Five qualities that make a good corporate lawyer

Ahead of ‘How to make it as a City lawyer’ on Thursday, Herbert Smith Freehills associate Siddhartha Shukla discusses the key skills he has learnt in his career to date

Why corporate law? And how is it to be a corporate lawyer?

I joined the firm, what now seems to be, a long time ago after having completed my law graduation from a top law school in India. From my very early days, I was intrigued by the world of corporate law, which back in the day was in a relatively nascent stage in India, and I decided to do a specialisation in it.

When I was recruited by the firm, I was very certain that I wanted to be a corporate and M&A lawyer. And today with the additional benefit of hindsight, I am delighted that I took that decision to go for the fascinating world of corporate law. Frankly, if I was to repeat this all over again, I would not do it any differently.

I am delighted and grateful to be a part of an exceptional organisation and in particular an internationally renowned corporate practice. Every day is a new experience and new learning.

We have an incredibly talented, and internationally respected, pool of partners and it is a treat to get a chance to learn from them and see them in action on a daily basis.

Working in a firm like HSF comes with many benefits, the main one being: you get a chance to advise top quality international clients. For me personally, I find it extremely satisfying to know that the advice I am providing is not only being valued and appreciated by very sophisticated clients but also that I am able to contribute to the growth of so many world’s best businesses.

If someone was to ask me how difficult is it to become a corporate lawyer, I would say that it is not at all difficult. But what is difficult is to become a good one! And to be able to achieve that you need to start early.

The question then is, what does it take to become a good corporate lawyer? Well, I am not any expert at this but based on my relatively short experience of about seven-eight years in this space, I strongly believe that there are certain qualities which are essential to enable one to become a good corporate lawyer.

My top five picks are as follows (and these do not appear overnight — these have to be developed over a period of time, so the earlier one starts the better).

1. Technical: Knowing the law

The most important quality is to know the law well and have conceptual clarity — there is no substitute for this. If one wants to succeed in the world of corporate laws, one needs to be technically sound in particular in contract law, Companies Act and other corporate laws (e.g takeover code and listing rules).

2. Attitude: Ready to make that extra effort

The life of a corporate lawyer (like many other top professions) might look glamorous to many, but it requires a lot of hard work. There are times when one would have to sacrifice weekends for clients and other team members. One needs to be ready to do that — to take on more work and share someone’s workload demonstrates a positive attitude and work commitment. This is a stepping stone towards becoming a “dependable” lawyer, in my view.

3. Keenness to learn more and taking up new challenges

The world of corporate law is always evolving (and sometimes faster than one expects), which makes it fun. Every now and then, you have new laws, legal structures and products being introduced in the market. One needs to be keen to learn (and at times, unlearn) and take up new challenges.

4. Attention to detail is indispensable

It is an absolute must to have good attention to detail at all times. Given the nature of work firms like mine do, there is no margin of error. Small mistakes could significantly cost our clients (and the firm) and therefore it is a must to ensure that one works on this quality from the start.

5. Commercial awareness puts you ahead

Often trainees and junior associates are too focussed on learning the law and doing the work that they are given, and they end up not focussing on the latest commercial developments. They think that it is a responsibility of the partners and senior associates. I do not think that that’s a right approach. If one wants to be ahead of their peers and competitors, commercial awareness is a must. Being aware of the commercial developments is a matter of habit, the earlier one starts the easier it gets later on.

Siddhartha Shukla is a corporate/M&A lawyer at Herbert Smith Freehills’ London office doing a wide breath of transactions (from public and private M&A to private equity). Sid made it to Herbert Smith Freehills after growing up in a small town in India.

Come listen to Sid talk on Thursday evening about his top five picks to become a good corporate lawyer and real life examples that you need to know if you aspire to be a corporate lawyer at a top international firm. Apply to attend for one of the final places at ‘How to make it as a City lawyer — with Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells and Mayer Brown’.

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