Financial services may not be as sexy as human rights or criminal law, but it is an extremely diverse sector that could offer prospective lawyers a challenging, not to mention lucrative, career.
For students who might be interested in pursuing, or even just investigating, a financial services traineeship, but who are confused by the opaqueness of the industry, help is now at hand in the form of the Financial Services Lawyers Association (FSLA).
The recently formed body has been set up so members can share knowledge and exchange views relating to financial services law and regulation. It counts among its members students, solicitors, barristers, academics, judges and non-lawyers working in the industry, with the main emphasis being on encouraging students and trainees to take an interest in financial services law.
Carlos Conceicao, a partner at Clifford Chance and secretary of the association, says: The continued success of the financial services industry depends upon its ability to attract the most able students. Those who become financial services lawyers will have a major part in shaping one of the most important limbs of the UK’s economy. One of the FSLAs aims is to stimulate and nurture interest from students in this area of law. Part of this involves providing a forum in which students can join established practitioners in engaging on the key issues facing the financial services industry, both domestically and internationally.
Farhaz Khan, a member of the associations executive committee, adds: One of the main aims of the association is to attract young lawyers into financial services. Part of this is for recruitment purposes: a lot of the big firms see it as a good way of attracting new talent and the Financial Services Authority [FSA] is really interested in attracting trainees via the association.
As part of this, the association is currently running a student essay competition that will see the author of the winning entry receive an eight-week paid internship at the FSA as a prize. Entrants will have to write 1,500 words on the topic Are bank charges fair? and submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org by 19 October 2007. The winners placement, scheduled for summer 2008, will be within the regulators general counsel division and will be one of just two that are offered by the FSA each year.
As of last year the regulator also offers two training contracts every year, offering 12 months in its general counsel division, six months in its enforcement division and six months on secondment at a law firm. Introduced last September, the scheme offers trainees a salary of 28,000 a year in addition to a performance-related bonus. The FSA will fund its trainees LPC fees and, where necessary, the CPE, as well as paying a maintenance grant of 6,000 a year.
In terms of recruitment, members of the associations advisory board, which includes Deutsche Bank general counsel Simon Dodds, Allen & Overy partner Sidney Myers and FSA director of enforcement Margaret Cole, have mooted a recruitment fair for the autumn.
The associations corporate members will set up stalls at the fair and students will be able to come and talk to them about their firms, says Khan. We also hope to have some trainees and associates from these firms who can discuss what the jobs are like.
Part of the reason for putting so much effort into attracting young people into the association, says Khan, is that students are often confused as to what financial services law actually is. Its quite an impenetrable area for young lawyers because the work is so high profile, he says. The way the industry works is also quite opaque, so its not immediately obvious how someone can get into it.
It tends to be something people come across by chance once they have started a training contract or pupillage; its not like immigration or chancery law that are quite distinguishable and have distinct career paths. Financial services is a hybrid and that makes it one step removed for students who study the basic principles of law.
The concern in the industry is that young lawyers choosing to work in financial services dont really know what the job entails until they start doing it.
People should be able to see whats involved and see what opportunities there are before they make a decision, adds Khan.
Later in the year the FSLA, which counts Eva Lomnicka and Ross Cranston QC, law professors at Kings College and the London School of Economics respectively, among its advisory board members, will go on a membership recruitment drive at universities countrywide. Members of the association will visit universities across the country to inform students about their work and to sign them up as members for the reduced cost of 10.
One of the perks of membership is the access to industry heavyweights at the associations regular seminars allows. For example, at the beginning of June Conceicao was joined by joint head of Blackstone Chambers Thomas Beazley QC, Travers Smith partner Margaret Chamberlain, Citi general counsel Brad Gans, Herbert Smith partner David Mayhew and the FSAs head of wholesale enforcement James Symington for a debate about principles-based regulation. While attendees were given the opportunity to ask questions during the session there was also a drinks event afterwards that the speakers used as an opportunity for mingling.
Future debate topics include a comparative study of UK, US and European financial services law, ethics in financial services law and financial services litigation in the EU context. The next event is scheduled for 26 July and will be hosted by a partner in a UK law firm, a general counsel in a European firm and a lawyer from the FSA.
For further information on the FSLA visit www.fsla.org.uk.