Law, politics and the City

Ahead of the Legal Cheek and Shearman & Sterling General Election debate on Monday, Tim Waterson explains how an early interest in politics set him up for life in the corporate finance fast lane

Tim Waterson, a finance associate at Shearman & Sterling, has got his work cut out. Not only is he busy working on secondment for Barclays, handling an array of European leveraged finance transactions, he is also preparing for his role in the forthcoming Legal Cheek and Shearman & Sterling General Election debate.

“The session takes place on the evening of Monday, 5 June, three days before the country goes to the polls,” explains Waterson. “I’m one of a panel of three lawyers from across the firm’s practice areas. We’ll be fielding questions for an hour between 6 and 7pm, with the event taking place at our London office. We will need to respond with well thought-out, useful observations on anything from what the election means for the City and UK business to Brexit.”

The debate means Waterson is making sure he’s up to speed on the inner workings of UK politics — no easy feat given the demands of his job. But for the 32-year-old graduate of Birmingham University, this is a labour of love, not to mention one that might influence what he does with his life in a few years:

I’ve always been really interested in politics, from my teenage years onwards, and studied Politics and Economics as my first degree at Birmingham. I see myself working through the ranks at Shearman & Sterling for the next few years, but I’m also tempted to go into politics.

For now, Waterson is immersed in his legal career. It’s one that’s seen him work for two City firms before joining Shearman & Sterling in March, 2015, and bag some interesting career highlights to date — albeit that he was not a person whose sights were fixed on the law from an early age.

“I was always interested in business, and my mum was a bank manager at NatWest,” explains Waterson, who grew up in Derby. “I did a few summer jobs in banks, and looking back on things it’s fair to say that I was always going to work in finance, in some way. But I toyed with quite a few other ideas, from being a doctor or vet to being a pilot.”

What was the catalyst that made Waterson plump for the legal profession?

“While I was studying a MSc in Economic History at Oxford, from 2007 to 2008, some friends applied for various firms’ vacation schemes,” says Waterson. “They came back with rave reports, and I decided to do one as well. Like my friends, I had a good experience, and so applied for a training contract.”

Waterson began his legal life at Slaughter and May, staying with the firm for just under three and a half years. During his two-year training contract, he knew that upon qualifying he wanted to work as a finance lawyer. “Realising this meant that come my fourth seat, which was supposed to be in property, I was able to make a choice and swap the property seat for another one in corporate finance,” says Waterson, continuing:

I’d advise all young lawyers to think in the same way: if you know early on what you want to specialise in, try and tailor everything you do in your career to that area.

Waterson has another tip for trainee and junior solicitors working in corporate finance. “Be organised,” he says. “You’ve got to be on top of the status of all the matters you’ve involved with. Make a friend of tables and lists.”

And with Artificial Intelligence (AI) making ever greater inroads into the law, Waterson also advises young lawyers to be tech-savvy. “AI will unquestionably have an impact on the way law is practised,” he predicts, “but it’s not necessarily a negative one. Trainees and juniors may find that they have more time for research and client development. But they should also make sure they understand all the cutting edge innovations and developments that are happening.”

A lifelong Derby County fan, Waterson has relished the way working in the law has enabled him to get up close and personal with the commercial aspects of football. “My career highlight was working on the financing for the new Wembley Stadium,” he says. “It was fascinating, as was working on some deals for one of the top football clubs in Europe.”

Recently, Waterson also enjoyed working on a pro bono matter for The Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG), conducting research into how evidence for prosecutions is retained and collated in Syria. “It was eye-opening,” says the man who wonders about making his own life more overtly political in a few years. But which way will he be voting come Thursday, 8 June? Waterson isn’t saying. “If I go into politics, that’ll be the time to make my views clear.”

The Legal Cheek and Shearman & Sterling General Election debate takes place on the evening of Monday 5 June at Shearman & Sterling’s London office. After the session, which is open to all students, there will be drinks and networking with the firm’s lawyers and graduate recruitment staff.