Associate – Taxation
What do you think sets A&O apart?
From an employee perspective, I feel the “open-door policy”, whilst perhaps a cliché, is definitely true and bears mentioning. Chatting to friends across various graduate-level jobs, I don’t think there are many who have such immediate and frequent contact with individuals who have the experience, expertise and seniority of our partners and counsel.
Tell us about your journey – what initially drew you to A&O?
I must admit, as a bit of a lone wolf (at the time of application, I didn’t have any family or friends who had followed a similar route), I found the various law firms rather difficult to differentiate on the basis of the recruitment fairs and glossy brochures alone. So I started my applications at the top – alphabetically and in terms of reputation – and let that see where it took me. So what really drew me to A&O was my experience at interview. I was really impressed by the interview itself – which was fair and challenging (no “gotcha” questions or opportunity/expectation to reel off some pre-learned spiel about what I read in the Financial Times last week) – and particularly the fact that the partner who conducted my case study interview took ten minutes at the end to explain to me how I did and how I could have improved my answers. This partner-talking-time was of course largely useless to the firm in terms of assessing my capabilities as an applicant, but was invaluable to me, and it was this generosity of time and the approach to imparting knowledge which I think really sealed the deal in terms of my choosing A&O.
How long have you been at A&O? How do you feel it has changed over the years?
I started as an NQ this April, so I’ve been here just over two years including my training contract. So the main changes for me have been due to the different seats I’ve sat in, rather than changes over time. Whilst there are certainly commonalities, you notice how each team has different personalities, cultures and ways of working together – which is nice as it enables you to try different approaches and thereby figure out which you enjoy and what makes you tick.
How do you balance your career at A&O and your home life?
No kids, so for me, “home life” is hanging out with my girlfriend and socialising with my friends, and I’ve found this and my work-life have fitted around each other fine. Whilst you can’t always guarantee that you can make restaurant bookings or the theatre at 7pm on-the-dot, you can certainly make plans during the week – even if just meeting for a pint/glass of wine and a catch-up, and I find this is important to stop the days blurring into one.
If you could switch roles with anyone else in A&O, whose job would you want and why?
I do remember spotting the A&O offices by chance on a trip to Hamburg (to watch my adopted football team, Dulwich Hamlet, play on their 125th anniversary tour there). The offices are located in these really cool converted warehouses sitting on the Elbe. I’d love nothing more than watching the ships and working dockyard from my office window – so I would choose to swap with somebody there. Unfortunately, however, tax is pretty specific to your jurisdiction, so the chances of that are rather slim.
What advice would you give for people considering joining A&O?
A&O is now an all-service firm, however its reputation was built around its finance work and to some extent this may have an impact on what you do in many of the practice groups, not just banking and ICM. This is certainly the case in tax, where I work. But I’d also say this is not something to be afraid of – whilst Suits and the like is all about suing people and marching into people’s office to close M&A deals (which is great, I imagine) – some of the most rewarding and interesting law I’ve been involved in has in all honesty been around structuring securitisations or understanding the mechanics of a bond issuance.
What do you think you have gained both personally and professionally from your time at A&O?
The high standards impressed upon you from the start really do begin to rub off. I’ve found the quality of my work and attention to detail have improved – from a low base(!) – more than I could have imagined.
On a personal note, I found the move from Chesterfield to a big London law firm pretty intimidating at first, and would often feel a sense of imposter syndrome. The opportunities I’ve had to learn and (hopefully) to impress; the feedback processes – both formal and informal; some brilliant supervisors and senior colleagues; and, last but not least, the actual offer of an NQ job in tax, have all contributed to my feeling much more comfortable and confident in my new skin, which I think has been the most important development.
What extracurricular activities have you become involved in since joining A&O (Sports teams / music / pro bono etc)?
I do have a fond memory of playing cricket for A&O in their annual game at Richmond Park between the banking team and their clients at Citibank – although this was rather soured due to the fact we watched England’s agonising defeat to Croatia in the World Cup semi-final in the clubhouse afterwards.
On a monthly basis, I really enjoy attending the Solicitor’s Wine Society events which, quite apart from the always excellent wine, are a great chance to have a nosy at the offices and hospitality of the various London law firms at which the events are held on a rotating basis.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Morning meetings, usually. But in seriousness, as an NQ in the tax team, there’s always more to learn than there are hours in the day – as we have to understand not only tax law – but how transactions work right across the various departments of the firm we work with: capital markets, banking, corporate etc. This keeps you on your toes and means there’s always something new.
What was your first ever job?
I was a waiter in a Thai restaurant back home in Chesterfield. I got the job partly because I’d learnt how to count and say various food items in Thai from my time travelling and working there, which made taking instructions from the kitchen staff much easier. As one of the few non-Thai waiters, I learnt how to feign laughter at the various iterations of the “which part of Thailand are you from?” joke – a skill valuable to any junior lawyer exposed to partners’ dad jokes!