Nine years on from leaving Travers Smith, I am always pleasantly surprised at how many people I still know when I come into the office. I visit regularly to work with the Dispute Resolution (DR) team, but I often get distracted by conversations with people from right across the firm.
The Travers Smith years
I joined the firm in September 2004 as a not quite fresh-faced 29 year old trainee, having worked in IT consultancy for five years before going to law school.
Endearing memories from those two years include an infamous day one briefing from a partner about what I could/couldn’t do in our shared office. Prohibited activities included talking loudly on the telephone, grooming, and eating hot, smelly or noisy foods. I will also never forget the day that I received a report on gambling law in Russia and a $15,000 invoice from a US law firm that I had accidentally engaged following an ambiguous conversation. In every seat I learned an enormous amount about the job from seeing the partners in action day-to-day.
Qualifying into the Litigation team was an easy decision for me. My qualification coincided with the commencement of a 12 week trial at the Royal Court of Justice and one of the top 20 cases of 2006. At the time it was the kind of trial that fee earners had to wait several years for, or might never see in their careers. These days the DR Department seems to have multiple larger cases on at once.
The most delightfully random moment of my Travers Smith career? Taking Alan Curbishley and (Big) Sam Allardyce to Wagamamas for lunch takes some beating.
Time for a change
In 2010 it felt like there were two directions I could go in law - onwards and upwards through the PQE bands for as long as the firm would put up with me, or to join an in-house legal team. I tried the other option and over the next six years I worked in the in-house teams of EY, Mercedes-Benz and Accenture. I wasn’t looking for a change in 2015, but an opportunity was presented to me that was intriguing - self-employment through a virtual law firm. This represented an entirely new level of freedom - no holiday allowance to keep track of, no manager to answer to, no appraisals, and freedom to choose who I worked for and when. Of course, on the flip side - no guaranteed salary, no pipeline of work, no specialist support functions.
I have never looked back. I miss the daily face time with colleagues and friends in the office, but over the last six years work has largely fitted around my life and I have been utterly spoilt by the quality time with my kids during their formative years and the ability to engage in their school and after-school activities. I am one of the more competitive football coaches in the West Herts U9 girls’ league and I tend to spend the latter half of each week thinking about training routines, tactics and formations. Shame I don’t get to lunch with Curbs and Big Sam these days!
Change all round
The best thing about being a freelancer has been the freedom it has afforded me to explore opportunities in the transforming legal industry. There is a well-publicised legal tech revolution, but the change is going far wider than that. Firms and in-house teams, and even finance directors, are taking a much more critical look at the technology, processes and people they use to perform legal tasks.
Alongside the technology, and in large part enabled by it, we are seeing an increase in flexible, remote working opportunities for ‘gigging’ lawyers. This opens the interim resource market up to the people that law has traditionally found the hardest to accommodate – parents and carers, the mobility-restricted and those living outside of a commutable distance of London.
These days I mainly operate in the space between legal tech and lawyers. It is in this capacity that I have reconnected with Travers Smith and its DR Department. The firm has made some impressive legal tech and process improvement appointments over the last couple years and looks to be embracing the opportunities. I have worked with Nicki Woodfall, the firm’s first eDisclosure manager in the DR team, who brings technology and process expertise to the critical (and costly) disclosure phase in disputes and investigations, and other litigation support tasks. I have assembled and managed remote document review on several matters, using ex-lawyers with far more experience than is usually available via the ‘at desk’ doc review market. I have also advised a large team working on a mammoth matter on how to make best use of the HighQ collaboration product and to configure it to transform the way that lawyers interact with each other and with counsel, clients and the other side. HighQ is well-established in transactional law, but we are really pushing the boundaries of the litigation use case on the Travers Smith matter.
I have far more interesting and varied meetings these days, with legal tech vendors, lawyers looking to escape traditional working, and potential clients at firms and corporates, often at WeWorks and specialist coffee shops all over London. The suit has long been consigned to the back of the wardrobe and I am often over-dressed if I am wearing shoes rather than Converse. There is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and willingness to collaborate, which is intoxicating at times.
There has never been a better time to be open-minded to new ways of working, entrepreneurial or just looking for something slightly different to the norm in law.