Financial markets law
Financial markets is a breathtakingly diverse area of practice. It includes numerous sectors such as capital markets, commodity and energy trading, financial services, restructuring/insolvency, Islamic finance and related areas. The good news is that demand for financial services lawyers is increasing, and the field is quite lucrative. The bad news is that it’s extremely competitive to break into and, like a jealous mistress, it’s very demanding on your time and energy.
What kinds of people will I be dealing with?
Unlike more consumer-oriented areas of law such as personal injury law, you will likely be dealing with sophisticated clients, most of whom represent corporations rather than themselves as individuals. Clients are diverse and cross-sector. You will probably be working with staff from corporate legal departments, and while engaging in transactional work you will be working closely, and to a large extent cooperatively, with “opposing” parties.
What are the qualities of a good financial markets solicitor?
Good financial markets solicitors possess:
• The ability to distil express complex concepts in a simple and direct manner that non-lawyers can easily understand;
• A pragmatic outlook, good “business sense” and an intuitive understanding of how markets work;
• The ability to “multitask” by handling several matters at once;
• Strong negotiation and interpersonal skills;
• Attention to detail;
• Legal drafting skills;
• A flair for mathematics.
Some of these skills are more important than others, depending on which subfield you select.
What does a typical day in practice look like?
Because of the great diversity of subfields of financial markets law, it’s difficult to generalise about a typical workday. You’re likely, however, to be spending a lot of time in the office, especially during your first years of practice. Even negotiations typically take place over the phone or by email.
Nevertheless, a certain amount of face-to-face client contact is a necessity for maintaining relationships. You may attend a lot of meetings and you may be on the road a significant portion of the time as a senior lawyer. Although you can expect to work long hours, the workload is variable in many subfields.
What are the rewards of the job?
If you’re temperamentally suited to this area of practice, the rewards can be immense despite the long hours. Practitioners frequently speak of the challenge of handling complex transactions in a manner that satisfies the concerns of both sides. Much of transactional work is co-operative rather than confrontational, where everyone functions as a team working towards the same goal.
Many practitioners speak of their work as a creative challenge. In transactional work, the pace tends to be faster than in litigation and confrontational work, which can drag on for years. As a transactional lawyer, the length of your projects is likely to be measured in months or even weeks, and new projects will always be starting. Opportunities for international travel are plentiful.
How should I tailor my commercial awareness?
There’s no area of law in which commercial awareness is more important than in financial markets law. Indeed, a certain amount of commercial awareness is likely to be expected of you coming in. Some of the ways you can initiate and develop your commercial awareness include:
• Read the Financial Times or the City pages in a broadsheet newspaper every day. Don’t just skim; read critically and research any references you don’t understand.
• Early in your career you may be offered secondments to clients. You should actively seek out such assignments, because they offer an excellent opportunity to develop commercial awareness.
In more specific terms, learn as much as you can about the impact on financial markets of the UK’s exit from the EU, and the ongoing regulatory reforms that have taken place since the recession. None of this information is static – it changes from day to day.
Legal Practice Areas