TLT’s Ainslie Benzie tells us why the firm’s strap-line, ‘For what comes next’, is more appropriate than ever
With fast-changing financial markets, lawyers need to react quickly to assist their clients. “You have to understand how current events materially impact your work and your client’s business,” explains Ainslie Benzie, legal director in insolvency and restructuring at TLT, “by moving quickly we can save jobs, keep businesses running and economies going.”
Understanding economic change is a crucial part of commercial awareness for students planning to enter the legal profession. In the last few weeks financial market stability has been a regular news story, but what does this mean for law firms working in the financial sector? “Everything is so fluid at the moment”, says Benzie, “it’s the most changeable market I’ve seen in my career to date. Horizon scanning and things that we were discussing with clients a few months ago are almost obsolete now.”
Benzie was the first in her direct family to attend university but studying law wasn’t always her dream. “I actually wanted to be an actress”, she laughs. “I went as far as actually being accepted to study drama at university.” But a career in the arts wasn’t on the cards, she says, “My parents not so subtly suggested it wasn’t the most financially secure career.”
And her family’s advice appears to have paid off, but her thoughts on the process may come as a relief to many students. “I did enjoy my law degree,” she reflects, “but it wasn’t until I qualified and started practising law that I started to really love what I did. Of course, students have more choice about how they wish to qualify these days. At TLT we’ve recently launched our six-year Legal Solicitor Apprenticeship, which gives students with A-Levels a fantastic option to earn-as-they-learn and qualify in the same time span.”
Law may not have been her first option at university but when it was time to move into practice, commercial law was the obvious choice. “My dad’s background was in marketing and sales and he ran his own businesses,” she says. “That made me lean towards training with a commercial law firm as it was an area that I was comfortable with and appealed to my focus on helping people and being commercially aware.” Benzie secured a training contract with Dundas Wilson, now CMS, where she met her husband and got a chance to experience working in restructuring and insolvency. “At first I didn’t know much about what being a restructuring lawyer would involve”, she recalls, “but I absolutely loved it because of how diverse the work was, how dynamic it was and the camaraderie between our colleagues as a team and our clients. I knew then what I wanted to focus on for the rest of my career.”
To fully understand what her clients are experiencing, Benzie has had the benefit of four secondments with top banks such as Lloyds, Clydesdale Bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland. “On each occasion, I have worked directly with their relationship managers meeting customers,” she says. “I wasn’t being a lawyer for those periods of my career — instead, it was about supporting the customers’ businesses to recognise their needs.”
Since the pandemic hit in 2020, global markets have been changing constantly and to support their clients through these challenging economic times, law firms need to move fast. “We’re constantly trying to establish what happens next and it’s ever-changing, so ultimately the challenge is just to stay up to speed with the current position, anticipate client’s future needs to keep ahead of these challenges and proactively identify commercial solutions beyond legal.” And here’s where having long-standing relationships like those TLT has with their financial sector client base is critical, she adds. “We can translate issues into solutions fairly quickly for them because we know the market so well and know what they’re looking for.”
This forward-thinking outlook has served TLT well; Benzie joined the firm just six months after the pandemic hit and was impressed by how they identified opportunities in disorder. “You had to sink or swim and embrace whatever opportunities were there,” she says. “In terms of revenue growth we’ve smashed our target: we had a target of £140 million for 2025 and we hit £144 million at the end of the last financial year. That’s three years ahead and £4 million over — so we are very much capable of embracing these types of challenges.”
Like many firms, TLT appears to be fully embracing a post-pandemic world and has implemented a fully flexible TLT world working policy which allows employees more freedom to work at a place and time that suits them. The firm also moved into Glasgow’s new Cadworks offices this year, which were built with recycled construction materials and feature extensive cycling facilities including Glasgow’s first cycle-in access ramp! “It is the most sustainable office building in Scotland and the first net zero carbon building in operation in Scotland”, says Benzie. “We’ve designed our office space from scratch to support agile working and we have all the tech facilities to enable us to switch smoothly work between remote work and the office.”
When it comes to economic downturns, law firms are well placed to deal with this kind of change due to their counter-cyclical practice areas, such as restructuring, insolvency and disputes. Benzie is no stranger to economic change and was working as a junior solicitor at the time of the 2008 financial collapse. She describes watching the domino effect from the US subprime mortgage market where the crash began. “We knew something profound was happening”, she says, “but when you’re living through history you never know at the time how significant it will be.” The crash has loaded financial markets to this day in terms of the regulations and protection measures that are now in place. When asked what she learnt from the experience, she offers some sage advice for those entering a legal career. “It taught me that lawyers can never rest on their laurels,” she says. ”You have to be adaptable and never assume that things will stay the same — anticipate where your work will come from next.”
Ainslie Benzie will be speaking at ‘Navigating financial distress: a lawyer’s role — with TLT’, a virtual student event taking place on Wednesday 2 November. You can apply to attend the event, which is free, now.
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