Ex-A&O lawyer moves to a quasi legal role in a bank
TDM left his job as a capital markets lawyer at Allen & Overy LLP. His plan was to take some time out while he figured out what to do next in his career. Eight months and several holidays later, he began working in a quasi legal role in the front office at Dresdner Kleinwort and has been there ever since. We talked to him about working in a bank and asked him to explain what he does now and how it differs from both private practice and traditional in-house roles.
mtl: Hi, please can you start by telling us about your legal background.
TDM: I went into law after a degree in Politics and International Relations. As a student I had done some legal work experience, which I enjoyed, and thought that law would be a good way to see how businesses worked. My plan was to work as a lawyer in the City to get some broad experience of the different services there, and then to go from there...
I enjoyed my training contract at Allen & Overy LLP and did seats in equity capital markets, banking and derivatives as well as a great six months in Eastern Europe. I qualified into the general securities group at A&O, where my work was immediately quite specialised in that I set up and updated MTN programmes and dealt with Eurobonds. After 15 months of doing fairly repetitive work, I decided it was time to leave, have a break and take a step back from law for a while.
mtl: So how did your decision-making process work?
TDM: I wanted some time to think about whether to continue with law or do something different. I saved for it so money wasn’t a problem and wrote a list of all the things I was interested in. I spent my time out talking to a large number of people, going to interviews, investigating roles and options and then also climbing in the Alps, traveling in South America and generally having fun. My aim was to find the “right job” by the end of my career break.
Politics and International Relations, University of Reading
CPE and LPC, College of Law, Guildford
Assistant, capital markets, A&O
Moved to Dresdner Kleinwort
I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t go back to law in private practice. It was then a matter of deciding whether to work in the City, and if so whether to go to a bank, or whether to do something completely different. I investigated some other roles related to my army background, but quickly discounted them. I then talked to a number of friends and recruitment consultancies about the job options in banks. There were a lot of transaction execution roles available in-house, however they didn’t appeal as the work would have been very similar to what I did at A&O. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be in the front office, getting to know and understand the business, rather than being in a support role.
I looked at some very specialised jobs and finally interviewed for a role in the structured credit investments team at Dresdner Kleinwort. The team I work for runs a structured investment vehicle. My work is 80% “legal” in that I use my legal background and negotiate documents, however neither I nor my boss, (another ex-City lawyer) have practising certificates. We are therefore not really in-house lawyers as such and are officially on the business side of things.
My role has a very broad focus and I work with both a treasury desk and an investment desk. On the treasury side I maintain the debt programmes of the SIV and deal with investor queries. Most of the day to day legal documentation for the treasury side is handled by a back office team, taking much of the repetitive work off my desk, which is great. I also manage the business’ liquidity lines, consisting of a range of liquidity facilities and breakable deposits.
For the investment desk I review potential investments for the SIV, which consist of a wide range of structured products, including securitisations and CDOs. Documentation on these investments can be complicated and it is important to be able to review a volume of documentation quickly so as to identify any potential problems early on. SIVs are highly regulated businesses so all investments need to be reviewed with an eye to rating agency requirements.
I am also responsible for the SIV’s suite of derivatives documentation and reviewing and negotiating ISDAs. This includes developing our own forms of documentation as well as helping the investment desk understand how different types of derivative documentation work. Other responsibilities include research as to where we can market our debt, reviewing marketing materials and keeping an eye on legislation and regulation that could affect our business.
I negotiate with lawyers and structurers on the banking side and spend quite a lot of time liaising with auditors and rating agencies. I use my legal skills directly for the business by deciding what is important from the perspective of the bank and then for technical legal questions we go to our in-house lawyers or external counsel. Lots of people in banks negotiate documents without being legally qualified – I am essentially doing that, but with a qualified legal background.
mtl: So how does life for you compare to working in private practice?
TDM: The lifestyle is great and I am very much able to manage my own work load. Working hours can be flexible as required - it is not the rule to finish late and I normally work 8.30am - 6.30pm. I am able to work as a physical training instructor in the evenings and at weekends – something I really enjoy but could rarely do in private practice. I no longer have the next transaction dropped on me the minute the last one is finished. Pay is around the same basic salary as in private practice but the bonuses are better. It is a great environment to work in: open plan; good fun; and very social, particularly because of the client entertaining involved.
I much prefer working in a bank. My role would appeal to people who are flexible and want a breadth of experience as a way to see how a bank works. It is a great first step into this world and I have picked up numeracy skills which weren’t required as a lawyer. If you want to broaden your skill set without jumping in at the deep end by going straight into a banking role, then I can recommend this sort of hybrid banking/legal role.
mtl: Any tips given your experience?
TDM: A really basic tip would be to keep a diary of everything that you work on in private practice as you forget the details of deals surprisingly quickly. As far as what point would be the right time to leave, I found that I had enough experience at 15m pqe to do my associate level job at Dresdner. I have learnt a lot since then though - the learning curve has been very steep…
I got my job through a recruiter (LPA Legal) but a friend, who I had previously worked with at A&O, had already moved to Dresdner so I was able to talk to them too. It is always worth speaking to anyone you know who works in an area you are interested in as it’s a quick way to get a frank and honest opinion, which is exactly what you want. I did five interviews for my job. As I work in a small team of 17 people, it was necessary to meet and be met by the majority of them. Teams are all different, so it is important to get a feel for who you will be working with.
Your career path will obviously be less structured and defined in a bank than in a law firm. In private practice you know where you stand and at what level you are whereas in a bank your position is not only dependent on your performance but on the roles available in the small teams. Just be aware that you may have to move sideways first in order to go up the career ladder.
I would say that it is easier to go to an interview while still in a job, because you start from a position of power. However, once you are not working and are looking in at a job, it gives you a lot of strength to make your own choices. If I had gone straight from A&O to a bank I would have taken a transaction execution role because that is all I would have known about. With the benefit of having the time to research and speak to a lot of people, my eyes were opened to the options and I really shopped around for a role that I liked.
mtl: Thanks for your time TDM.
If you know any other lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives or who have a great work/life balance then please get in touch.
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