Senior associate at Clifford Chance
I’m a word geek. As a child I used to act in plays and musicals, recite poetry, write stories and just generally involve myself in expression through language. I genuinely love it when I learn a new word (my most recent is ‘procrustean’). Words can have profound consequences, and nowhere more than in the law: oral or written expression can change everything, whether for a single client or an entire community.
When I earned a place at the LSE to read law, I fell in love with the subject. I couldn’t get enough and got a scholarship to read the BCL in Oxford. There I specialised in international law and human rights. I completed my LPC at what was then the College of Law, commencing my training contract at Clifford Chance.
On the way to Clifford Chance I tried all sorts of different things. I played badminton nationally. I spent a gap year after my A-levels teaching maths abroad, and even spent time playing poker with celebrities on behalf of an online poker company.
I remember my assessment day. While other firms asked me about my university or college, the interviewers at Clifford Chance were interested in my personality. They wanted to know if I was interesting – whether, if we ended up working together for months or even years on a matter – we might be able to get along. I thought that this was revolutionary.
I like the drama of disputes. An impassioned client makes a lawyer feel he is fighting for something. I also like stories and dispute resolution invites you to look backwards and become part of a client’s story.
Adversarial proceedings provide the perfect example of the power of words. There is a dispute, an expression of parties’ positions and then the transformation of successful words into an authoritative judgment.
Over three weeks of public hearings, I was brought face-to-face with the most harrowing details of the abuse suffered by survivors
As a commercial litigator with a public and international law background I have been lucky to have had a fascinating and varied practice. I have acted for representatives of Save The Children and Human Rights Watch ahead of International Criminal Court trials and advised a range of banks and corporate clients in relation to new sanctions. I have acted for a private equity firm in a €1bn claim, and for a start-up in a last-minute application for a gagging order.
One of the most memorable and challenging roles I have held has been as legal representative for John Mann MP before the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Over three weeks of public hearings (which were live-streamed throughout October), I was brought face-to-face with the most harrowing details of the abuse suffered by survivors of historic abuse. The inquiry saw shocking revelations daily.
While a QC gave our opening submission, the client asked me to undertake the rest of the advocacy at the hearings, including cross-examination and a closing submission that many at Clifford Chance tuned in to watch. The reception was incredible – the closings have made it on to YouTube and my name was on the front page of a local newspaper the day after my speech.
Following the Inquiry hearings, I have spent time promoting the importance of public law and inquiries within Clifford Chance’s litigation practice. These are instructions at the very highest level of public life, and we need to make sure we leverage our expertise. Overall, the response has been very positive.
I think this is an example of the culture at Clifford Chance. I can’t speak for other magic circle firms, but my view is that, as with all things, you get out of it what you put in. The pressures can be significant. But if you enjoy what you do, Clifford Chance is a great place to find friends and colleagues who will help you through the challenging times, laugh with you and help you develop.
The myth surrounding City law firms is that the work is dry and the culture is ‘dog eat dog’, or otherwise involves eating or attacking something or other. In fact, it’s often just about working very hard on interesting cases, alongside talented people who work very hard on interesting cases, and seeing little miracles performed on the cutting edges of legal practice.