Three Hogan Lovells associates based in the firm’s Birmingham office tell all to Legal Cheek Careers
Paula Inglis, senior associate, real estate finance, and panellist at tonight’s event, joined Simon Grimshaw, senior associate, corporate; and Katherine Wood, associate, real estate, to discuss work and life in the West Midlands, as well as the opportunities available to trainees.
Legal Cheek Careers: You’re all based in Hogan Lovells’ Birmingham office but arrived here via wide and varied routes. Tell us about your respective journeys into the law, including what drew you to the practice area in which you now specialise.
Paula Inglis: After graduating with a law degree I delayed applying for training contracts and starting my Legal Practice Course (LPC) as I didn’t know what type of firm I wanted to train with and I needed to gain more legal experience (oh, and I was skint!) After a sandwich year out in private practice and various bits of informal work experience I had at least worked out that I was not interested in criminal, family or commercial litigation. So I joined the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors in the disputes resolution team. I was soon exposed to working with some of the leading alternative dispute resolution advisors in the property and construction industry, all of whom encouraged me to start my LPC part-time whilst working.
As soon as I started the LPC I was eager to re-join private practice and my LPC corporate options and experience then directed me towards a commercial firm. I joined Gateley as a paralegal in the construction litigation team in Birmingham and I then progressed to a trainee and later qualified into real estate specialising in finance. I loved real estate (nothing like land law!) and the real estate sector people, developers, lawyers, banks, agents and valuers. You will find as a trainee that there are some seats where you just don’t really fit in with the lawyers or the clients. Just as I had started to develop some great relationships in the Birmingham finance market, things took a turn and I started to lose clients, colleagues and counter-parties to the financial crisis. This was a perfect opportunity for me to take maternity leave.
When I returned from maternity leave the end of the financial crisis was in sight but only in London initially so I followed the work to Gateley’s London office and I started to develop relationships in the London finance market and (I said I would never say it but…) I got used to ‘London work’. With my family in Warwickshire and the commute to Birmingham offering a good work-life balance it was perfect timing that I joined Hogan Lovells in 2015. I now have the flexibility to work at home, Birmingham, or London, while still working on high quality transactions for my clients who are primarily in London.
Simon Grimshaw: Law is a second career for me. I graduated from Nottingham University in 2004, having read history but finished without a clue about what I wanted to do. After a series of temp roles, I fell into the loss control (insurance and uninsured loss recovery) team of a large car hire firm where I worked for three years. I enjoyed my time there, but wanted a greater intellectual challenge from my career. Working regularly with solicitors, I was often passing on cases just as they were becoming interesting — I decided to re-qualify.
Thankfully, my folks put me up for the couple of years it took me to do the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and LPC, and I picked up my training contract halfway through my GDL year. As this was around 2008-09 (when the markets were in a pretty poor condition), I was deferred for a year, and so spent six months in South America, learning Spanish and enjoying the year out I had never had (with the benefit of truly appreciating every moment, knowing what life in a 9-5 felt like). Throughout law school I always assumed I was going to be a litigator, but a six-month mixed corporate/commercial seat in Shanghai convinced me that corporate was the team for me. I qualified in 2012 and moved to Hogan Lovells in November 2014, as one of the founding members of our Birmingham office (technically the office didn’t open until January 2015, so for the first couple of months we were all working in London).
Katherine Wood: During my final year at university I was fortunate to work on cases at the Kent Law Clinic, providing pro bono advice to those in the community. It was during this time that I decided I wanted to pursue a career in law having had first-hand experience of dealing with clients and solving legal issues. At the time I was working as a waitress at a restaurant chain and following university, I moved to Birmingham for a new role. At the time I had not applied for training contracts as I was not sure what type of law I wanted to go into and needed a full-time job to support myself. I decided to part self-fund the LPC and along with a bursary, I started the LPC full-time in Birmingham.
As soon as I started the LPC, I knew I wanted to join a commercial law firm and started applying straight away. Combining the full-time LPC and my job was difficult but in the end I think it was one of the factors that made me standout against other candidates. At my Hogan Lovells interview, the representatives from the firm were welcoming and engaging and I knew that this was somewhere that I could fit in.
Throughout my training contract at Hogan Lovells, I was exposed to a wide range of clients and work. During my real estate finance seat, I started to be drawn towards real estate (which was a surprise to me — always keep an open mind!) Following this I had my real estate seat and I immediately knew that this was where I wanted to qualify due to the types of work, people and wider impact of the work. A year on and I am now an associate in the real estate team.
Legal Cheek: Hogan Lovells opened its doors in Birmingham in 2015, and now recruits two trainee solicitors in this office each year. What opportunities are available to these trainees?
Paula: The trainees are exposed to the high quality work and global clients within a close-knit office environment. In each seat, the trainee is the only trainee in the Birmingham office so they get to work with everyone in the team so experience different styles, different work streams and different clients so it can sometimes feel like more than one seat. There is also something special about training in Birmingham, you train in your firm but there are also lots of opportunities for you to get to know the other trainees in the city as Birmingham has the most active trainee solicitor group in the country. It’s also an easy city for trainees and junior lawyers to start networking with potential clients and other professionals.
Simon: Expert colleagues, excellent training and the opportunity to work on complex, cross-border, high value matters.
Katherine: Being a trainee at Hogan Lovells in Birmingham is very exciting. On one hand you have the experience and exposure of being part of a global law firm, and on the other, you feel like you are contributing to building a new office. There are numerous opportunities to get involved with other trainees both in the Birmingham and London markets.
Legal Cheek: What are some of the standout deals/cases you’ve advised on?
Paula: When I first joined Hogan Lovells in 2015 the majority of UK assets our clients were financing were in and around London. This has changed dramatically over the last few years and our clients now finance assets throughout the UK. So the most standout deal for me was when we were appointed by HSBC on the re-finance of Brindley Place which was over 20 years after Hogan Lovells represented Argent on the original development.
Simon: Acting for Lynwood Investors on its disposal of Waterstones hit the front page of the Financial Times, and I was also interviewed by City AM about my role advising on the incorporation and capitalisation of the Craftory.
Legal Cheek: Why did Hogan Lovells decide to set up shop in Birmingham? How is the Birmingham office integrated into Hogan Lovells’ global network, and what’s life like working in the city? How does the Birmingham legal scene compare to that in London where Hogan Lovells is headquartered?
Paula: Hogan Lovells needed to offer its clients and global network a second UK office outside London and I was told that high on the criteria was talent! Hogan Lovells has enabled me to have a good work-life balance in Birmingham, without compromising on the quality of work. As a trainee and a lawyer in Birmingham you are fully integrated into the Hogan Lovells global network but you are also part of the Birmingham legal family. You will make friends for life with lawyers and professionals from other firms and the socialising and networking in the vibrant city is like no other. Even after taking time out of the city to have children and work in London I can still walk into a bar after a long day in the office and find a friendly face to have a drink with.
Simon: We work seamlessly with our international network. I work regularly with colleagues and clients in the US and across Europe and Asia, having had transactions referred in to me from partners in Baltimore, Budapest, Dusseldorf and Madrid in the last six months alone. Hogan Lovells is exceptionally well integrated internationally and as I work regularly on cross-border matters, I am always working with colleagues from across our network.
Life working in Birmingham is as life has always been for me! I’m a local boy with strong family ties to the city. The last few years have seen a huge amount of investment in Brum though, and we have some incredible restaurants (6 Michelin stars and counting!) a vibrant street food scene, lots of decent bars and with the ICC, Symphony Hall, NEC and ICC, pretty much all the live music you could want for. Couple that with affordable real estate (trainees typically live in city centre apartments a short walk from the office) and you have a well-balanced lifestyle.
With fewer trainees in the city and fewer venues to study, chances are you will know a good chunk of your trainee cohort across the city before you have even been to the first Birmingham Trainee Solicitors Society networking event. From a day-to-day perspective, here at Hogan Lovells, the day job is not that much different; you just happen to be sat at a desk in Birmingham rather than London. I’d also argue that our office space in Birmingham is more pleasant but that may get me into hot water!
Katherine: Hogan Lovells is well integrated globally. During my training contract, I did not have a seat where I did not work closely and seamlessly with our other international offices. Getting to know colleagues from different countries is a real pleasure and always a handy resource for hints when you are going somewhere on holiday.
During my training contract, I lived in the centre of Birmingham and it was a great place to be. In the past year alone, numerous bars and restaurants have opened across the city — the only problem is finding the time to visit them all!
Legal Cheek: What’s next for the Birmingham office, and city more generally? Do you anticipate the new HS2 high speed network bringing greater opportunities to the city?
Paula: We are excited for the Birmingham office to continue to grow. It is a great time for the city with more and more companies expanding into Birmingham, or relocating to Birmingham and we have the Commonwealth Games in 2022. This growth looks to happen with or without HS2.
Simon: For Hogan Lovells, more growth, more lawyers and further organic internal promotion. I think, with increased provision of premium office space alongside migration out of London of both people and organisation (as well as Hogan Lovells, HSBC being a prime recent example for Birmingham) there is more opportunity in Birmingham now, than I can ever remember. Historically, proximity to London has been a mixed blessing and the ‘brain drain’ has been a noticeable trend in the legal profession. Interestingly, this is starting to operate in reverse now as many people living in London realise they can have the quality of work and exposure to clients that they want, but with a materially improved quality of life in Birmingham.
Katherine: Birmingham is a great place to work at the moment. The city is growing with exciting plans for the future, including the Commonwealth Games in 2022, the HS2 development and opportunities and plans to improve the infrastructure and travel networks about Birmingham.
Legal Cheek: Lastly, what would your advice be to students hoping to get into the legal profession?
Paula: Options, experience, commercial awareness, mentors and being yourself — have more than one plan and don’t be afraid to take a different direction than you originally planned or to that of your fellow students/professionals. Gain as much experience within the legal profession and the commercial world as possible. Meet as many law firms and organisations as you can and you will soon work out what you like and dislike. Read up about what is happening in the UK and the rest of the world and think about how it could affect you as a lawyer, your chosen industry/sector, your clients and the legal profession at large. Find suitable mentors along your journey who you can tap into for advice and tips. Be yourself, not everyone has represented Great Britain in the Olympics or played cello at the Royal Albert Hall!
Simon: Remember that law firms are businesses and seek to understand how we look at our business and how we measure our performance. Be abreast of current affairs, particularly as they relate to and impact on lawyers. Read the trade press — The Lawyer, Legal Week, Legal Cheek, The Law Society Gazette — and understand what lawyers are thinking about and engage with the debates. Most of all though, try to get as much experience as possible; try to spend time with big firms, small firms, commercial firms, criminal firms, barristers, the CPS, and so on. Work out what you like and go and do that.
Katherine: Be yourself — one path doesn’t work for everyone. Work out how you operate best and what will help you achieve your goals and go for it. Work experience and commercial awareness are so important. Try to expose yourself to as much information about particular sectors and legal issues that interest you as you can. Law firms expect you to care about and show an interest in the issues that they care about so really do your research and find ways to demonstrate what you know. Before interviews, read everything you can, from Roll on Friday to the Financial Times and the firm’s website. You might not take everything in but something will stick and that might be the one thing you end up talking about for 20 minutes.
Paula Inglis will be speaking alongside lawyers from DWF, Gowling WLG, Pinsent Masons and ULaw at tonight’s ‘Secrets to Success’ event in Birmingham. You can apply for one of the final few (and free) places here.