By Emma Sinden
Earlier this month we were welcomed into Herbert Smith Freehills’ (HSF) Primrose Street Office to sit down with Trevor Lowe, a trainee solicitor and legal secondee who studied Pharmacy at UCL before joining HSF in March 2021.
HSF is a leading international law firm specialising in a vast breadth of sectors, from finance to pharmaceuticals.
Mr. Lowe was kind enough to take the time to speak with us about his journey into law, his experience doing a client secondment at Sky, and his advice for prospective lawyers.
What made you decide to come into law?
“I knew that what I wanted in my career was something that was quite global, that allowed me to work on problems in a business environment, which you don’t necessarily get in Pharmacy.”
“I was interested in being able to use my life sciences degree to some extent. Working with life sciences clients and having exposure to the tech in the life sciences sector and supporting the projects amongst a range of clients.”
“Being at university was a great way of finding different ways into law. One thing I found very useful was the societies and events put on. There is a lot of value in meeting and speaking to the variety of people that attend them.”
What differentiated HSF for you compared to other life sciences-based firms?
“I wanted life sciences exposure, but I was also interested in corporate work. Although you can get that at firms like Taylor Wessing and Simmons & Simmons, to me they seemed much smaller and more specialised than what I wanted in my training contract.”
“For everyone it’s different, it’s about figuring out what you want and what sort of firm ticks those boxes, and then trying to show that in your application.”
How did you figure out which areas you wanted to work in when applying?
“It’s honestly something you learn during the application process. You’ll find that you gravitate towards certain [firms], and you’ll begin to figure out which firms have similar qualities.”
“Going to those firms, finding out more about them, speaking to people to see if what they say is what actually happens – that’s also the distinguisher.”
Do you think your secondment experience has helped you?
“Definitely. I hadn’t really considered a client secondment before, though I’d always thought it would be cool to do an international secondment for the travel opportunity. For a lot of people, what you want at the start of your training contract is different from what you want at the end because of things like relationships and housing contracts – that sort of thing.”
“Having done [a client secondment], you learn a lot about how a business operates and the different factors that go into giving legal advice. You also get a lot of responsibility, and from that you learn a lot about the legal advice you’re giving.”
“On secondment, it’s a lot more direct. You learn to take ownership of that. Your advice becomes better as a result of that.”
Coming from a non-law degree, what are some things you have done that you think have set you up for success in this role?
“There are so many opportunities at university, that it’s just taking the ones that interest you and trying to be successful in those. If you play tennis and you’re good at tennis, then pursuing that and finding what excites you (…) you can apply that to different areas.”
Would you say transferable skills are as valuable as legal work experience?
“Any experience you can get [is valuable], really. Legal work experience is hard to get. The numbers are crazy – don’t be disheartened if you don’t get in on your first go, just focus on improving each time you apply.”
What did you expect coming into law that you might perceive differently now?
“I expected everyone I’m working with to be a high-quality lawyer and exceptional at what they’re doing. When you start, you don’t really know how you’ll fit into that. It’s the sort of thing where you get better and learn as you go along. You don’t come into a law firm as the finished product. I think that, at this firm at least, the culture is that you’re here to learn. As long as you have the right attitude, that will set you up for success.”
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
“For secondment, the difference is that you can leave your work at the office. There isn’t as much of the expectation to be a client pleaser and to do everything you can to keep that client. It’s a very busy team but it’s quite easy to go to the commercial team and tell them that you don’t have the capacity to take it all on.”
“On secondment, I typically get into the office around 9:00 or 9:30 and depending on the day I’m in there are quite a few regular team catch-ups. These are useful for recognising pressure points and seeing who might need a bit more help. After that, there might be teaching sessions or wider team meetings, which are useful for understanding what’s going on in the wider business. Other than that, I’ll have some of my own projects I’m managing or some ad hoc things.”
“It’s not too different from when I was at HSF working in IP (in terms of my day). The types of work I was on was very different, though.”
Where do you think your biggest sense of fulfilment comes from in your job?
“I like transactional work and doing deals, and that’s the main reason I enjoy the stuff at Sky. There are other bits around it that sort of balance it out, so it’s the ability to pick what you want to do and focus on that.”
“If you like who you’re working with, if you like their style and think the type of work they do is interesting, you’re going to want to do more of that. Enjoying the stuff you do and the people you do it with is a massive factor.”
How would you describe the culture at HSF?
“Quite open, I think. I think with some firms there’s probably less scope to go around and talk to everyone, whereas here it’s quite open and people are generally quite happy to give you their time, which makes a massive difference to your day.”
“I think other than being open, quite driven. These two qualities resonated with me and were some of the main reasons why I wanted to work here.”
What sort of person do you think would NOT thrive here?
“Probably someone that isn’t driven. Generally, people stay long hours because they want to do a good job, not because they’re forced to be here. Proactiveness is a big part of the culture.”
“I think there’s a balance. Here, there’s a culture where you can be who you are. The emphasis is on the ability you have and how well you’re able to do your job.”
Are there any developments in the legal sphere you think we can anticipate?
“From a personal perspective, all the ChatGPT stuff. It’s about the way we adapt to using something like that. I don’t think it’ll be something that changes the value of the work we give in the short-term. In the long-term, I think it’ll be about whether someone is willing to take the risk of taking legal advice given by a robot instead of a lawyer, and whether a robot can take into consideration all of the different parts of the business and how it functions together.”
“At the lower end of things, AI is already making things easier for lawyers, for example automating clause-referencing. It doesn’t take the job away, but it does help by making things more efficient.”
If there is any advice you would give to yourself 5-10 years ago, what would it be?
“Keep trying to do what you want to do. I think it’s a motivation thing. At multiple points during applying to things and thinking about my career it became easy to become demotivated – A) because of the career, and B) because of the volume of applications I was doing. It feels like a constant grind and you’re not getting anywhere.” “Having been able to get to where I want to, I’d say that it’s okay to stop and pause and think about how to make your next step, and whether it’s still right for you. It’s the constant evaluation: taking in what you’ve done and finding out your next step from that.”
“Just continue trying to do what you want to do and work out the weaknesses you might have and target those.”
Would you say it’s hard to, having built the momentum of your career, step away from the prestige and money of being a lawyer?
“I don’t think I’d stop being a lawyer, but I do know people that move into different roles. They do this for a few years and then might move into a start-up with less of a legal role but are able to use their skills and succeed there or move in-house.”
“It’s quite flexible, but it’s quite difficult to research for. When you’re 35 or 40, you have to go out and find people who have done things like that and talk to them. You meet people and try to take aspects of what they’ve done.”
“Most people, as trainees, want to qualify and then figure out what they want to do. Some people do know that they want to make partner, but I wouldn’t say that’s the majority of people.”
Why do you think that is?
“I certainly don’t know enough about making partner to know if I want to be one yet, though part of it is the workload, part of it is owning a stake in the business, and part of it is knowing what you want to specialise in. As a rough goal it might be something you want to do, but as you progress and learn the realities of the job, that’s when your goals might change.”
What excites you most about your job?
“At the minute, working with a really cool client. Working in a business that everyone knows as a household name I think is really cool. Being in that sort of environment, with loads of creative people in the building with you and having that sort of buzz that you get from being in the office is very different from being in here.”
“When I’m here, it’s the ability to work with different clients who are household names. The exposure to different companies and industries – having that breadth. One of the deals I helped with signing, I remember seeing it on a life sciences news site – that’s probably what I enjoyed most.”