What's your name and job title? What did you study? When did you graduate?
My name is Munpreet Soomal and I am an associate in the Banking and Finance team at Clifford Chance. I studied a Bachelor of Law and Commerce (majoring in finance) at Bond University. I graduated in 2014.
Where did you grow up? Can you tell us a bit about your education?
I grew up in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. I graduated from Saint Stephen's College on the Gold Coast with an OP 1. I then went straight into university at Bond. I really loved my time at Bond with its intimate class sizes and collegiate environment. While I was at Bond I had the opportunity to study abroad at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University. There I studied a Masters of Chinese Business Law and made some great friends and contacts all over the world. After I graduated from Bond University I went back to Tsinghua University for another semester to finish up my masters.
How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?
I got my current job by doing a summer clerkship at Clifford Chance in my penultimate year of university. I have been in this job full time now for two and half years.
How did you choose your specialisation? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?
Going through school I knew I wanted to study law and commerce. When I found out about Clifford Chance's summer clerkship program I knew this was something that I wanted to be part of because you work with major multinational companies and it sets you up for a truly international career. I knew that I wanted international exposure after studying abroad in Beijing.
Clifford Chance's Graduate Program follows the London system which consists of four 6-month rotations over two years. I rotated in to our Litigation and Dispute Resolutions team, Corporate/M&A team, Banking and Finance team and for my last rotation I went on secondment to Hong Kong in their Asset Finance team.
I choose Banking and Finance as I knew that I wanted to work on deals (rather than disputes) with an international element. Banking and Finance, as opposed to Corporate/M&A transactions also gave juniors more responsibility earlier on which I enjoyed.
What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?
To get the summer clerkship I went through two rounds of interviews. The interviews flowed like a conversation where questions were asked from both parties. Some of the interview questions that I was asked had to do with the broader commercial environment as well as specific business-related questions. Therefore, it is important to make sure you are up to date with wider economic, political and commercial news before you go for any kind of interview. Other questions were based on my resume, my previous experiences and why I was applying for this position.
At the end of the nine-week summer clerkship I had an exit interview based on my performance and experiences over the clerkship program. From that I was offered a graduate position along with my peers who also participated in the summer clerkship.
Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study? Are there any soft skills it would beneficial for them to develop? Should they pursue any sort of work experience?
To be a lawyer in Australia you must have a law degree which can either be a Bachelor of Laws (an undergraduate degree) or a Juris Doctor (a postgraduate degree). If you are studying a Bachelor of Laws I would encourage doing a double degree with another field that you are interested in. I have found my commerce degree to be very useful in my career as it gave me a very good understanding about the business strategies behind why our clients are doing certain transactions. I have also found it to be very beneficial as a banking and finance lawyer to understand the accounting system and how companies use finance to fund their activities. However, any additional degree whether it is business related or not is useful and can help you broaden your knowledge.
I would encourage getting involved in various societies and groups while you are at school and university and to also seek out any leadership positions. This will help you build your team working and leadership skills and will allow you to demonstrate this to your future employers when seeking a job. Communication and interpersonal skills are extremely important as you will always be working as part of a larger team.
Further I would encourage students to get any kind of work experience possible, as this will give you an insight to how things work in the real world, after school and university.
What does your employer do?
Clifford Chance is a global firm that operates across five continents. We are headquartered in London and are part of the ‘Magic Circle’ law firms, which are the five top law firms in London. Clifford Chance has thirty-two offices around the world and works seamlessly and collaboratively across offices. Therefore, this has provided for a lot of travel opportunity and an international career. We have retreats that occur across all offices in the Asia Pacific region where you get to travel and meet your colleagues in other offices. I have been fortunate enough to go on retreats to Shanghai and Perth. I will also be soon going on a retreat to Singapore.
What are your areas of responsibility?
Being an associate in the Banking and Finance team, I can be responsible for a variety of matters, whether it is drafting the agreement between the parties, negotiating with the other side or attending client meetings or networking events.
However, one of my larger areas of responsibility is making sure that everything has been satisfied when leading up to a financing. This is a large responsibility as you want to make sure – especially when you are acting for a lender – that everything is in order before money is lent to the borrower, which can sometimes involve billions of dollars.
Can you describe a typical work day?
Each work day differs, but they normally involve drafting documents to reflect the parties' commercial intentions in a transaction, making calls in order to follow up on any outstanding issues on the deal that may be holding it up and participating in meetings or conference calls.
Some of the deals that I have worked on recently include acting on several billion dollar privatisation of assets across Australia, financings for many types of companies in a wide range of industries including mining, e-commerce, energy and agriculture.
Throughout my graduate program I worked on M&A transactions covering a variety of industries from film and TV, financial services and property development, financing of solar projects, first-in-market securitisations and corporate financings worth over a billion dollars, as well as class actions and white-collar crime cases.
What sort of person succeeds in your career?
The sort of person that succeeds in this career is capable of juggling multiple things at once and someone who strives for excellence as our clients themselves are very sophisticated and we are expected to deliver at a certain standard. You are also required to demonstrate great interpersonal skills. A large part of what lawyers do and especially more senior lawyers is to pitch themselves, their team and the firm in order to win work. Also, being a commercial lawyer means you are consistently working with others as part of a larger deal team. Therefore, you have to be able to communicate effectively.
What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here?
The career prospects with this job may vary to each individual. The traditional career path is to become a partner in a law firm. Another very common career path is to transition as an inhouse legal counsel at another company. This means working at the client and doing their legal work in house as opposed to being in private practice. Sometimes these opportunities may be quasi-legal and commercial roles. Another career path may be to go to the Bar, which means being a barrister and going to court to fight your clients’ cases.
In some cases, lawyers may also delve off the traditional legal path and go into another industry, as there are many transferable skills that you learn as a lawyer. You also get a wide exposure to many multinational companies and a diverse range of industries. This allows you to get an insight as to how businesses function generally. We have alumni from Clifford Chance that are involved in a diverse range of careers.
Further, working at a firm such as Clifford Chance can open doors when it comes to having an international career. All graduates who join Clifford Chance go on secondment to one of our overseas offices. Graduates in the past have gone to London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and Dubai. I had the opportunity to go to Hong Kong where I met my colleagues from many different offices and had an amazing experience working and living in Asia's financial centre.
Could someone with a different background do your job?
Yes, someone with a different background can do my job, however the one thing that is essential is a law degree. Clifford Chance does also target those higher achievers who have had great grades and have demonstrated their team-working skills.
What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?
One of the things that I love most about my job is that you get to work with a variety of different companies in different industries. Also, the work that we do can also be quite high profile and will be in the news. Therefore, it is quite satisfying to work on a deal and then later see it reported in the news. One of the tasks that I like the most involve the contact that you have with other people. You are always working as part of a wider deal team, whether that be the people in your firm, the lawyers on the other side or the client. Therefore, this means that you get a lot of contact with other people and you are always working together to solve a problem so that the deal can be completed on schedule.
What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you bear a lot of responsibility? Do you have to work on weekends? Are the stress levels high?
Being a commercial lawyer in a large international firm means that sometimes you have tight deadlines and work with people in different time-zones which sometimes result in a later night at work and very rarely part of your weekend. When a deal is on it is all systems go, however you definitely get the reprieve once the deal has closed. At Clifford Chance the culture is relaxed and there is no need for ‘facetime’. Therefore, if you are done with work for the day it is expected that you get out of the office and go home rather than hang around looking busy.
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?
It is important to make sure that you focus on getting good grades, however along with this you should also try to get involved in extracurricular activities and do work experience. I would also highly recommend going on exchange as it is a great experience where you will get to explore a different city and culture and make friends from other parts of the world. And lastly have fun!