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What went down at the Legal Cheek–ULaw Winter 2023 Virtual Vacation Scheme

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By The Careers Team on

A whistle-stop tour of a week’s worth of commercial awareness discussions and applications advice

Starting off Legal Cheek’s Winter 2023 Virtual Vacation Scheme in partnership with ULaw, we had ULaw’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor provide his insights on the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in the future of the legal industry – no doubt a commercial awareness hot topic as application deadlines approach. With Day 1 of the scheme setting up a contrast between transactional and litigation practices more generally, students then heard from lawyers in a range of practice areas, from project finance to media and entertainment. Here’s what they learnt.

Day 1

Session A: Deals

The speakers

What went down…

Starting off the first session of the virtual vac scheme, all of the speakers offered a short overview of their career journeys and what their day-to-day looks like working in a transactional practice. History graduate Lily Löeffler discussed the value of a vacation scheme in helping students get a real sense of what a firm is like. Bristol-based Sarah Knight, partner at Osborne Clarke, then talked about her involvement with buying and selling companies, joint venture agreements and restructurings — her “bread and butter” as a corporate lawyer.

Ropes & Gray private equity associate Kenan Ceylan proceeded to talk about how his practice entails facilitating the acquisition and sale of companies as well as more general corporate advisory work. Having studied philosophy at LSE, Ceylan noted that he knew he wanted to work in the corporate/commercial space, but attending events, talks and open days gave him the opportunity to become more specific in his pursuits. Shoosmiths associate Molly Cullen went on to dispel the myth of transactional law being slightly intimidating, and noted the dual importance of legal knowledge and project management skills to succeed in this area.

The discussion then proceeded to the case study, with the speakers offering their input on how they would approach a similar transaction, how to go about evaluating different financing methods and balancing legal and commercial factors in advising clients.

Session B: Disputes

The speakers

What went down…

Following the first session on deals, students pivoted to look at the world of disputes. Dentons lawyer George Harris discussed during his talk how he was instinctively draw into a disputes practice whilst still a law student, with Macfarlanes’ Jacob Ward agreeing that the adversarial and advocacy-driven nature of disputes is a key draw, and one of the most enjoyable aspects of his work. Harry Wells, Womble Bond Dickinson trainee, spoke about the role of a junior lawyer in disputes, with Patrycja Hinsley-Eves of Dentons noting the international reach of modern matters.

These introductions were followed by a case study, where the audience was asked to advise a high-profile client on a breach of contract claim and consider whether he should pursue litigation in the courts. The panel outlined some of the key considerations before bringing a claim, noting the risk of publicity, damaged business relations and the potential of high costs and limited compensation.

Session C: Meet the ULaw future trainees

The speakers

  • ULaw future trainees

What went down…

 To round off Day 1, attendees had an hour of virtual networking with fellow scheme participants and a selection of ULaw student ambassadors, including future trainee solicitors at DLA Piper and Harbottle & Lewis. They discussed what it’s like to study on their respective courses, provided practical advice for vacation scheme and training contract applications, and more.

Day 2

Session A: Fintech

The speakers

What went down…

 The second day of the Scheme kicked off with a deep dive into fintech law, featuring three Norton Rose Fulbright lawyers specialising in this sector.

NRF global head of fintech Sean Murphy started by providing a high-level overview, and we learnt that fintech encompasses a broad range of areas from payments to insurance technology (insurtech) to crypto and blockchain.

The speakers then went on to discuss some of the types of clients that they act for in this space, with finance partner Albert Weatherill citing recognisable brands such as Revolut and Starling Bank, before delving into the global trends impacting those clients, including the mainstream growth of fintech and increased utilisation of artificial intelligence (AI).

Find out more about studying for the SQE at ULaw

Wrapping up the session, corporate associate Juliet Gordon provided her key pieces of advice for budding fintech lawyers: “Be enthusiastic, say yes to opportunities… and keep up with contacts, whether that’s friends from law school or clients you interact with throughout your seats… It’s never too early to start building your network.”

Session B: Restructuring

The speakers

What went down…

 Nick Fortune, counsel in Weil’s Restructuring group was joined by Mahereen Nawaz, a recently qualified associate in the team. The pair began by setting out their careers to date, with Mahereen sharing her journey to getting a training contract and qualifying as a solicitor, and Nick touching on his experience of working in a number of foreign jurisdictions.

Following this, the two delved into the nature of their work as restructuring lawyers, demonstrating how their roles fit into the wider legal landscape. Mahereen explained the types of clients that the team would act for, and set out the key stages of a restructuring process, while Nick set out the different restructuring tools.

Towards the end of the session the speakers gave their thoughts on a case study revolving around a complex banking transaction, and gave some much-appreciated advice to attendees on how they could better develop their knowledge and commercial awareness in this area.

Day 3

Session A: Competition law

The speakers

What went down…

 Hildyard, Thomas and Bolderson discussed what it’s like, day-to-day, to work in competition law. The trio highlighted the significance of investigation and litigation, merger control, and advisory and compliance work, along with the essential skills required for success in these tasks.

The group also delved into the sector’s key trends, highlighting that AI, ESG and Big Tech are causing some of the most instrumental challenges. Ben discussed the complications sustainability regulations could cause businesses and his views on the future of the competition market.

Finally, the group went on to provide advice to other aspiring solicitors, with Thomas highlighting the importance of communicating, listening and reflecting throughout your career journey.

Session B: Employability Expo

The speakers

  • Daniel Cowan, head of the SQE at ULaw
  • Hannah Coe, senior student recruitment manager at ULaw
  • Ellen Marsh, careers manager at ULaw
  • Ailsa Costello, careers manager at ULaw

What went down…

Kicking off the Employability Expo, Speaker Daniel Cowan, Head of the SQE at ULaw, explained what the SQE route to qualification entails, the technical components of the SQE assessments and the courses that ULaw provides to help students pass their qualifying examination.

Hannah Coe, senior student recruitment manager at ULaw then spoke about firm research and applications. Coe began her session expressing the importance of taking time to research firms before starting your application. She discussed the type of criteria to consider when researching firms, and suggested some resources. After this, she delved into the application process itself, explaining how to highlight key skills and achievements, for the best chance of success.

ULaw careers managers Marsh and Costello completed a comprehensive employability session based on interviews. The session touched on the different types of interviews attendees may face, and how they should be approached. They also discussed the STAR technique and how it can be used best during an interview. The session covered how ‘off the wall’ interview questions should be tackled, with Ailsa sharing an anecdote from a student who was once asked what type of biscuit they would be!

Finishing up the Employability Expo, the social media skills session looked at why
social media is relevant to students from an employability perspective. Amy Walker, careers manager at ULaw discussed the need for students to understand the goals of law firms behind using different platforms and using that insight to gain an advantage in their applications. There were also questions about strategies to network on the different platforms and the common mistakes to avoid when
using social media.

Day 4

Session A: Video games

The speakers

  • Peter Lewin, partner specialising in video games and interactive entertainment at Wiggin
  • Isabel Davies, senior associate specialising in video games, esports and interactive entertainment at Wiggin

What went down…

 Peter and Isabel began the session detailing their career paths and how they got to where they are today. Isabel, in particular, delved into her past roles, legal and otherwise, in interactive media companies and how those feed into her development as a gaming lawyer.

The two went on to explain the nature of the gaming industry, differentiating between the types of video games companies, breaking down the market into different regions, and citing growth projections for the industry. They also discussed in length the nature of their work at the various stages of development from company formation to sunset.

They rounded off the session with advice to aspiring lawyers, noting that it was not easy for them to break into the entertainment industry. Peter highlighted the importance of resilience when applying for training contracts while Isabel encouraged vac-schemers to believe in themselves.

Session B: Legal tech

The speakers

  • Patrick Grant, tutor and project director for legal tech and innovation at ULaw

What went down…

 This session explored the idea of what Legal Tech actually is, how it has evolved with the advancement of generative AI, the benefits it can bring to the legal industry and the bright prospects it has as an alternate legal career to the standard solicitor role. The session concluded with a discussion of a case study which emphasised the consideration of ethics when dealing with AI based technology.

The key takeaway from the session was that there would be a huge demand for jobs inside the legal tech niche as there is expected to be an £2.2 billion annual investment by 2026. In order to be prepared and take advantage of this growing market, our speaker’s main advice is to go back to the basics and understand the fundamentals of legal technology processes. He believed that the focus should be on the processes that the technology uses instead of looking at the solutions delivered. He described it with the example of a mechanic knowing how to fix an engine rather than just a specific car model, which would give him a competitive edge in the market.

Session C: Project finance

The speakers

  • Nadia Cinti, Associate specialising in financing and delivering international natural resources, infrastructure and energy projects at Akin

What went down…

 Akin associate Nadia Cinti discussed her unconventional career journey into being an energy lawyer, from her initial interest in entertainment law and the music industry to paralegalling in project finance at NRF. Nadia detailed a day-in-the-life in project finance, which includes meeting with clients and negotiating contracts, as well as keeping abreast of movements in the energy market. Going on to outline the structure of a typical project finance transaction, Nadia evaluated the importance of the different machinery involved in each transaction.

This included the centralised special purpose vehicle (SPV), a company created as a veritable holding company to organise the transactions on each project, as well as the role of lenders, investors and off-takers. Working in the majority on lender-side transactions (as opposed to acting for the borrowers), Nadia stressed the risk levels of some of the large overseas infrastructure projects she’s been involved in, and the responsibility of project finance lawyers to mitigate this risk as far as possible. Emphasising the importance of doing what you love, Nadia urges aspiring trainees to carefully think about their choice of qualification seat and choosing work that you’re passionate about.

Day 5

Session A: Private capital

The speakers

  • Ashwin Pillay, senior associate specialising in private company mergers and acquisitions and private equity investment work at Charles Russell Speechlys
  • Tanwen Evans-Balch, associate in the tax, trusts and succession practice at Charles Russell Speechlys

What went down…

We kicked off the final day of The Legal Cheek Winter Virtual Vacation Scheme by delving into the world of private capital.

Charles Russell Speechlys senior associate Ashwin Pillay began by defining this term and outlining the range of services offered to the firm’s private capital clients. To bring this to life, associate Tanwen Evans-Balch introduced a real-life example to help students get to grips with this exciting area of law. The example centred around Mountbatten Motor Cars Limited, a company manufacturing and selling sports cars in the United Kingdom. Ashwin and Tanwen guided students through the process of advising the company’s founder, Tom McDonald, on the sale of his company to Italia Investment, and emphasised how deals like this one require input from several different departments in the firm.

Session B: Listed law firms

The speakers

  • Zum Mohammed, partner in the corporate team at Gateley
  • Hannah Hogarth, solicitor in the corporate team at Gateley
  • Guy Grayson, tutor at ULaw

What went down…

In this session, students learnt about what it means to work for a listed law firm. Gateley became the first law firm to list on the London Stock Exchange’s growth market, AIM, in 2015, and has since acquired around 10 further businesses. Corporate solicitor Hannah Hogarth explained this means the group can manage entire projects from start to finish, and provide a full package of services to clients which they would usually seek from third parties.

Partner Zum Mohammed worked for Gateley pre- and post-floatation. She explained that while the listing did not greatly affect her day-to-day role as a lawyer, it impacts the way that Gateley’s people view and interact with the business. For example, through the firm’s share options, many of Gateley’s lawyers have equity in the business before reaching partnership.

The session was chaired by ULaw tutor Guy Grayson, who was previously general counsel at a publicly listed company. Grayson put the day’s case study exercise to the Gateley speakers, and they addressed key terms including alternative business structure (ABS) and initial public offering (IPO), before considering some of the opportunities and challenges for listed law firm.

Find out more about studying for the SQE at ULaw

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