Emma Matebalavu

The legal and technical aspects of my job are challenging, particularly right now as regulation of the financial sector is evolving so quickly.

Firm: Clifford Chance
Department: Capital Markets
University: Oxford
Degree Subject: Law with French law
Hobbies: Previously hockey, rugby, dancing and reading – now mainly taking my children to rugby, dancing and birthday parties.
How long have you been a partner? Three years
Who/what inspired you to be a lawyer? I didn’t know any lawyers as a child growing up on a farm in Ireland but my parents thought I would be a good lawyer as I loved reading so much.
What things did you wish you knew before embarking on a legal career? That roughly 50 per cent of lawyers read a non-law degree.
What does your typical day involve? No two days are the same but I am a creature of habit. I am woken up by my kids, check Blackberry, drive to work with my husband who also works in Canary Wharf, porridge at my desk, check my emails and then I have a pretty full day of calls and meetings with clients and with colleagues. I am also responsible for graduate recruitment and the trainees within my group so I often visit universities to meet with students which I really enjoy. In the evenings, I try to leave the office by 6.30pm so I can read bed-time stories to my children but I sometimes work late in the office or entertain clients; my favourite venue is our box at the O2 which is brilliant.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job? The legal and technical aspects of my job are challenging, particularly right now as regulation of the financial sector is evolving so quickly. It is also a challenge to juggle everything as a partner – getting a balance between winning new business, working on current transactions, maintaining client relationships, keeping abreast of new developments and spending time with the associates and trainees in my team is a bit of a balancing act but it keeps things interesting.
What has been the highlight of your legal career so far? As a structured debt lawyer, I have been lucky enough to work on lots of really interesting and award-winning transactions such as the secured debt refinancing of BAA, two large commercial mortgage financings for Sainsbury’s and the biggest ever European commercial mortgage backed securitisation. But I think my personal highlight was establishing a credit card securitisation programme for Egg because I was only two years qualified at the time and it was the first deal which I led as an associate from start to finish. Although it was very hard work, I had a massive sense of achievement when we closed.
What are the best aspects of your job? Definitely the people and the fact there are always new challenges (plus the fantastic sunsets over the Thames and the City from my 25th floor office).
What are the worst aspects of our job? Billing and negotiating fees.
What tips would you give to students who want to break into the legal profession? Work very hard, always be enthusiastic and try to identify and learn from good mentors.
What are the most common mistakes you¹ve seen candidates making? There is no excuse for not finding out as much as you can about the firm you are interviewing for – there is so much information on firm websites for a start.
How has the legal market changed since the days you were a trainee? It is probably more competitive but also more international.
What impact has the recession had on your firm? In my area (securitisation), the market essentially closed down for a year or so which made it very tough for me to grow my practice as a relatively new partner. However, I definitely think a bit of adversity makes you stronger and lawyers at all levels learn a lot in a recession; it is the time when the documentation put together in the boom years is really tested as deals default and get restructured.
What three words best describe your firm? Ambitious, international, down-to-earth.
Where did you go for your last holiday? Camping in France
What gadget/gizmo would you be lost without? I am a bit of a technophobe but I cannot live without my Blackberry. Although definitely not a gizmo, I would also be lost without my amazing nanny.