Partner Richard Thexton recalls his route into the legal profession and explains why authenticity is integral to a successful interview.
You don’t need to have done a law degree to become a lawyer.
I’m the only member of my family to do A-levels and go to university and, at the time, I was told that if I wanted to become a lawyer, I had to study law. If I’m honest, I loved the sciences at school and would have enjoyed a science degree if I’d have known how easy it is to move across into law. About half of our trainees nowadays haven’t done a law degree. It’s not a disadvantage.
I chose which firm I wanted to join in a slightly odd way.
The chief thing that made me decide between Freshfields and other firms was really coming here for the interview and meeting people, so it was quite an emotional decision. You go through the logical bits, of course, like which areas of law you like and whether you want an international or a more local career, but once you’ve been through those things, the rest of the process can be emotional.
My days involve a lot of talking.
As a corporate lawyer, I advise on M&A and my clients are usually infrastructure finds or big pension funds. On any given day, I will probably find myself speaking to a number of different clients about their projects, whether we’re trying to buy or sell an infrastructure asset. A lot of them do it in partnerships so I spend a lot of time talking to them about how they want that relationship to be structured. I also spend some time just monitoring the market generally for other projects out there that my clients might be interested in. All of that is done with a selection of associates and trainees.
I manage all of the trainees in my team.
We have 12 at the moment. I allocate their work and have taken on a bit of a pastoral role, as I’m the appraisal partner for a number of them. Sometimes people just want to pop in and talk about qualification or where they should go next. There are also times though when people have a lot going on in their lives and they worry that it’s going to get in the way of their work. It takes real bravery to raise personal issues in a professional environment and I give people a lot of credit for that. I’d far rather they came to talk to me than muddling through with something impacting their ability to perform. While it might be that nobody is going through exactly what you’re going through, in a firm of this size there will definitely be somebody else experiencing something that’s affecting them. The point of a team is to spread the load and unless we know about it we can’t help. Ultimately, the work stuff really does not matter – you do whatever you need to sort things out. You can rely on the network you build here more than you might imagine.
It’s important to be authentic.
Joining new seats and meeting new people can be tiring, especially when you’re trying to remember everyone’s name and make a good impression. If, all that time, you’re trying to win people over by modifying some part of your personality because you think that’s what they want to see, not who you actually are, you’re going to end up feeling drained. The key message here is to be yourself.
When preparing for an interview, spend more time thinking about yourself than about the firm.
One of my bugbears is when, in application forms, people write about Freshfields and what it has achieved. We know all that; we want to know about you. These same people are often stumped when you ask them a question about themselves. It’s important to think about what you might be asked, but don’t rehearse the answer because we’ll never ask you the question in the way you will have planned for. But you need to have done some deep thinking about yourself and be quite self-aware in order to answer those questions naturally, however we might ask them.
One of my pro bono clients is called The Running Charity.
They use running to help young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to build resilience and self-esteem. Recently, we arranged for a couple of their trainers to meet us in Regent’s Park and put us through our paces. I also sit on the firm’s responsible business working group, where we discuss the firm’s strategy, whether it’s pro bono, environmental or otherwise. Being a responsible business is something we take seriously, and it’s something that everyone in the firm can get involved with.
Richard’s top tip for interview preparation: spend more time thinking about yourself than about the firm.