Our partners at Simply Law Jobs recently interviewed Stephan Werthauer, a Senior Consultant/Trainee Solicitor at D2 Legal Technology, a global legal data consulting firm.
They caught up with Stephan to find out insights on working within the legal technology industry, what he does on an average day, and his advice for those wanting to take a similar career path.
It’s probably fair to say that my legal career has taken a slightly more winding path than for others. I wanted a career which would be intellectually rigorous and frequently provide new challenges and opportunities for me to appease my curiosity.
Originally, whilst doing A-Levels and during my first year of university, I was thinking about becoming a human rights barrister. However, upon completing a couple of mini-pupillages, I became less sure about this career path. I found myself being progressively more interested in finance and banking as I progressed through university, culminating in an internship in a bank.
While that position was certainly interesting, it wasn’t quite right for me, but I loved the dynamic environment, which led me to consider combining both interests: legal work within the banking and finance sector.
I was able to leverage the contacts I had made during the internship to get a six-month intern position in the M&A and Derivatives teams in New York, with the French-American Chamber of Commerce supporting my visa application.
Following this, I secured a paralegal job in the firm’s Derivatives team in the London office during which I was able to self-fund my LPC. It was after this that I successfully applied for a position at D2 Legal Technology (D2LT) as a junior consultant.
As an award-winning legal data consulting firm within the fintech and legaltech sector, I was particularly excited to have this opportunity with D2LT.
I’ve been lucky to work on a number of varied projects, ranging from remediation projects in North Carolina, to internal research projects and assisting with high-profile client critical market events. For example, D2LT has recently completed a client’s Brexit transition project, where I was the project lead.
This was a really significant project which spanned almost three years and involved supporting the establishment of a new European subsidiary of this Tier 1 bank; ensuring it was operationally functional by the end of the Brexit transition period; negotiating new trading agreements on behalf of the bank with its clients; and managing the transition of all the client’s trade portfolio to the new European entity.
Over the course of these three years – as the project progressed and based on my developing relations with the client and comfort with the subject matter – I was given increasing responsibility, supported by continuous oversight from D2LT’s managing directors. This was a major initiative.
We were regularly interacting with the bank’s senior stakeholders; Heads of Business; Regulators and Managing Directors, and ensuring that this transition was a smooth and successful one was critical.
Unsurprisingly, picking up and moving the entirety of a bank during a period of unprecedented political uncertainty, whilst also dealing with Covid was not without its challenges. Hence, this feels like such a highlight to me.
I think the most significant challenge for me has been figuring out how I could become qualified as a solicitor. As I said at the outset, I didn’t take the traditional route of university, to LPC paid for by a law firm, to a training contract. I think my uncertainty about what I wanted to do for a career prevented this from happening, so I had to consciously save to self-fund the LPC.
Fortunately, I received a fantastic offer from D2LT to be a Legal Technology Consultant and started working on challenging, fast paced and interesting projects, which as I mentioned before, was really the original reason I got into law.
After a year at D2LT, I started to worry that without being a qualified solicitor, I might be limited in opportunity, where although I would be hugely fortunate to work on really interesting projects and innovations – and grow specialist knowledge in Law, Finance and Tech.
I wouldn’t necessarily be able to demonstrate that knowledge externally, particularly to D2LT’s clients to show why I could act as a trusted advisor on more senior elements of a project. As part of D2LT’s strategic growth plan and working together with senior management, we registered with the SRA to be an authorised training firm and I became one of D2LT’s first Trainee intake.
I’m very fortunate and my workdays are enormously varied, dependent on the projects I am working on; what part of the project lifecycle we’re at and how I am engaged on the projects. Given the nature of the work D2LT undertakes for our clients, different projects are seldom the same, so there is also an element of continuous learning.
Currently, I am deployed on a large-scale remediation project for my primary client; a technology innovation programme for my secondary client – both tier 1 multinational banks; and some exciting internal research projects.
As of now, these projects include: developing an ESG product offering; work on Smart Contracts and building out a partnership with a LegalTech vendor. Also, I have been able to sign up to a pro-bono programme through one of my clients so I dedicate a small amount of my time to that each week, which I feel is really important to do.
7:15am – I scroll through BBC News and The FT to see what’s happened overnight. If there is any big financial markets-related news, I’ll speed up the rest of my morning routine so I can be available earlier for my colleagues.
7:30am – I’ll flick through my emails on my phone to see if anything urgent has come in overnight which I have to take action quickly. If there is, I’ll message that person on MS Teams to let them know that I will look at their message as soon as I get to my desk. I’ll also make sure to check both my firm and my client calendars so I know what the day looks like.
7:45am – I jump in the shower and think through the day’s meeting schedule. I also grab breakfast.
7:59am – I set off on my commute
8:00am – I arrive at my desk. I had quite a nice commute pre-Covid but it’s even better now. At my desk I start replying to my emails. Where the email in question requires me to do work I haven’t yet done, I’ll flag it and put it on my ‘to do’ list.
8:30am – 11am One of the clients that I am currently staffed on has their headquarters in the APAC region, so given the time zone differences, the mornings are frequently busy with Zoom and Teams video calls. During these calls I try to be as proactive as possible and ensure that I take all my action points and add them into my to do list.
11am – 1pm The calls generally quieten down around 11 and I try to work through as much of my to-do list as possible through the later part of the morning. My workday is enormously varied: at the moment we are in the early stages of a large-scale remediation project for my primary client, therefore, there is a lot of focus on project planning, identifying the remediation scope and working to set up what we need to make the project a success.
Typically, at the early stages of a project, a lot of legal research is involved and then applying the results of this research to the bank’s client-base to identify the population of clients which will need to be looked at more closely.
I often use formulas and macros in spreadsheets to apply different legal parameters, for example: scope of regulation; the products that each client might be trading, the inherent risks that these products might have; the types of documentation and contracts which form the basis of the trading relationship; and whether there are any knock-on effects of the changes which we will need to enact.
1:00pm – I grab some lunch. Generally, I’ll try to be healthy where I can and make a salad (but often I forget to get the ingredients so I walk to the shops to get a meal deal). When I worked in the office there used to be a really good canteen where I would get lunch with someone from my team.
1:30pm – Back to the big screen, I generally continue working through my to do list. During a typical day I will put together presentations; review, draft and negotiate contracts; do legal research or due diligence; work on spreadsheets, sometimes progress workflow tasks assigned to me in the bank’s systems and hold meetings with stakeholders, both client and D2LT’s managing directors, whose tasks I’m working on.
5:00pm – Currently, this is a daily catch-up meeting slot for the D2LT team who is working on the project for my secondary client. This is a very fast-paced project being run in an agile manner (that is to say, a number of different deliverables and work streams being worked on and delivered at the same time).
During this catch-up we run through the status of everyone’s tasks and what has been delivered/achieved over the course of the day and assign tasks for tomorrow.
6:00pm – I am very careful about how I use this time and will look at my to-do list and rearrange the prioritisation of the items on this list depending on the recent catch-up, the deadline of each item and the dependencies my colleagues may have on the line items.
I will generally make a concerted effort to work through the items assigned to me in the previous secondary client catch-up. These items are often quite technical given the nature of the project. I will also often use this time to work on the internal research or pro bono initiatives I am working on which are really interesting, so this time often flies by.
7ish-8pm – I’ll usually try to log off between 7 and 8 to either go to the gym or have a walk and cook dinner. Before Covid I used to play for a basketball team so I would go to training a couple of times a week.
9pm – Depending on workload I’ll either try to get a bit more work done (generally I’ll try my best to ensure this work isn’t too taxing), watch some Netflix or catch up with my friends. My workload, like my work-days, can be very variable: I often describe it as feast or famine. During the tough points of a project, the team can be working into the early hours of the morning but when it’s not too busy I will generally finish around 7pm.
This might be a bit of a recurring theme throughout this interview, but I’m not too sure.
In the short term, I am determined to qualify as a solicitor and I have around 6 months of my training contract left to go. After qualification, I think I would (1) like to learn how to code; and (2) dedicate more of my time towards thinking about the role law has to play within new technologies such as crypto-assets and blockchain.
I believe that society is really on the precipice of being able to implement these developments into the current financial ecosystem, i.e. regulators receiving data via a permissioned blockchain. I think D2LT is uniquely positioned to be at the forefront of this step change.
In the medium term, I would love to work abroad again. I really enjoyed my time in New York so I would like to go back there, but Hong Kong also really appeals to me.
I find my current practice area throws up some really interesting work, for example, one of my mentors worked on the financing agreements for a major premier league football stadium (which I have always thought must have been a really cool deal to work on given I am a bit of a sports geek), so I see myself continuing to work in banking and finance for the foreseeable future.
In the long term, this is a bit more difficult. I have always thought that people get two careers. I think maybe at some point I might try to do an MBA and work in a more direct business/front office capacity. I also admire the business model that D2LT uses: I think legal consultancy has huge capacity for growth, especially where you are moving towards innovation within the legal space, as D2LT is.
I have always quite liked the idea of owning my own business, so I could see myself running my own consultancy firm in this space, maybe with a bit more focus on strategic consultancy for legal functions and firms.
Learn from your mistakes. I think the most important thing I’ve realised during the early years of my career is that making a mistake isn’t the end of the world; they happen. People are generally patient and won’t hate you for making a mistake as long as you are proactive about finding a solution.
I believe that the worst thing you can do is not to learn from that mistake and make the same one again, that’s when people tend to get really annoyed.
Try to be curious, I know it is very tiring to do more than what you already have to do for your studies or job, but being curious is invaluable.
It has been hugely beneficial to me to know what someone else is doing and why they are doing it, as it helps you really understand the context of the conversation or be able to be more appreciative of other people’s concerns or angles.
For a long time, I had fears that if I asked a question someone might think I was stupid. I don’t think that’s ever been the case (at least I hope not), as long as you’re asking the question to the right people in the right context, you’ll be absolutely fine and it’ll stand you in good stead in the long run.