Ahead of her appearance at the Women in Law Conference next month, Legal Cheek Careers meets Vikki Fabian
Vikki Fabian has been in a perpetual state of motion since joining Shearman & Sterling nine years ago as a trainee. Much of this year has been spent flying between London, New York, Boston and Connecticut while she led one of the teams working on the GE and Baker Hughes $23 billion (£17.4 million) megamerger.
Before that, she was away from the UK for five and a half years, making her name as a M&A lawyer in Shearman & Sterling’s Abu Dhabi office. Certainly, Vikki has come a long way from being a law student at UCL who was so unsure that being a lawyer was the right career for her that she decided to do a master’s degree to buy extra thinking time. She recalls:
“It was only after I found myself enjoying corporate law modules that I decided to start applying for training contracts, and then I was lucky enough to secure a Training Contract at Shearman & Sterling before starting the LPC.”
Today Vikki is back living in King’s Cross, the previously run down but now highly desirable area where she first moved as a student in 2004, and still hanging out with friends from university (many of whom are lawyers too). Her life seems to be a whirl of business travel, glitzy restaurants and bars, and stimulating work — basically, all the stuff that wannabe lawyers dream of. So what’s it really like?
“We work hard, you have to be resilient and make sacrifices sometimes — that’s to be expected when you are well paid for your work” she responds, “but you’re working on complex and challenging transactions that are on the front page of the FT with great teams of people around you. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of completing a deal or coming up with a new solution for a client’s problems.”
The highlight, though, for Vikki is the “opportunity to work with intelligent people who are similarly committed to what they do and enjoy being at the top of their game”.
It was the presence of such individuals at Shearman & Sterling’s Abu Dhabi office that saw Vikki remain in the Middle East for three more years than the two she originally intended. She reflects:
“We were an office in growth mode staffed by a young, lively team from all over the world and I very much enjoyed being part of that.”
It reminds her of the vibe in the firm’s London office at the moment. Since 2010 the firm’s UK revenue has grown by 63% to hit £136 million. Global senior partner Creighton Condon has earmarked it as a place for further expansion, commenting earlier this year that in spite of Brexit, “We see room for growth in London”. Condon’s words followed the announcement that Shearman & Sterling’s most recent profit per equity partner figure had jumped by 18% to a massive $2.165 million (£1.64 million) on the back of a sustained period of global revenue growth. London newly qualified solicitor salaries now stand at a substantial £105,000.
What this means for Vikki and other ambitious lawyers like her is that if she maintains her current progress she will have a decent shot at making partner at the firm where she began her career. In an office where around 80% of the lawyers are English qualified this is by no means unrealistic.
What is less usual is for those new partners is to be women; like most global law firms, Shearman & Sterling hires more female graduates than men but then sees a high attrition rate as these lawyers reach mid and senior levels. While the firm has some high profile women partners — among them Sonny Udovicic and Susanna Charlwood, both of whom will be panellists at the Women in Law Conference — they currently make up just 17% of its London chiefs.
Vikki hopes to be part of a change across the City in which elite institutions adapt their structures to facilitate greater gender diversity at the top. But she is aware too of how slow progress has been during her time in the profession and how difficult it can be to fit a family life into the intense world of corporate law.
“Ultimately it will be client demand that dictates the progress that is made. Some of the larger clients are starting to be quite explicit about wanting to work with more diverse legal teams and firms obviously respond to that,” she says.
In the meantime, Vikki is concentrating on her own career journey:
“Many of my friends have moved in-house or even left the profession; when I was starting out in Law I really didn’t expect to get to where I am today, but now I’m here I want to keep going!”
Students can apply here for one of the final places at Shearman & Sterling’s Women in Law Conference ahead of the deadline on Friday.
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