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Nitish Upadhyaya

Senior Innovation Manager - Business Services

What attracted you to A&O and what do you think sets us apart?

As a trainee lawyer, I wanted to be at a firm that had a giant international network, offered the opportunity to develop my skills and had the right infrastructure in place to allow me to get involved in interesting legal work. As an associate, I wanted to be part of a tier 1 practice, getting access to cases that other firms just didn’t have the capacity to deal with. And then I took a career break, spending time travelling and working with my charity – why did I want to stay at A&O? The people – it may be a cliché but its true - it’s our biggest strength and one that I’m reminded of time and time again, not least during the Covid lockdown. People work incredibly hard for their teams, but take the time to laugh and chat. It’s the support you get when you want to go out on a limb, or people just generally looking out for one another. 

I spent my training contract getting to appreciate just how vast A&O is, starting in Projects, and making my way through Securitisation, Litigation and then heading off to Hong Kong DSF for my final seat. Qualifying into (what was then) Banking, Finance and Regulatory Litigation in London, I was swept into the world of multi-jurisdictional regulatory investigations and commercial course cases featuring boat captains with post-Lehman Bros buyer’s remorse. Some crazy deadlines, long hours, a fair few laughs and, for those that know me well, a grand meal to celebrate each milestone! I loved working with the Litigation team but, in 2017, found myself reflecting on where I wanted to end up in life. A career break seemed to be the only way for me to satisfy my desire to travel and also to spend a longer stint working with Mondo, a charity I’ve supported for over a decade. Amidst the gallivanting, thoughts turned to the question at end, and I reflected that while I wanted to stay at A&O, traditional fee earning wasn’t for me. With the support of so many across A&O, I transitioned across to my current role – leading the i2 team within Legal Technology. Now I spent my days drawing, toying with behavioural science, running workshops, finding new ways to make people laugh and doing my best to break the mould. There’s also the small matter of prototyping solutions to problems and supporting our network and clients to do things differently.

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

I love working with the i2 team because we do things differently. All the time. Whether we’re thinking of a new engaging format for workshops, or helping prototype a product, we’re always pushing each other to come up with new approaches. Helping people to embrace the Magic of Virtual Workshops during lockdown is just one of the really fun things we’ve been involved in recently. We work across the entire A&O network, and it’s great to come across people I’ve worked with before and to introduce them to something new. Being part of the wider Legal Technology and Advanced Delivery & Solutions teams is also awesome – such a diverse group from a range of professional backgrounds who are totally changing the way A&O does business.

How do you balance your career at A&O and your home life?

Taking advantage of flexible offerings – the ability to work from home or sometimes another office, starting earlier most days – and also regularly reminding myself what’s important are for me the ingredients of balancing career and home life. It doesn’t always work, and I know that as a junior associate I struggled and couldn’t, as much as I tried, get the balance right. It took plenty of introspection to figure out what and who I wanted to make time for. Being open about what works best has been liberating – people at A&O really do make an effort to work with your schedule, but you’ve got to let them know!

If you could switch roles with anyone else in A&O, who’s job would you want and why?

I’d love to spend a bit of time with Front of House in each of our offices – the buzz, the stories (from the surreal, to the weird, to heart-warming!), the laughs. I’ve had so many incredible experiences visiting our network and it would be fun to be in on action. Being “in the room where it happens” with the ExCo or various Boards would be interesting, but I reckon there’s a good deal to be learnt from all the people that pass through A&O too!

What advice would you give for people considering joining A&O?

The question to ask as you meet different people from A&O is – do I see myself going the extra mile for them? It’s about a fit in both directions and for anyone joining, it is about being part of the A&O community. Be curious about the way the firm operates, the little quirks that make it A&O and not another firm, and ask whether, if you move on, you’ll be excited to report that you were once at A&O. Obtain as many different perspectives as you can on the firm – current and former staff, publications, anecdotes – and, if A&O turns out to be the right fit, you’re in for a ride!

What extracurricular activities have you become involved in since joining A&O?

Throughout almost all my time at A&O, I’ve also been a Trustee of a charity that is very close to my heart – Mondo Foundation. We work in Nepal, NE India and Tanzania to support community-led education and livelihoods projects. It’s been a big part of my life and given me a totally different perspective – seeing first-hand the impact of working with stakeholders and how bottom up approaches drive sustainable change has definitely influenced my thinking when it comes to my innovation role. A&O have been incredibly supportive – whether it’s working with the pro bono team on grant applications or the Litigation team giving me huge amounts of leeway when I was trying to manage Mondo’s response to the devastating 2015 earthquakes in Nepal. Lots of A&O’ers have volunteered with Mondo too!

I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world, both with A&O and on my own adventures, and some of my photos can be seen around Bishops Square and across the network – always makes me proud to come across a meeting room or visit another office and see my work displayed! Recent trips have included Iran and Ethiopia (back just before lock down!) so I do quite like to head off the beaten path…

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

This is a tough one – I’ve had so many opportunities to travel through and work in amazing offices across the network – with Hong Kong, Sydney, Singapore, New York, and D.C. just a few from a long list! I’ve never been out to the Middle East though, so I’d love to get to know that part of our network better. Sydney has the best communal breakfast atmosphere, D.C. office do the best events lunch and Hong Kong dinners have been some of my most memorable. The gauntlet is set…

Who in your life has had the biggest influence on your career?

My grandparents – it takes no small effort to move an entire family across three continents, against the background of tumultuous political circumstances, and to set up an entirely new life. My work ethic, approach to people, and desire to foster community spirit (along with my love of cooking and penchant for very early starts!) come from them. When I was young, my grandad would regale me of stories of the adventures of Advocate Wilkinson in East Africa – maybe the first spark towards being a litigator! They worked incredibly hard to make a base for my family – travelling, having broad horizons and having the space to think about what I actually wanted to do – all things I could not have done unless I stood on their shoulders.

If you could invite any three people to a dinner party, who would you choose and why?

I spent a lot of my time cooking and eating, so this would be a fun one! I’d start with Jürgen Klopp – quite aside from being a Liverpool fan, I think his approach to galvanising teams and nurturing a sense of community, as well as just being an all-round relatable human being would make for interesting conversation. Being compared to Jose Mourinho (who self-styles as the “special one”) by a journalist, Klopp replied that he is the “normal one” – we all need some humility! Obviously I also want to talk tactics…

Next on the list is Margaret Attwood – at no time has her particular brand of dystopian fiction (predicting reality?) been more appropriate. A glimpse into a dark future gives us pause for thought about what we might do in the here and now to create a better world. I’d love to see if she has any ideas for utopian fiction.

Rory Sutherland is my final pick - the founder of Ogilvy’s behavioural science practice is a fascinating character. There is something immensely fun and novel about the way he has introduced behavioural science into the corporate sphere – the irreverence to current practice, the desire to do things differently, and to call BS on outdated models. When asked for the best piece of advice he’s ever been given, he said “Be ill (or pretend to be) for at least ten days a year. Creativity has fallen since they cured tuberculosis”. I’m always pushing the boundaries at A&O with workshops and new approaches, and no doubt Rory would have a few crazy ideas for me to try.

If Allen & Overy were a fictional character, who would we be and why?

Forrest Gump. Bear with me. Forrest lives his life against the backdrop of political, social and economic upheaval, and many of his stories are entwined with the rise of new ideas or concepts, changing opinions and interacting with heavyweights. Whether it’s working on a ground-breaking new transaction, adapting to the 2008 financial crisis or the sea change caused by Covid, A&O has journeyed through, and interacted with, events that have changed the world. We certainly don’t know what we’re going to get next!