17 November 2015.
AN INTERVIEW WITH A MAGIC CIRCLE FIRM ASSOCIATE
Who are you?
— Anna Malinowska
Where did you study and what did you study?
— I studied at Durham University. In my first year, I did BA Sociology with Law, and then switched to LLB Law in my second year. I graduated from Durham with an LLB Law degree, but had to complete 2 of the 7 key modules in the GDL (which I missed because of the Sociology element of my first degree) — Public Law and EU Law.
Who do you work for and since when?
— Linklaters LLP, started as a trainee on 7 March 2011, qualified since March 2013.
What kind of solicitor are you? What department do you work in?
— I am a Finance solicitor and I work in the Banking department.
Can you tell us something interesting you have been involved in recently (without names if necessary for confidentiality)? What was your role?
— As a 2.5-year post qualified associate in Banking, I often work on cross-border matters, coordinating many teams of lawyers in different jurisdictions. I always find it interesting when I come across lawyers in jurisdictions which I have never visited or thought I would encounter. Recently I acted for the banks on a financing of a large group of companies predominantly specialising in maintaining and operating oil rigs, and had the opportunity to liaise and build relationships with lawyers in places like Panama, the BVI and Marshall Islands. I think the most interesting element of our work is the international nature of it, and the ability to meet and work with people across the globe, right from your desk in London.
What do you know now about life as a lawyer that you would have loved to have known when you were applying?
— From my own experience, as well as from the questions I am asked by students when I go to graduate recruitment presentations, I think applicants often do not quite understand the actual, day-to-day work of a commercial lawyer. A deeper understanding comes with experience, of course, and the catchy slogans and inspirational images often presented in graduate recruitment presentations and videos, whilst generally realistic, can never provide the full picture of an associate’s day at a law firm. Recently, I was asked by one of the prospective applicants about what “legal” news stories, relevant to “practising law” they should be reading to gain a level of “commercial awareness” expected by a potential interviewer — she did not quite understand which stories in the Business sections of a newspaper will be relevant to the work of a commercial lawyer. I think the most common mistake applicants make is to think about a lawyer’s role in isolation. We do not “practise law” in a bubble, and the best way to think about our role is as facilitators of a process or outcome that another person — the client — has envisaged. Put simply: if you are reading a news story about one company merging with another, chances are each of the parties will have financial and other advisors, including legal representation — a team of lawyers ensuring that the commercial goal, the merger, is reached smoothly, and putting together the documentation to ensure that the commercial plan works.
What do you think separates a good lawyer from a great lawyer?
— This is connected to my previous answer. A good lawyer will have attention to detail, an interest in the law and an understanding of which resources to use to provide a sound piece of legal advice to a client. A great lawyer will, in addition, have a commercial understanding of the “bigger picture”: the client’s business, the result they wish to achieve, the key considerations they face. In practice, this means that they will be able to identify and fight for the points which are important to the client, and compromise on issues which are not so key.
What are the soft skills most useful to a commercial lawyer that impress you?
— Attention to detail, commercial judgment, reading with comprehension, good communication and negotiation skills.
What are your techniques for coping under pressure?
— I think it is key to be able to put your role into perspective from time to time, and understand that we are all human — this includes your colleagues, clients and opposing counsel. Do not be afraid to ask questions and and accept that, occasionally, everyone makes mistakes. On a more practical level, I find that taking breaks to unwind and relax is very important. Even when you are very busy and it seems like you don’t have time to leave your desk, do not forget to eat healthy, nutritious meals, drink water regularly and find time to exercise.
Coming onto the application process now — What part of the application process did you find the most challenging? Why? How did you deal with that?
— From experience, the hardest part is getting your application noticed — the part of the process before you have the chance to meet anyone face-to-face, speak and be listened to. Make sure your application is tailored to the law firm you are applying to (do not simply copy and paste from other applications), dedicate the time to ensure it is proof-read and does not contain spelling mistakes. The application stage is also where the competition is highest and you are competing against the largest number of other applicants — make yours noticed!
What work experience did you have? How did you get it?
— I did a vacation scheme at Linklaters, after which I was automatically interviewed for a training contract (therefore, I only submitted one application — for a vacation scheme). Prior to applying for a vacation scheme, I did a two-week internship at the Polish Ministry of Finance in Warsaw, and a further two-week informal internship at a small law firm in Warsaw, specialising in tax law. In terms of less law-oriented work experience: throughout university I did quite a lot of translation work, and also worked in my college’s bar and shop.
What do you think / were you told that made you stand out from the other applicants?
— I think preparation was key. Prior to my interview, I spent a few weeks reading up on the firm, to make sure I was able to show that I understand how Linklaters differentiates itself from its competitors, and why I am interested specifically in that firm. Also, I made sure I was on top of the key news stories in the run-up to my interview, and was able to explain the key facts in a simple manner, demonstrating an understanding of the subject matter.
What would you say to someone debating whether to apply to a regional firm as opposed to an international firm?
— Being an international student, I had my eye set on international firms from the start. At the time of applying, I wanted to keep the option of returning to my home country open, so I chose to apply to those firms which had offices in Warsaw. Whilst currently I am no longer planning to return to Poland, I would generally say that you should choose an international firm if the following appeal to you: working on cross-border matters, liaising with colleagues in other jurisdictions where your firm has an office on a daily basis, taking advantage of international secondments, potentially occasionally travelling abroad for work. If you would like to stay local and would prefer to advise on matters involving mostly UK companies and individuals — choose a regional firm. Also, international law firms are mostly commercial-law oriented, whereas if you would like to specialise in an area of law concerning individuals (rather than companies), such as family law, wills, etc., a regional firm may be a better choice for you.
How important are foreign languages in the application process?
— I speak Polish and English fluently and can get by in German and Spanish. I would say that whilst knowledge of foreign languages is absolutely not essential in applying for a position in an international law firm, it may provide an advantage in that it helps you stand out from your peers in the eyes of your interviewer, it may also make it easier for you to secure secondments abroad or build relationships with colleagues in other offices and clients who do not speak English as a first language.