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From trainee to partner, and what I’ve learnt along the way

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Ahead of Legal Cheek‘s ‘How to make it as a City lawyer’ event in London tomorrow, Baker McKenzie corporate partner Kirsty Wilson reflects on her own legal career and the advice she’d give to those just starting theirs

Baker McKenzie corporate partner Kirsty Wilson

Chocolate companies, beer manufacturers, Formula 1 teams and tech companies are just some of the clients Kirsty Wilson, a partner in Baker McKenzie‘s corporate department, has worked for. Wilson cites this variation in clients as a “consistent highlight” of her 26-year legal career.

It’s a career that began almost by accident.

“I certainly wasn’t one of those people who knew they wanted to be a corporate lawyer since the age of ten,” Wilson tells Legal Cheek Careers. “At the time of applying to university, I’d considered degrees in history and law, but got more offers for law. I thought it’d be a solid, challenging degree, so I went for law — I never expected to still be doing it 30 years later!”

Wilson studied at Cambridge, just six years after her college began admitting women. The trainee market at the time, the late 1980s, was buoyant, and Wilson secured five offers from the five firms she applied for.

“I got my letter through — and back then it was actually a letter — telling me I had an offer from Baker McKenzie,” she recalls, “and I just knew in my gut I should accept.” A training contract with seats in IP, corporate, disputes, and banking and finance followed, Wilson eventually qualifying into the corporate team.

Research shows the average person will work for at least six different companies across their lifetime. However, Wilson has bucked the trend and is now a partner in the same team she qualified into. Her full-time focus for the past fifteen years has been the firm’s global reorganisations group, a sub-team of the corporate department.

The training contract application deadline for Baker McKenzie 2020 (penultimate year students) is on Tuesday 31 July

Highlights of Wilson’s career at the firm, aside from “the great people she’s met along the way”, include an 18-month stint in Baker McKenzie’s San Francisco and Silicon Valley offices, which she “absolutely loved”. Wilson’s corporate team in London has seen secondees from the likes of California, Brazil, Russia and Ukraine (and she’s expecting lawyers from Texas and Sweden in the next few months, too). She continues:

“I’d highly recommend client secondments or international secondments to any trainee or junior lawyer. It gives you a totally different perspective of the legal industry.”

It’s an industry Wilson has seen change markedly since her training contract.

She recalls a “baptism of fire” in her first few months at the firm during which she spent all night in a photocopying room just before Christmas, before heading out to deliver contracts to various companies the following afternoon. Now, technology bears some of this grunt work, and is expected to bear more in the near future. Wilson says:

“We have a global innovation committee which is very committed to looking at how technology will continue to change the legal profession, including AI. In the next five years, it’s expected technology will play a big role in researching and providing advice, document generation and data analysis.”

Another major development Wilson has traced during her career in the City is the increasing competitiveness for jobs. Wilson, who was involved in graduate recruitment at Baker McKenzie for ten years until 2016, says:

“The world has got far tougher. There’s certainly more competition for training contracts, and the candidates we see coming through now have a breadth of experience and an interest in the area that’s far greater from when I was training.”

Thankfully, Wilson has helpful advice for training contract seekers, more of which she’ll share at Legal Cheek’s ‘How to make it as a City lawyer’ student event tomorrow. Her top tip is this:

“Be yourself! Many students worry too much about what they think the firm wants them to say at interview or write in their application — but ultimately what the firm wants to see is what you’re like as a person.”

Wilson, alongside lawyers from Hogan Lovells and Mayer Brown, will be giving her training contract advice at tomorrow’s ‘How to make it as a City lawyer’ event at BPP University Law School. You can register for the event, which is free, now.

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