On 12 December 2014 CityLawLIVE held their annual careers event at One George Street in the heart of the separation of powers: Westminster, London. On the walk to the venue from the station, one can pass the Supreme Court, Parliament and several government departments along Whitehall. There is no more apt a venue for a meeting of aspiring lawyers.
The conference was opened by Isla Grant of CityLawLIVE who introduced the Keynote Speaker: Mark Deem, TMT litigation partner at Edwards Wildman Palmer UK LLP.
Mark’s speech was followed by a panel discussion on the law firm as a business. Those on the panel were: Jonathan Wood, corporate group partner at Weil Gotshal & Manges; Sarah Dyke, banking and finance partner at Dentons; Ashley Young, partner at Kirkland & Ellis International LLP; Daniel Martin, business and restructuring group partner at Ropes & Gray; and Sanja Udovicic, project development and finance partner at Shearman & Sterling (London) LLP.
The conference then divided into workshops. I attended a talk on emerging markets, given by Helen Bowdren, Senior Associate at Dentons. For me, this was by far the most interesting session of the day. Helen led an interactive and expert workshop on Dentons’ role in emerging markets around the globe, eventually coming to a focus on the work that Dentons have done in South Africa. Helen explained how the South African markets often need help with compliance due to that state’s history of human rights abuses and vast inequalities. For many years, South African companies did not have to think of things like health and safety of employees, and it has taken companies a long time to catch up with more established markets around the world.
South Africa has an Anglo-Dutch legal system, stemming from a colonial past. However, South Africa has a relatively new constitution which changed some legal principles and brought in new rules around equality. One example of this is that South African companies have to achieve a high enough score on an equalities evaluation system before bidding for certain contract. This is to encourage black economic empowerment across the state. Couple South Africa’s high unemployment rate, poverty and inequality with its growing GDP, based on mining, agriculture, wine, solar and wind farms, and companies are having to work furiously to ensure compliance.
The emerging markets workshop was rounded off by a group discussion on the various factors that a company might need to consider when expanding into an emerging market. These factors were largely from a legal perspective, so they included issues such as the competition laws of the target state, employment laws, the legal rights of a secondee from the UK, tax law, insurance law and contracts with suppliers and providers. However, it is also important, when advising a growing company, to understand that company more holistically. With that in mind, the discussion moved to other considerations such as how the brand might be marketed to a new audience, the cultural disparities between the UK and the target state, where raw materials for manufacturing will come from, how the company will make its money, whether access roads will need to be built, what part of the country the company should base it’s offices or factories and security of the staff in cases where the target state is less safe than the UK.
In the afternoon I attended what was supposed to be a seminar on banking law, delivered by Jonathan Dames, infrastructure and project finance partner at CMS Cameron McKenna. Although this session did include a very brief introduction to project finance, Jonathan delivered a talk, instead, on the ten qualities CMS Cameron McKenna look for all applicants to their firm to be able to demonstrate. This checklist includes:
- Attention to detail
- Being able to make clear notes and always be armed with a pen and paper
- Common sense and good organisational skills
- The ability to prioritise
- The ability to meet deadlines
- Having sought feedback on work previously
- Good at reading non-verbal signs when communicating
- A desire to get the job done
- Motivation, team spirit and never being too busy to help another person
- The ability to confess when you have done something wrong, and learned from that experience
The day was finalised with another panel discussion on the legal recruitment process and the pitfalls involved in making applications to law firms.
CityLawLIVE provided a good opportunity to refine knowledge on specific areas of the law. Although the presence of law firms was sparse, the long breaks between sessions provided a good chance to catch up with familiar faces and connect with some recruitment managers.