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Elli Ley

Advanced Delivery and Solutions (AD&S) Practice Lead for International Capital Markets

Confirmation of your job title and department

I am the Advanced Delivery and Solutions (AD&S) Practice Lead for International Capital Markets, so my team is in AD&S but I work very closely with the International Capital Markets (ICM) Department.

How long have you been at A&O and what were you doing prior to joining us?

I joined A&O in 2001, I am an A&O “lifer”! I did part of my legal studies in Heidelberg in Germany and once I finished my LL.M. I was lucky to be offered a training contact in the (then quite new) A&O Frankfurt office, studying for my LPC part time and working with a mixture of English and German lawyers. I ultimately became an ICM associate in London and then moved into the role of Senior Professional Support Lawyer (PSL) for ICM, which I stayed in for 15 years before joining my current team.

What initially attracted you to A&O and what did you feel set us apart?

I had offers from several big English and US firms in Frankfurt to start my legal career with them, but I liked the people I met at A&O and was encouraged that they were the only firm to offer me a formal training contract. This was not the normal route to being a UK-qualified trainee and I was impressed by their willingness to be innovative with creating a role for me. My gut instinct also told me I would enjoy working here - and it turned out to be a good decision.

How do you feel A&O has changed since you joined (the impact of this one will likely depend on when you joined us!)

During my career A&O has changed from being an English firm with ambitious international aspirations to being a truly international firm. I have also been encouraged to see the firm’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion evolve over the years. It is very easy to set out values and statements about this, but much harder to take concrete steps which will actually have an impact. More than ever the firm is showing a determination to make real change across the board. There is still a lot to be done, but steps like the introduction of the firm’s new apprenticeship programme demonstrate A&O’s commitment to making tangible progress in the area of social mobility, for example. As someone who went to their local comprehensive school, this is very close to my heart - I have been lucky to be involved with this programme, where we welcomed our first cohort of solicitor apprentices in September.

What was your first ever job? Was working in the legal sector always your ultimate goal?

As a teenager I was a waitress in the local pub. I did a series of jobs while studying – from other jobs in hospitability, to call centres and working as a temp in a German bioscience company. From the age of about 12 my ultimate aim was to practice law, but I needed to work to support myself through my studies. I found that having a wide range of experiences in the world of work gave me invaluable life experience, especially as I moved into a legal career. 

We are proud at A&O to offer an environment where people can be themselves … What gives you a sense of “belonging” at A&O?

The people. I have been lucky to work with fantastic colleagues throughout my career who have not only been great to work with from a professional perspective, but also in many cases have become good friends who have been unfailingly supportive. This was never clearer to me than when I developed breast cancer a few months before the global pandemic broke out – the support of A&O and my colleagues here really helped to carry me through a very difficult period. Although my current team sits within in AD&S, my ICM network is very much critical to its success and I am delighted to be able to do a job where I still get to work with and support ICM colleagues.

What’s the best thing about the team you work in?

I am part of a fairly new team (the Practice Transformation Team) which has been tasked with helping the Practice Groups and AD&S teams achieve their goals by bringing together the optimum combination of legal practice expertise, AD&S knowledge, and transformation capabilities. Although I loved my previous team, I was ready for a change and it has been exciting to be part of getting this new team off the ground. I feel very lucky to once again be working with a talented, enthusiastic and supportive group of people - we all bring different strengths (and weaknesses!) to the table and we have learnt to harness this. I have no doubt that there are exciting times ahead for our team and it’s a great example of how A&O is prepared to invest in new roles to stay ahead of the market and constantly evolve our offering.

What three things have enabled you to excel during your time at A&O.

Finding a role that aligns with your interests and ambitions is important even if it means stepping outside of the usual career ladder. At A&O it’s a given that the people you work with are top notch, but having great mentors/managers and being part of and – importantly - contributing to, high performing teams is also key to being able to excel. It’s also really important to maintain a sense of humour in good times and bad!

Which networks, extra-curricular activities, and/or pro bono and community investment initiatives have you become involved with since joining A&O (such as DE&I/sports teams/music etc.)? What have you valued most about these opportunities?

I have been Chair of Governors at my children’s school for a number of years - it can be tricky to find time to take part in extra-curricular activities when you have a young family and a demanding career and so I have been able to benefit from the support the Pro Bono and Community Investment (PBCI) team offers to governors such as training and networking. This has been really rewarding - grappling with the challenges a state primary school faces has been a satisfying contrast to working in a large law firm (although my legal and analytical skills have come in very handy). I will be moving on from the role soon and am looking forward to having more time to take part in A&O’s other schemes, such as SmartStart.

I was a reluctant participant in PE at school but I have surprised myself in later life by becoming a person who goes running for fun. I have been lucky to participate in events sponsored by the A&O running club, such as the SC Great City Race, which are a great opportunity to get to know people in other teams across the firm and outside of a work context. A few years ago I was also persuaded by a fellow PSL to run to work with her and we have since become close friends. In the pandemic I also persuaded her and another colleague to go wild swimming with me, so we now often build in a reservoir swim on our way to work. It’s very satisfying to make such efficient use of the commute - travel, exercise and putting the world to rights.

If you could spend some time in any of A&O’s international offices, where would you most like to go and why?

Living in Germany taught me how different it is to live and work in a country rather than just visiting as a tourist – you really learn about the place and the people. I love visiting New York - getting into a yellow cab always makes me feel like I am in a film – so would probably choose NYC. It would be a tricky choice though - we have offices in so many beautiful and exciting places.

If you could switch roles with anyone else at A&O, whose job would you want and why?

Another difficult choice, I’d love to see how lots of other teams and departments operate - it has been so interesting to get to know all the brilliant AD&S teams we have. I think I’d have to go for the top job though - it would no doubt be an amazing experience to swap with Wim, although I’m conscious that with great power comes great responsibility!

What advice would you give to anyone considering joining A&O?

Throughout my time here the firm has supported me and given me the opportunity to evolve and work in a role that will best play to my strengths and circumstances – that, and the brilliant people I work with, is why I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.