In conversation: Matthew Tobin, Partner at Slaughter and May

Matthew Tobin heads up Slaughter and May’s Debt Capital Markets practice. He discusses helping to stabilise UK banks during the financial crisis, the firm’s collaborative culture, and the bad old days of fax machines. 

  • Last updated Feb 11, 2018 9:24:07 AM
  • By Matthew Tobin, Partner at Slaughter and May
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Image courtesy of Slaughter and May

Although I specialise in Debt Capital Markets, I also specialise in a number of other areas too, such as acquisition finance and banking work.

Debt Capital Markets is just part of what I do, and that’s illustrative of our multi-specialist approach as a firm. When I joined the firm, I did seats in a Corporate group, a Financing group, the Competition group – including some time in Brussels – and also in the Dispute Resolution group.

In my Financing seat, I sat with a partner who did a lot of Debt Capital Markets work, and he was very much a mentor to me. I think that’s part of why I ended up doing a lot of work in that later. But there was never a moment where I just decided I would definitely specialise in that area. 

The most memorable piece of work I’ve undertaken was for HM Treasury, on their support measures around the financial crisis.

After Northern Rock had been taken into state ownership, throughout 2008 there were lots of rumours that other financial institutions were in difficulty, but the collapse of Lehman Brothers was a sort of trigger for an unprecedented period of uncertainty and activity to stabilise the UK financial system. During September and October we worked over a series of weekends involving the nationalisation of Bradford & Bingley, the Icelandic banks, and recapitalising the UK banks, and providing further support to RBS and Lloyds.

I remember a one-off partners’ meeting which took place on a Sunday, where more and more people had to get up and leave the room because so many of us were working for the Treasury. It was just completely different to day-to-day transactional work, incredibly high profile and, of course, really important.  It was very much bespoke; you weren’t working from a precedent, it was totally unchartered territory. There was also huge time pressure; you didn’t have time to reflect on how important it all was.

Because our groups work across so many different areas, there’s an awful lot of collaborative working, both within and between groups.

Recently I’ve done quite a lot of acquisition financing, where, typically, our Corporate group will be involved on the mergers and acquisitions side, and our Competition group will be working on the antitrust side, and there will be involvement from others too.

That’s a part of my work that I really enjoy: there tends to be a new team for each transaction, so there’s the opportunity to work with lots of different colleagues. The quality of the lawyers within our building is something that makes us stand out and when you watch someone else operating on a deal – even now – you always learn a lot through it. 

Financing work is very international. A lot of the time, the only connection with the UK will be that both parties have chosen English law to govern their relationship.

As a result of that, quite a lot of my clients aren’t UK-based, so we often work with law firms in other jurisdictions – our model is to work with the best independent law firm in any given jurisdiction.

Recently, I’ve worked with a Swiss client, on transactions in Nigeria, with Spanish clients, and have done a lot of work in Australia. So that’s interesting too: working with other lawyers who are at the top of the tree in whichever jurisdiction they’re in. 

We give trainees a lot of client contact, which I think is helpful in terms of understanding what the job is all about, and developing client skills.

They will be involved in drafting documents too – the level of responsibility increases throughout the trainee’s seat. That way, when they qualify, there isn’t too much of a step up; because they have been given steadily increasing responsibility over the course of time. 

To be successful in financing work, trainees need strong academic and analytical skills – that’s the starting point – but interpersonal skills and a genuine interest in the client’s business is fundamental.

You need the ability to empathise with clients, and showing an enthusiasm in their business is very important. Students don’t necessarily need to have spent their university days reading the Financial Times, but it is important once you start that you find the subject matter, and what the clients are doing, interesting.

Interest in law and academics is important, but you need to find the transactions stimulating in themselves.

Technology has totally changed training contracts – there’s much less photocopying now.

And much less time spent researching in the library.  We used to spend a lot of time running to the fax room too – the firm sent thousands every day – we don’t do that anymore, thankfully. But you still learn a lot by observing people, that part hasn’t changed.

All of our trainees still sit in a room with a senior lawyer, still learning through observation – the best trainees are those who ask lots of questions.

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