Matthew White, Herbert Smith grad recruitment partner

Herbert Smith’s new graduate recruitment partner Matthew White explains why he can’t wait for the London 2012 games.

Firm: Herbert Smith

Title: Graduate Recruitment Partner

Department: Real Estate

University: Clare College, Cambridge

Degree subject: Economics and Law

Hobbies: Cycling (I’m a roadie), photography (mostly architecture), triathlon (slowly).

How long have you been a partner for? Five and a half years.

Who/what inspired you to be a lawyer?  I wanted a job that would be exciting, commercial, intellectually demanding and constantly evolving, with a high level of responsibility and a transparent career structure.  Working in teams of driven and motivated people was also important to me.

What things did you wish you knew before embarking on a legal career?  There isn’t always a right answer.  It takes a while before you develop the judgement and confidence to tell clients that.

What does your typical day involve? Mostly speaking to and attending meetings with clients and contacts on current projects.  I’m lucky that I get to spend most of my time with project teams and not just with other lawyers.  In the evenings I will usually have a client reception, dinner or a graduate recruitment event to go to.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?  In relation to graduate recruitment it’s reconciling the feeling that I left university only yesterday with the fact that it was actually 16 years ago.  More generally, achieving a successful work-life balance requires tireless organisation and efficiency.

What has been the highlight of your legal career so far?  Working on the Athletes Village in Stratford is a once in a lifetime project and I can’t wait to see the Olympic Games in 2012.  I’m also enjoying my work for EDF on its new nuclear projects – the legal regime is completely new, so it’s a real challenge because there aren’t any precedents to work from.  Being appointed graduate recruitment partner is also a really proud moment for me: it’s an awesome responsibility overseeing the recruitment of lawyers who over the next 10 to 20 years are going to determine whether Herbert Smith maintains and enhances its reputation as one of the City’s elite firms.

What are the best aspects of your job? Seeing the very bright and talented trainees that we’ve recruited qualify into the firm at the end of their training contracts and develop into outstanding associates.

What are the worst aspects of your job?  The traffic on the Elephant and Castle roundabouts when I cycle to and from the office each day.

What top tips would you give to students who want to break into the legal profession?  Spend time in law firms and go with your instincts on where you think you will fit in best.  Vacation schemes and open days are a great way of meeting lawyers and deciding whether what a firm says in its brochure is what it’s actually like to work there.

What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen candidates making?  Regurgitating answers from something they’ve read online and then demonstrating that they’ve not properly understood the issues when asked questions about it.

How has the legal market changed since the days you were a trainee?  The pace is certainly a lot faster.  When I started, the postal system created a breathing space during transactions.  Now email and online deal rooms don’t allow that.  On the positive side, I think good lawyers understand their clients’ businesses a lot better and we operate as one of the team rather than as semi-detached consultants.

What impact has the recession had on your firm?  I think Herbert Smith has experienced less of an impact than many firms because our distinctive strengths in both corporate and litigation have protected us during the downturn.  That’s not to say we haven’t had some tough times though and it’s great that workloads are picking up now and we’re seeing some really exciting new instructions coming through the door.

What three words best describe your firm? International, intellectual, individual.

Where did you go for your last holiday?  Dubai and Norfolk: certainly an interesting contrast.

What gadget/gizmo would you be lost without?  Gadgets and gizmos can always be replaced, but my PA, Emma, is an absolute star and I’d be bereft at work without her