Who knew that Ed Sheeran had such a penchant for writing about law… for better or worse, here are four times he summed up corporate law Perfect-ly.
“Every time you come around you know I can’t say no” – Bad Habits
Capacity requests for “discrete tasks”
Corporate life is filled with email requests asking whether you have “capacity” to help out on “discrete tasks”. A “discrete task” (or holiday cover – the same principle applies) is code name for no-strings-attached… but will almost inevitably snowball into an “it’s complicated” relationship at the very least, as you’re roped into longer-term projects. “Capacity” essentially means time and is often quantifiable, with 100% capacity being a fixed number of hours – this can differ among firms. The idea is that work in a team should be distributed such that the team can consistently work at a similar “utilisation” (i.e. the % of capacity which you are using on a regular basis) – to give an example, let’s keep the maths simple and say that 100% utilisation is 10 hours; if I’m consistently recording five hours of billable time (i.e. client work on a matter, or pro bono, depending on which firm you go to), my utilisation is 50% and I may be in a position to put my hand up for the discrete task on the basis that I might have more bandwidth than others in the team.
Saying yes to capacity requests can have silver linings – I put my hand up for one and after a busy weekend, several calls with very patchy signal to the Lake District where the lead managing associate was on a hiking holiday, an affirming call from an associate who was having lunch at the Trevi fountain, the most grateful deal partner I think I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with, and many many emails… and I’d seen my first signing, got a shout-out in the firm’s summary of the deal, and now have a very lovely deal toy on my desk. Capacity well spent.
“I’m at a party I don’t want to be at, and I don’t ever wear a suit and tie” – I Don’t Care
Networking as a student always felt like a bit of a charade – you’d whack on a dress, some make up and heels and mingle with strangers, trying to ask them what they actually did whilst also trying to convince them that you already knew what they did… I remember smiling my way through an evening as I wondered what was happening to the pile of (i) work and (ii) chocolate, each of which was waiting for me when I got home. Networking can look like that and necessarily to get a good bunch of people in a room, often there’s an element of drinks-and-nibbles mingling, but it can also look like catching up with someone over coffee, calling someone, grabbing lunch or dinner. It can look like a very simple “I’m really interested in what you’re doing, would you have a few minutes to talk me through…”.
Importantly, “networking” is active – it’s not a one-off event you attend; you have to continually work on it and invest time in it. Some of my “network” I have met because we’ve essentially been thrown together – whether as adjacent names on a table plan, a mentor pairing or as principal and trainee – others I have met by chance – we’ve worked together, they gave a presentation I attended, they interviewed me, they’re a face I see lots in the corridors, we made dumplings at a School of Wok work event (true story!)… it doesn’t really matter how we met, it matters whether we choose to keep meeting, keeping the dialogue on careers, work and personal life open and alive.
“Don’t think we fit in at this party…” – I Don’t Care
The Claridge’s signing dinner
I managed three signing dinners in my training contract (not bad for a COVID trainee!), one of which was at Claridges. For those of you unacquainted with the name Claridges, Google it and you’ll soon figure that this is not one of my usual haunts. There was a tangible buzz among the juniors in the office when the diary icon was updated to include a location and much talk about what to wear (with one associate excitedly brandishing a new pair of shoes perfect for such an occasion and another leaving early to buy himself a new suit). The doormen wore top hats and tailcoats, hailing down taxis for guests, the menus were printed on deliciously thick paper more akin to parchment really and I don’t think I’ve ever used so many glasses during a single meal. We wined and dined through our three courses, chocolates, cocktails and coffee and made our way across the iconic black and white marble floor (a beautiful minefield when you realise waiters have been topping up glasses quite liberally and you’re wearing higher-than-usual-heels) to the bathroom, where someone literally turned the taps for me and handed me a flannel to dry my hands – luxurious, COVID-conscious, or just a bit weird? I’m still not quite sure.
“I’ve no regrets but wish I did things in a different way” – Tides
Inspiring confidence, yet constructively self-reflecting during an appraisal can be a challenge; Ed nails it in this classic line which screams “I’m a safe pair of hands and got the job done, but I recognise that the journey could have been smoother in places – perhaps due to the rough-at-times terrain, the unexpected turbulence, my inexperience driving and the breakneck speed at which we had to travel to cross the line… here are my lessons learned for next time.”. Maybe not one to directly quote in your appraisal, but definitely a sentiment worth channelling.