a room and questioned as to why I have not ‘turned’ (for non-banking lawyers this means batting a document back into the other side’s court) a document around quickly enough on another matter. I resist the temptation to correct the partner of the fact that they have actually been sitting on my last three emails requesting their input (and ignored my regular updates) for several weeks!

In law you can live up to people’s expectations 99 times out of 100 and you’ll never know, but boy do you know about the one time you fall slightly short!

Jaded Lawyer is an anonymous junior banking & finance solicitor practising at a firm in the City of London.