From King’s College London law student to Ashurst partner

As Ashurst’s training contract deadline looms, we talk to banking law specialist Nick Wong about his career to date

The deadline for submission of applications for training contracts with City heavyweight Ashurst is 31 July. That’s just around the corner, so it’s high time to get cracking and do what the firm suggests — apply via a covering letter sent to its graduate recruitment partner. But what, if you were to make the grade, would life with the silver circle firm be like? And what tips and advice does it offer to would-be trainees?

Nick Wong is just the man to ask: having been a partner with Ashurst since 2015, he recently became its graduate recruitment partner. It’s a role the banking lawyer enjoys tremendously:

The people we see at interview are of such high quality that they could, in reality, get jobs in almost any profession or industry. It’s great meeting them, seeing what makes them tick, and seeing if they’re the kind of person to enjoy life at Ashurst.

What, then, is that kind of person?

Wong doesn’t need to think through his answer. “There’s no such thing as an ‘Ashurst type’, because we’re an open-minded firm, and we actively involve and include a broad range of minds with a broad range of backgrounds, all united by a common set of strengths or competencies,” he says. “But we’re also a very collaborative and collegiate firm, and people here can expect to do work with an international flavour.”

With over 1,500 lawyers working in 25 offices around the world, internationalism comes with the territory at Ashurst. Wong adds:

Cross-border work permeates everything we do, from the work of partners and associates to that of trainees and paralegals. Trainees will find themselves dealing with lawyers from other jurisdictions, and will experience different kinds of deals in countries across the globe. Overseas secondments can also constitute one of a trainee’s four seats.

Wong himself enjoyed a secondment in Hong Kong during his trainee years, which were at Clifford Chance. Prior to that, the London-bred Manchester United supporter took A-levels at Westminster School in English, History, Maths and Economics. He went on to study law at King’s College, London, before leaving the capital to complete his LPC at Nottingham Law School. Wong, who started his training contract in 2002, says that showing a genuine interest in the law is crucial when applying for training contracts:

You’ve got to come across as wanting a legal career because you like the law. You can demonstrate this in a number of ways, and which is best will depend on what kind of law firm you’re gunning for. But across the board, it’s vital to read the quality press and know about contemporary legal, commercial and business issues. That doesn’t mean just reading the FT on the day of your interview, but regularly reading it and also reading things like The Times law section on a Thursday.

Putting in the hours on vacation schemes is also important, says Wong: “We do have trainees who haven’t been on vacation schemes but it’s fairly uncommon. The schemes equip people well, and give a great insight into what day-to-day life in a law firm is like.”

Wong completed vacation schemes with Stephenson Harwood, Travers Smith, Clifford Chance, CMS Cameron McKenna and Eversheds. Undoubtedly, completing five schemes with leading firms helped him, but so too did knowing that he wanted to be a lawyer from an early age. “Some people drift into the law but I wasn’t one of them. I knew I wanted to be a lawyer from my teenage years on,” he recalls.

Upon qualifying with Clifford Chance in 2004, Wong spent a further eight years with the firm, before joining Ashurst in 2012. He relishes life at Boardwalk House, working as a banking lawyer, not least because of the firm’s ethos of making sure clients’ welfare is always uppermost in its lawyers’ minds. “The secret to success as a lawyer is putting your clients first,” he says. “Try to work with clients you like, with whom you enjoy working, and in whose business you have a real interest. That’s what we strive to do at Ashurst. If you can do this, you’ll find that life is less stressful.”

Equally, though, prospective Ashurst trainees shouldn’t be under any illusions: there will be stressful moments. Wong explains:

It’s par for the course that you’ll have to work long hours doing due diligence, or work round the clock at key junctures on major matters. You shouldn’t kid yourself: the work is serious, and you’ll be working very hard. But it’s also very rewarding — you forge bonds with colleagues that can last a lifetime. There’s also the satisfaction of completing the deal or securing a win for your client.

And Wong has one last tip: “The interview process is key to both the firm’s wellbeing and the applicant’s — we share a mutual interest in making sure the fit is right. So do your research, and prepare, and do all the things that can help you build a legal career, but most importantly, in the interview, be yourself.”

There is more information here about applying for training contracts at Ashurst ahead of the firm’s 31 July deadline.

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