Careers at Legal Cheek speaks to Claire McDaid, business and financial services partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher, about life at the fastest growing US law firm in London, ahead of her appearance at the week’s virtual student event next
“The London offices of American law firms are fantastic places to train. You get a lot of autonomy to advance your career in the direction you want,” says Claire McDaid, Business and Financial Services Partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher. In recent years, many US law firms have achieved notable success on this side of the pond. With big deals and ever-increasing revenues, American companies are going up against their British rivals – Willkie being one example.
McDaid points to the level of trust and responsibility that U.S. firms place in their lawyers as one of the main reasons she has spent her entire career with them. “If you mobilize and take control, you will be given work above your PQE level,” she explains. They are also receptive to “new ideas and new ways of thinking”.
Corporate work in American companies
Working at American companies like Willkie is very internationally oriented, according to McDaid. “You’re constantly dealing with cross-border transactions and issues” for a range of large clients who value “the market data, transaction strategies and experience” of US companies, she says. “Over time, American companies have also been very astute in hiring the best talent in London in the transactional sphere.”
Reflecting on his nearly two decades of experience in business and financial services, McDaid tells us that no two days are alike. In addition to scheduled tasks, she often finds herself troubleshooting when things don’t quite go as planned. “The role of a corporate lawyer is to make deals,” McDaid says. “This often means having good leadership and project management skills so you can liaise effectively with different practice groups and local councils.”
Training in an American company
McDaid tells us that companies like Willkie tend to be more nimble than their UK rivals. Famous for their small, tight-knit teams, American companies are able to train lawyers who can quickly change strategy when needed. With a recently increased training cohort of six (another indication of business growth in the city), Willkie is no different. “Our teams are more agile and we generally have fewer management levels and fewer decision makers,” McDaid says. Being in direct contact with customers in a fast-paced world means businesses need to act fast. “With larger teams and companies, it’s like turning around – it takes time,” says McDaid, “but our smaller teams can quickly pivot their approach to new opportunities.”
McDaid says it’s a “misconception” that US firms are taking a more “hands-off” approach when it comes to training their future lawyers. Taking Willkie’s approach as an example, she explains that the firm has a very comprehensive program of formal training in key practice areas and sees interns working alongside partners and associates in small teams on issues real from day one.
“Our open door policy allows partners and associates to be there with you every step of the way,” McDaid says. “You will be able to learn how issues are resolved in real time.” She also adds that US companies’ deal teams are smaller, which means partners are always aware of what interns are doing. This allows space for personalized feedback and individualized training.
Knowing what’s going on in the world is crucial to the job of a commercial lawyer, McDaid tells us. “Macroeconomic changes affect customers in various ways. Knowing the news will help you be sensitive to customer interests and understand why customers do what they do.
There’s a lot going on right now that affects his area of practice. With the war in Ukraine and the wider impact on energy supplies across Europe, McDaid says we can expect significant investment in renewable energy. There’s also the rising cost of living in the UK, which is pushing businesses to stay profitable while ensuring customers can continue to buy their products and services. Good commercial lawyers need to be aware of the impact of these broader developments on their clients.
McDaid also points to the effects of the weaker pound on mergers and acquisitions. “Speculative buyers from the US are turning to British pound-denominated businesses as they represent great value at the moment,” she says. While nothing can be predicted at the minute, McDaid points out, if the pound continues to fall, we can potentially expect a lot of M&A activity.
Ahead of Willkie’s training contract demands, McDaid advises trainees to raise their hands for each new opportunity. “Seasoned lawyers can only add value because of the experience they have gained in previous years,” she tells us. Taking charge of your career early and keeping an open mind is also very important.
Claire McDaid will be speaking at ‘Life in America’s fastest growing law firm in London – with Willkie Farr & Gallagher’, a virtual student event taking place on Wednesday 12 October. Apply now.
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