Practice area focus: Banking and finance

Finance and banking is a key fee-earning department across large City law firms. Working in one of these firms comes with reasonable expectations of an impressive list of FTSE clients including a selection of top banks and other financial corporations.

Life in practice

It is beneficial for a junior finance and banking associate to gain as broad a range of experience across the practice in the first few years of their career to enable greater development. An advantage of this, of course, is that it allows individuals to try out a number of areas within the department before committing to a specialism that will provide them with a genuine long-term interest. This approach also provides the opportunity to garner a deeper awareness of a variety of cross-border finance transactions and a better understanding of the many commercial and legal strands that feed into them.

From a work perspective, partners will initially be involved in engaging with the client, taking instructions and advising on the structure of the deal. Partners have senior associates, who work with junior associates, draft documents and negotiate legal points with the panel of the client’s opponents legal counsel.

Junior associates and trainees assist with smaller drafting tasks, managing the deliverables list and corresponding with local counsel in the relevant jurisdictions, ensuring that everything is in place for the date of funding. Clients have high expectations of their legal advisors and often require them to execute fast-paced deals. This makes for a dynamic, yet intellectually stimulating atmosphere, where taking on responsibilities are encouraged early on.

What skills are needed?

A positive, proactive and creative approach to problem solving is crucial. Clients expect their lawyers to add value at every stage. Understanding how your client’s business works and its drivers for entering into various transactions is an important tool for any legal advisor. Being commercially aware of the activity in your client’s marketplace will allow you to better understand and pre-empt their needs.

Attention to detail is of course a vital skill as there will be complex tasks that will challenge you throughout the day.

Communication and interpersonal skills are also key – from communicating within the team by asking relevant questions, to communicating outside the firm with the client or local counsel across numerous jurisdictions.

You will need to obtain legal advice and information required to close transactions which call for a polite, interested and confident demeanour.

Finally, being extremely organised will prove to be an invaluable skill when working on transactions. Partners and senior associates need to have a clear picture of the status of a transaction at any given time, and with hundreds of emails flying into your inbox throughout the day, you need to read, file and update transaction documents continuously.

The trainee’s role

Trainees in the finance and banking team are expected to cope well with a steep learning curve. Working within a pool system of trainees, you experience most of the different specialisms within the finance and banking department during your six-month training rotation.

Trainees will generally sit with partners or senior associates who supervise them and ensure that they get the right mix of work during their seat. There will be a significant amount of training in the first few weeks to get you up to speed, so that you are well equipped for tasks.

The tasks are wide-ranging and include research, proofreading, inserting other parties’ comments in documents, running a virtual closing and collating in the signature pages and drafting documents.

Once embroiled on a deal, the trainee will take responsibility for the conditions precedent checklist, communicating with local counsel and circulating documents for review by all parties. The trainee will also organise client meetings, host all-party update calls, attend closing meetings and take responsibility for all post-closing matters such as deal bibles.

Emma Stuart is a finance associate at Mayer Brown