Experience: I have worked as a lawyer in Melbourne, Madrid and New York

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By The Careers Team on

Legal Cheek Careers meets Herbert Smith Freehills’ well-travelled senior associate Marianna Schneider

Marianna Schneider

Since arriving in New York two months ago, life for Marianna Schneider has been a blur of meeting new colleagues and getting to grips with thrilling Manhattan as she helps to develop Herbert Smith Freehills‘ (HSF) growing US-based Latin America practice.

To an outsider, it sounds like Australia-qualified Schneider (pictured) is living the corporate law dream depicted in hit TV series Suits, but the youthful senior associate describes her experience to date in down to earth terms:

Having settled in, the day to day routine is not dissimilar to how my life has been elsewhere.

Having found a flat in West Chelsea, a quieter area of Manhattan with some prized open spaces, it takes Schneider about 20 minutes to commute on the Subway into Midtown, where HSF is based on the same block as Grand Central Station.

The firm’s office in the Big Apple, which opened in 2012, contains around 50 people, the majority of whom are lawyers. It makes for a very different environment to the much bigger HSF office in Melbourne, where Schneider previously worked. She explains:

The smaller office size means that you really get to know everybody. And because a number of people have also relocated from other offices, you find you are often in similar situations. So it’s a very social and international office — we had a summer party last month on a boat which sailed around Manhattan, which was great fun.

Schneider’s move to New York came about after she attended a dinner of the Australia-Latin American Business Council in Melbourne this time last year. On her table was her now boss, HSF infrastructure specialist Juan-José Zentner, who was impressed with her combination of projects experience and Spanish language skills. A meeting ensued where Zentner told Schneider about HSF’s plan to expand its Latin America practice, and she decided to leave her firm at the time, the Australian national outfit Corrs Chambers Westgarth, to become a part of it.

A key factor in swinging the opportunity her way was the eight-month secondment she had done in 2014 with top Iberian law firm Uría Menéndez.

Prior to that, Schneider’s Spanish — which she had learnt while growing up in Australia from her Mexican mother — had been “conversational”. But the experience of using the language in a work setting was transformative.

Picking up a lot of legal and business terminology I became able to communicate in Spanish in a much more sophisticated way,” she says. “Plus there are also cultural things that you learn, such as different business environments and legal drafting styles. At the same time, I think developing ties with lawyers and clients in Spain helped raise my profile within my own firm.

This experience of Latin culture is now proving invaluable as Schneider liaises with colleagues and clients in the South American jurisdictions where HSF is strengthening its offering. Recently back from Chile, she will be jetting off to Colombia shortly on behalf of the firm, with New York very much a jumping off point for Schneider over the coming years. Still, she hopes to pass the New York Bar exam so that she can be as useful as possible to her clients.

Looking back at her career to date, Schneider is particularly grateful for an exchange she did at Nottingham University in 2008 while completing her joint science and law degree at the University of Melbourne. It was this experience that gave Schneider the confidence to pursue international opportunities. She remembers:

My Nottingham experience was life-changing. I developed long term friendships and it really gave me an appetite for working and living overseas.

Schneider will be catching up with some of these friends during October when she heads to London for an HSF training course. Despite Brexit, the UK capital remains high on her list of cities in which she would one day like to live. At the same time, she recognises the need for global business lawyers to be flexible about where they are based.

My advice to students and younger colleagues is to find that job that you want and then to go where that job is,” she says. “Having said that, I have been lucky so far to end up in really great places.

Applications for training contracts in Herbert Smith Freehills’ London office close on Sunday. Find out more here.

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