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  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Michael Williams

The best thing about working in banking and finance at a large law firm is how varied the work can be and how different each day is from the next.

What's your name and job title?  

Michael Williams – lawyer.

What did you study? When did you graduate?

As an undergraduate I studied business management with a major in commercial law. I then undertook the Juris Doctor at the University of Melbourne, graduating in 2017. 

Where did you grow up? What led you to this particular industry?

I grew up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. 

In terms of what led me to choose a career in commercial law, I think the most significant stage of my life so far would have been my time as a postgraduate law student. Prior to commencing my law degree I had really enjoyed legal studies at high school and was far more interested in the law subjects during my undergraduate degree. During my law degree the opportunity to engage with a range of subjects such as constitutional law, legal philosophy, trusts and various aspects of commercial law gave me the opportunity to experience how interesting and pervasive the law is. 

How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it? 

I started at MinterEllison as a vacation clerk in 2016 and commenced as a graduate in 2017. I was admitted as a lawyer at the end of 2017 and have now been at MinterEllison for two years.

How did you choose your specialisation? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?

During my last year at law school I was working as a research paralegal at a commercial law firm. The Litigation team at that firm did quite a lot of work in the insolvency space, which gave me some exposure to this area of the law. I found the subject matter really technical and interesting and found that it resonated with me more than other areas of commercial law that I had engaged with. The great thing about insolvency law is that it brings together both legal and commercial issues, often in circumstances where creditors are moving quickly to protect their interests in respect of a limited pool of assets. Indeed, one of the most rewarding (and at times demanding) aspects of my job is having to solve complex legal and commercial issues within tight time constraints. Working in the insolvency space also gives you the opportunity to work closely with members of other professions, such as bankers and accountants.

Interestingly, when I started at MinterEllison I was pretty certain that I would end up in the Litigation team doing primarily insolvency and restructuring work. Like most law students, I initially undertook a law degree because I liked the idea of advocacy and because the adversarial style of lawyering that is portrayed in the media really appealed to me. However, after working in transactional teams such as banking and finance, I discovered a much broader area of interest. Working in a transactional team not only allows you to debate legal issues with your colleagues and during negotiations, it also gives you exposure to broader commercial issues and allows you to see how transactions are structured. I am now working in our Banking and Finance team doing primarily transactional work, however I also get the opportunity to work closely with our litigators in the insolvency space. 

What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?

When I started at MinterEllison, the interview process ran over the course of a day and comprised three components: a two-on-one interview, a group exercise and a written exercise. 

While the process seemed daunting at first, once the day's events had commenced it became less stressful. It was also somewhat comforting knowing that the other 30 interviewees were just as nervous as I was!

My two-on-one interview was with a partner from our Mergers and Acquisitions practice group and a partner from our Intellectual Property practice group. While I was asked a couple of questions about the firm, the questions mainly focused on my experience, who I was and the sorts of things I was interested in. 

What does your employer do?

MinterEllison is an international law firm headquartered in Australia. We are multidisciplinary and industry-facing lawyers offering our commercial clients a full spectrum of legal advice, delivered differently. We put the client at the centre of everything we do and partner with them to deliver truly innovative solutions.

What are your areas of responsibility?

As a junior lawyer working in banking and finance, my areas of responsibility include drafting transaction documents; undertaking due diligence; overseeing transactions and coordinating with our client and the other party to the transaction to ensure everything runs smoothly; legal research; and advice work. At MinterEllison junior lawyers in areas such as banking and finance and mergers and acquisitions play an active role in overseeing and coordinating transactions, with the senior lawyers on the transaction negotiating terms, making calls on legal issues and providing the strategic thinking around the deal. 

Can you describe a typical work day? What was the last thing you worked on?

A typical work day would entail a cup of coffee with some colleagues in the morning, drafting documents and attending meetings through to lunch time, gym for an hour or lunch with colleagues and then back to the office to continue what I was working on earlier in the day. 

Each day is different though; some days you might be at the desk all day working through a loan agreement and other days you might find yourself running up Collins Street with an archive box full of documents, trying to catch a company director before they jump on a plane.

What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here? 

One great thing about areas like banking and finance, mergers and acquisitions and construction is that they are not (entirely) jurisdiction specific. This means that they are great areas for lawyers who are looking to spend time working overseas. 

Other prospects include remaining at the firm and climbing the ranks, looking for lateral recruitment opportunities at other firms, moving to a role as in-house counsel (including at one of the banks), moving into another industry such as general finance or investment banking, or even going to the bar to pursue a career as a barrister specialising in banking and finance law. 

Could someone with a different background do your job?

There is no doubt that someone with a different background could do my job. I think that the only prerequisite would be a law degree. Otherwise, like any job, it just takes a little time and patience to acquire the commercial/industry know-how and learn new skills.

What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now? 

I am not entirely sure. If I hadn't undertaken a law degree I would have probably used my undergraduate degree in business management to pursue a career in management at a consulting firm or in-house.

What do you love most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most? 

The best thing about working in banking and finance at a large law firm is how varied the work can be and how different each day is from the next. I also think that the opportunity to work with subject-matter experts across so many different areas of the firm is a great part of my job. 

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?

Perhaps the biggest limitation of my job is that, because there is so much to know and often a lot of money at stake, it takes a long time to develop the expertise to start running your own matters. However, this is also a massive highlight of my job, because you get to spend so much time being mentored by people with expertise!

You do bear quite a lot of responsibility in terms of overseeing and coordinating a transaction. However, the senior lawyers in the team have all been in the same position at some point and are always available to provide support and guidance when things are getting a little full on. 

As for weekends and stress levels, I think in general this is up to the individual – there is certainly no requirement to be giving up your weekends. I think that as long as you are on top of your deadlines and give yourself plenty of time, then you can more or less set you working week and keep stress levels low. However, if a deal is about to close and last minute things come up, then it is likely that you might find yourself eating dinner at work, but this is the exception not the rule. 

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?

  • The first thing I would say is that provided you are genuinely interested in what you are studying, don't stress out about getting the 'right' vacation positions at the 'right' firms. If you like what you are doing, you will ultimately be able to end up finding a position. It might not be immediately at the end of your studies, but it will happen and you will no doubt look back and say something like 'Wow, I caused myself a significant amount of stress over nothing'. 
  • The second thing would be to do things that are going to improve your chances of getting a position early on. For example, join committees and social groups and try to meet people in the industry; get as much work experience as possible (ideally in the area where you want to ultimately end up); if you can get some writing published that is a massive advantage; and otherwise, try and start developing your skills in a particular area (yes, even at university). In relation to this last point, I think it goes a long way in an interview to be able to speak to a particular issue with a level of understanding, not least because it shows a genuine interest. 
  • Finally, stay close with your peer group at university. They will be going through similar experiences as you during the vacation clerk process and ultimately the graduate recruiting process (yes, even the ones who you thought had nothing to worry about and would get the best jobs). These are also the people who you will be working with throughout your career, and it is always nice to come across a friendly face.