What's your name and job title?
Matt Persico. Corporate lawyer in Thomson Geer's Melbourne office.
What did you study? When did you graduate?
Between 2009 and the end of 2014, I completed a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Arts double degree at Monash University. I graduated in May 2015.
Where did you grow up? Tell us about some important stages of your life.
I grew up pretty close to Monash's Clayton campus and completed high school at Mazenod College in 2008. At university, I studied law on exchange at Utrecht University, Netherlands in 2012–13 (tied in with a pretty extensive European backpacking adventure). During the first few years of university I worked as an integration aide, events manager and sports coach at my high school, working anywhere between 25–50 hours a week. In 2015 and 2016 I also worked as an operations manager at a company which runs events globally for business professionals – mainly conferences, competitions and training courses. This was an awesome experience; I was fortunate to travel all around the world running events during those two years.
How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?
I did a clerkship with Thomson Geer in January and February 2015, and commenced at the firm as a law graduate in March 2016. After completing my 12-month supervised legal training with Thomson Geer over the course of three rotations, I settled in the Corporate/M&A team (my first choice) and was admitted as a lawyer in May 2017.
How did you choose your specialisation?
Initially I had decided I wouldn't pursue a career in the law as I wasn't entirely sure whether starting my career in professional services was the right decision for me. Upon further reflection and after speaking with several mentors, I decided to apply for a clerkship and not leave myself wondering ‘what if?’. My thinking was that I would benefit in the long-term from the kind of training, commercial exposure and practical experience that you can get from a large corporate law firm like Thomson Geer.
What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?
When I applied for a clerkship at Thomson Geer, there were two stages to its clerkship selection process. The first stage was attending an interview with two partners and a HR representative. In the interview I was asked questions based on my CV and invited to comment on various aspects of the CV (work-related as well as personal endeavours). There were also some standard interview questions relating to skills: ‘tell me about a time when …’. This interview is still conducted, but is now done via video instead of in person. There was – and still is – also a cocktail networking event with other candidates and several partners. I really enjoyed this part of the process; it was a great opportunity to demonstrate my soft skills in a larger forum.
Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study? What are your thoughts on work experience and developing soft skills?
You obviously need a law degree to become a lawyer. It is looked upon favourably if you have another degree, especially a technical degree. I did an arts degree and certainly felt that it enhanced my analytical skills – these come in pretty handy as a lawyer! Everyone knows how competitive the legal industry is in terms of securing employment. Work experience is important as it helps develop your personal and professional skills. While legal experience is often (quite rightly) valued, I don't think it is as crucial as previously thought. It is well known that employers view applicants more holistically now than ever before. You have to find ways to stand out from the crowd – that doesn't necessarily happen by just working in a law firm performing administrative tasks. Your experience in a non-legal workplace can be just as valuable if you are able to demonstrate certain transferable skills you have acquired and refined.
What does your employer do?
Thomson Geer is a large Australian corporate law firm; by size, one of the top 10 largest law firms in Australia.
What are your areas of responsibility?
Most of my work to date has been on private M&A transactions, for example, the sale and purchase of companies. We tend to be engaged from the start of a transaction for due diligence, through to negotiating key transaction documents, providing support to close the deal, and then attending to post-completion items for the client. In addition to M&A transactions, I am also involved in general corporate advisory work, relating to a diverse range of often complex and challenging matters.
Can you describe a typical work day?
No work day is the same of course, but this is probably especially true with our Corporate/M&A practice given the sheer diversity of our matters. Generally speaking, most days involve attending to client emails; providing advice on bespoke legal issues; negotiating the terms of an agreement; proactively managing various transaction deliverables; as well as drafting a broad range of legal documents.
What sort of person succeeds in your career?
Someone who is pragmatic and solutions-focused will do well in M&A. People who are deeply committed to being a team player and willing to work hard will always succeed. There is a steep learning curve as a junior lawyer, so to survive and thrive, you have to be hungry to immerse yourself in difficult matters. It's important to be organised and know how to manage yourself as well as others. Of course, being a good junior lawyer requires strong attention to detail; remember that the little things matter to clients.
What are the career prospects with your job?
There is no shortage of career options available for lawyers. The traditional career pathway in most law firms is well-known: start as a lawyer and work through to become a senior associate, and ultimately a partner. That aside, there are certainly many opportunities to go in-house as a lawyer via the industry route. Many lawyers also spend time in law firms before heading to the bar, into academia, or swapping law for non-legal commercial roles.
Could someone with a different background do your job?
Provided you are a qualified lawyer, then absolutely. Given the nature of the work, it's important to have an interest in business to be a corporate/M&A lawyer.
What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?
I love supporting clients during what is a most significant time for them in business and in their lives. It's always rewarding being able to attend the completion of a transaction. The adrenalin rush leading up to and often at completion (depending on the items that are still open when a deal is due to close!) is really exciting. I love the diversity in the work I do. I love that because every transaction is unique, it means you can't become complacent. You have to always challenge yourself and others to produce your best work and deliver real value to clients.
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?
There's never enough time in a day to complete everything you want to do – classic Type A personality problems! I do have a fair bit of responsibility and autonomy in driving a matter but it is important to embrace that. Weekend work doesn't happen often (I prefer late nights instead), but sometimes it's just the nature of the beast when in a transactional team like M&A. Later finishes at night often make it hard to schedule mid-week activities with certainty, but if you communicate well, these things can usually be accommodated by your team. Like any job, the stress levels can be high at times, but it boils down to how you handle such situations. I'm pretty pragmatic. Be adaptable, open-minded and ready to move when unexpected things come your way.
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?