What it takes to succeed in the legal profession

John Adams, Shearman & Sterling
Gus Black, Dechert Europe
Sally Gibson, Debevoise & Plimpton
Daniel Lavon-Krein, Kirkland & Ellis
Paul Van den Abeele, Clifford Chance

What keeps you awake at night?
Paul Van den Abeele: “Brexit and Trump are symptoms of a radical global shift in attitudes and values, posing significant questions about the future of globalisation. In such times, uncertainty is king, making predictions difficult and businesses suffer.”

Sally Gibson: “The thought of turning 40…”

Daniel Lavon-Krein: “Navigating the world of increasing conflicts and regulatory pressure.”

John Adams: “Coffee. And closing deadlines.”

Gus Black: “I’m not a big believer in worrying.”

What are the most pressing issues facing private equity lawyers today?
JA: “The level of competition for deals, and the impact that inevitably has on launching new funds (dry powder in existing funds).” 

GB: “Same as always – the need to stay current and creative as clients evolve their business models, compete for the best deals and demand more value-add from their lawyers.”

PVA: “Shifting macro fundamentals have led to renewed business models and strategies in recent years. Spotting opportunities against a backdrop of uncertainty is top of the agenda for firms and advisors.”

SG: “Keeping pace with changes in regulation, tax, new structuring technologies, etc. It is important to try and translate the details and complexities surrounding these changes into practical advice for clients.”

DLK: “Private equity lawyers need to understand the art of providing commercial and timely advice while safeguarding our clients from increased regulatory scrutiny.”

How has the PE legal market changed since you began practising?
GB: “More co-invests. More non-bank financing. More strategy diversification by firms. Much more legal, regulatory and political intrusion in the business model.”

PVA: “Since the financial crisis, we have seen a wave of regulatory reform, necessitating careful assessment and navigation. We have also seen dramatic shifts in the cost of debt and the availability of capital, making winners out of those that could flex their business models accordingly.”

DLK: “When I started practicing you would have a limited, often US-based offering and had very clear guidelines on how this can be accomplished. Today, we represent sponsors raising multi-billion dollar vehicles on a global scale and are faced with new laws in the US, Europe and Asia. The landscape has become infinitely more complex.”

SG: “The industry has developed significantly. Many fund sponsors have moved from single product offerings to multi-product platforms. Institutional investors have always been sophisticated in their approach to fund investment, but the level of familiarity with private equity structures and fund terms is quite extraordinary.”

JA: “I’ve certainly seen increased negotiation of fund documentation, particularly with sovereign wealth and other sophisticated investors. So negotiation skills and really understanding developing market practice have become ever more critical.”

What advice would you give to a young lawyer?
JA: “Be greedy. Consume as much knowledge as you can, from those you work with, your peers and industry contacts. And it's never too early to network.”

SG: “Throw yourself into work – work hard and work on as many projects as you can.”

PVA: “My advice for any lawyer is to be forward-looking. The legal market, like all industries, is rapidly evolving, and so junior lawyers should be equipping themselves with the expertise to make a difference tomorrow, rather than fixating on the past.”

GB: “Care deeply about everything you do, or don’t bother doing it.”

DLK: “Have a positive attitude, show excitement and desire to learn and work hard. Experience and repetition are key.”

What makes a successful lawyer?
GB: “The ability to take many thousands of hours of experience and package it clearly and simply in a way that moves the client closer to their business goals.”

PVA: “A successful lawyer is one that can truly put themselves in the shoes of their clients, understanding their business, clients, market situation and regulatory environment. Only then can they advise clients to strike the balance between risk management and commercial success in a fiercely competitive environment.”

SG: “Someone who places themselves in the shoes of the client to ensure the advice given is understandable, pragmatic and capable of being acted upon.”

JA: “Understanding your client’s business, being an excellent draftsperson and negotiator, and being very responsive.”

DLK: “It depends a little on seniority, but I will say that a successful partner is attentive and, most importantly, takes the time to understand the business of his or her client and what drives their decisions.”