The first year, and next steps

This week marks my one-year anniversary with the firm, and today I found myself thinking back on the technical knowledge I’ve acquired thus far.  I’m happy to say that I now feel confident enough to lead a straightforward real estate or corporate finance transaction on my own. I’ve had some incredible hands-on experience in my corporate seat especially, and was even mentioned in some of our press releases for two separate capital markets deals.

What I wasn’t expecting however was to still feel uncertain about the direction I want my career to take.

I won’t comment on my time in real estate, because I never considered qualifying into that practice area (despite the lawyers in the team being lovely). Corporate finance was a different story: on day one as a trainee I told my career coach I was “basically absolutely sure I’d like to qualify into corporate.” I did equity finance and M&A electives on the LPC, and paralegalled for the corporate and commercial teams for nearly a year before starting my training contract. I like spreadsheets and read the Financial Times. I even worked for the treasury department in between my undergrad and post-grad degrees! Surely this makes me the “corporate type!”

So when I joined the corporate finance and public companies team as a second seater in March, I was both enthusiastic and very eager to please. Unfortunately, what I had built up in my head was not a practical reality. Rather, it was some idealised version of being a senior associate in the team, or even more likely, that of a partner.

I envisaged sitting in on client meetings in board rooms, or helping to negotiate with venture capitalists or advisors at major banks. I thought I would be drafting placing agreements, and watching with pride as my client’s shares skyrocketed on the LSE after a successful announcement. I even thought about the fancy client lunches and bottles of champagne to celebrate a completion. Needless to say, that’s not what life as a corporate finance associate is actually like (at least not at my firm).

Of course, I knew intellectually that I’d need to do a lot of boring or seemingly mundane tasks as a trainee. In retrospect, I was just hoping that the vibe amongst the team would have been more supportive. A more congenial atmosphere with better top-down communication would have made me feel more excited (or, more accurately, less anxious) about coming to work each day.

I put in stupidly long hours on multiple occassions, notwithstanding my 90 minute commute to and from the office (yes, each way). When I say “stupidly long hours,” I mean staying awake and working for 40+ hours straight, on several occaisons. I was so worn down that by the end of my six month seat, I had been to the gym only twice, started going grey, put on about 5kg, and had suffered through a bout of pneumonia.

I honestly, sincerely, hand-on-heart didn’t mind the long hours: I actually kinda loved the way the pressure would start to build up at 10pm or even 11pm at night, right before a deadline. I liked how focused and clinical I became during crunch time, and I’m proud of myself for staying calm under pressure despite the adrenalin (and caffeine) rushing through my veins at 2am or 3am in the morning. My supervisor said that I added value to various transactions, praised my work ethic and professionalism, and lauded my organisational skills. Clients even went out of their way to thank me for my hard work and, more importantly, the quality of my work.

So it came as a real dissapointment when, during my final week in the team, nobody showed up for my leaving drinks, despite it being my supervisor’s idea to schedule it for that particular day so everyone could come. I waited alone in the pub for over an hour, expecting my supervisor to arrive at any momement (he never did). Furthermore, I never received so much as a “thank you” or “good luck in your next seat!” email from the guys I had worked side-by-side with for the last six months. They didn’t even wave goodbye as I packed up my desk silently, and moved to the other side of the office. I’m somewhat embarassed to say this – but it hurt my feelings.

I’m grateful for how much I learned from that team in terms of technical ability. More importantly, I think I’ve built up a lot of resiliance and confidence. However, when I sit down and list out the things I enjoyed and didn’t enjoy about corporate finance – and I mean really, really think about the typical tasks I did on a regular basis – the items under “did not enjoy” far outnumber those under “enjoyed.”

It pains me to admit this, because I wanted to like corporate law so badly. I’m not sure why exactly – maybe it was some silly fantasy of being a “badass professional lady” who closes deals worth millions of pounds in the centre of the financial district, and does so whilst wearing really killer stilleto heels. But I don’t want to be miserable as I pursue the next stage of my career. I don’t want to work with people who are both challenging/demanding (which is acceptable, especially in corporate law) as well as disrespectful/inconsiderate (which I don’t have to put up with).

Yes, they say “work” is a four-letter word. But life’s too short to spend the hours between 9am and 5pm (and well beyond) being unhappy.

So where do I go from here? As for next steps, I’m currently in my third (and hopefully final) seat with the commercial contracts team. I’m not sure what to expect – but maybe I’ll be one step closer to figuring it out before I know it…

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