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Tiiu Lemsalu

At the age of seven, I knew I wanted to become a lawyer, go to university in England and experience life in different countries. Whatever had sparked the interest – maybe a television programme or a discussion with my parents – I was driven to achieve my goal.

After graduating from high school in 2010, I left my home in Tallinn, Estonia, to study Law at Bournemouth University. I was excited to meet a diverse group of people and was determined to build my reputation through dedication and sheer hard work. I gained insightful work experience at a local law firm in Bournemouth but aspired to have a career at a larger firm with international opportunities.  

During my studies, I participated in an A&O vacation scheme in July/August 2013. I spent three weeks in London and a week in New York. At the end of the vacation scheme, I was offered a training contract, which I gladly accepted. After graduating from university, I spent a year and a half as a trainee at A&O London, followed by six months in the New York office. I felt I had found a group of like-minded, genuine colleagues, and collectively we went the extra mile to deliver our very best. Three years later, I joined the London Derivatives & Structured Finance (DSF) team as an Associate.

London, New York and Hong Kong are the global centres for derivatives work. While I thoroughly enjoyed working with the London team and learnt so much from my trusted colleagues, I fell in love with New York when I spent time there and knew I had to return. The city is vibrant and exciting, and there is so much to experience. 

When a two-year secondment in the DSF team in New York was advertised internally, I immediately applied. The relationships I had formed previously meant the team were happy for me to return, however, the visa process took longer than expected. While I was due to join the New York team in January 2018, I ultimately returned two years later in January 2020. Once it was time to make the move, the A&O central mobility team organised almost every practical aspect for me – from dealing with the visa complications, to moving all of my belongings and finding me a great apartment in Manhattan. I am very grateful for their help.

In preparation for my role in New York, I made the decision to study for the New York Bar. It was an extremely busy period, and I spent all weekends at my desk in the London office to allow me the space to concentrate. I flew to New York in July 2019 to sit the two-day exam. After passing an additional New York-law-specific exam and the required professional responsibility test, I was sworn in as an Attorney and Counselor at Law of the New York State Supreme Court in November 2020.   

Since arriving in New York, my workload has consisted of both transactional and advisory matters (including, for example, negotiating documentation for total return swap transactions and advising on various IBOR-transition related mandates). In addition, from February to August this year I was on a client secondment at Bank of America, assisting with their regulatory initial margin implementation program and negotiating accompanying documentation with counterparties. It helped me gain further insight into legal practice from the perspective of client's day-to-day operations and internal systems. 

To anyone embarking on an international career, I would say stay focused academically and don’t underestimate the power of building relationships with people in the industry and within your firm. I first heard about A&O when I was on a mini-internship at a law firm in Estonia. Since joining A&O, I have taken part in global relationship meetings with attorneys from that firm when they visit London. Specialist networking opportunities, such as the Women in Derivatives Group, have also helped me meet and stay in touch with others in the industry. With the vast international network of a firm like A&O, there will be no shortage of opportunities to learn from and build rapport with colleagues across the globe.   

My advice? With hard work, considered decision-making and commitment to long-standing relationships, you can achieve so much.


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