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From the archives: Andrew Hutchings road to partnership

In the next of our archive series, we have been reflecting on our conversation with Andrew Hutchings. Since we spoke, Andrew has been promoted to being the Head of the Transactions Group, London, at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer; getting promoted seems to be a consistent pattern for the early guests on the Lawyer’s Coach podcast!


Our reflections on the episode


In a wide-ranging conversation, Andrew threw up some fascinating insights on what it’s like to be a partner at a big City law firm and what is required to get there. Technical excellence and the ability to build strong client relationships typify the lawyers that are most likely to achieve partnership. What was warming about Andrew’s experience was that he had no grand plan to be a Magic Circle law firm partner; his secret has been to do what he enjoys and do it well, and that the rest will follow.

 

What was also clear in Andrew’s story is Freshfields is the meritocracy that Andrew claims it is. He joined from a regional firm almost with a view to testing himself to see if he could make it in a tougher environment. he found that there are opportunities for “Northern boys” with their regional accents to "make it" in the City. As Andrew says, different sorts of clients mean that different types of lawyers can succeed in the profession.

 

Life at Freshfields sounds like that of so many other firms. Collaboration is required to get clients, deliver great work, and to keep relationships going. Opportunities are there for those coming through to thrive, notwithstanding the hard graft and grueling periods that are the norm for so many transactional lawyers.

 

Perhaps the strongest message is to not be intimidated by a brand or genre of firm. Find an environment that suits you, is aligned with your values, and where you can thrive. Above all, enjoy what you are doing and who you work with; your career will fall into place.


You can listen again here, or enjoy reading the transcript below.


Transcript of the podcast


Claire Rason 

Welcome to the Lawyer’s Coach, a series of podcasts that aims to find out what makes lawyers tick. Each episode features myself, Claire Rason, and Oliver Hansard, both former lawyers and now coaches, interviewing a range of legal leaders to find out what success means and looks like in the law. Lawyer’s Coach challenges lawyers to think differently and to be inspired by their colleagues and peers. In this episode, Oliver Hansard is joined by Andrew Hutchings, who is a partner at Freshfields. He is also the co-head of their Financial Institutions group. He speaks to Oliver about his journey to partnership, what makes his job more than a title but really a way of life, and how he nurtures his client relationships. But first, he told Ollie why he became a lawyer.

 

 

Andrew 

I was at university studying economics and I did law as a second subject in my first year and found that I really enjoyed it. So I ended up doing a law degree and then went on to Chester Law School and got a training contract from there. And then once I had my training contract and got into the profession, I found that I really enjoyed doing the corporate work, which surprised me somewhat; I don't think I ever thought would be a corporate lawyer. But then here I am, 20 odd years on having done lots of it!

 

Oliver Hansard 

Where did you do your training, which law firm was it? Freshfields?

 

Andrew 

So I'm a northern boy. And when I was looking at training contracts, I was pretty focused on ending up in either Manchester or Leeds, which, the big northern legal centres. I got a training contract at Walker Morris, which is a single office commercial law firm in Leeds. I was there for my training contract and then spent the next two and a half years there before I moved down to London.

 

Oliver Hansard 

And was it what you expected when you got there?

 

Andrew 

To be honest, I'm not sure I knew what to expect. I found it pretty exciting. I guess it was the first time I'd been in that kind of working environment. I think one of the things I've always found about working in the law firm is it's pretty dynamic being in amongst a whole group of very well educated and high achieving people. I always say when I'm talking to people who are thinking about coming into the profession, and particularly doing what I do, that what I value is that no two days are the same. So I've never been bored in my professional life.

 

Oliver Hansard 

And then you moved on to Freshfields. What inspired that?

 

Andrew 

A mixture of professional and personal, I guess. I was in my mid to late 20s. At the time, and from a professional perspective, having chosen to do corporate law, I worked on some deals opposite the city firms, and found the kind of work that they were doing attractive to do. I thought I'd like to test myself on the biggest and the best stuff. And then from a personal perspective, as I mentioned earlier, I was a Northern Boy; I initially had my sights set on staying in a big northern city. But one of the things I found when I went to Law School was that I made a lot of friends who had training contracts in London and were based in London. I was keen to come and spend some time in London. When I took the job of Freshfields, I expected that I'd probably be there for two or three years and then I would take the city experience back with me somewhere up north. But that's never happened.

 

Oliver Hansard 

So those first few experiences in Freshfields, how did that Northern Boy feel up in the City in with those London lights? Was there a big difference between the ways of working and the feel of the law firm experience?

 

Andrew 

I didn't think there was an enormous difference; and it's not to say I wasn't apprehensive about it beforehand. I think before I joined, I thought the building in Fleet Street was quite intimidating. What I found pretty quickly is that within big buildings, there's lots of smaller teams that work together. And there's the same sort of collegiate spirit of working together that I'd experienced at Walker Morris. What I also found was that within the firm, I felt it was a it was a meritocracy. So it didn't matter what your background was or where you came from. If you were good at your job, then there was the opportunity to get on. Culturally I took to the firm very quickly and felt very at home there.

 

Oliver Hansard 

And you felt like you fitted in? You didn't feel like you were different to the lawyers around you?

 

Andrew 

Well, I thought probably I always had a sort of slightly state school northern chip on my shoulder. But I think that's been my issue rather than anybody else's. I suppose what I've thought over the years is that different clients, and also people certainly, but different clients attract to different types of advisor. And, you know, I like to think I'm a pretty straightforward person who gives pretty straightforward advice. And I think the clients I've attracted have sort of valued that in me. So yeah, if you can put it that way, there probably are some advantages.

 

Oliver Hansard 

And you said that you thought it might be a two or three year gig. And now you've been there, what, 15 years; you've become a partner. At what point did you think “yeah, this is for me”, and “I can make a real fist of this”. And, and you can go a lot further than maybe you thought in the early days.

 

Andrew 

It was one of those gradual things really, because I joined what two and a half years qualified, and I was very busy when I first got there. One of the things I did in my associate career at Freshfields was I did nearly a year secondment out in Paris. The firm was very good about that, because I hadn't been able to do an overseas secondment as a trainee at Walker Morris.  I said that I'd very much like to spend some time abroad. And when I got back from Paris as a Senior Associate, iI was probably about six years qualified, there was a bit of a shake out of seniors from the firm. It went from being a very large pool of possible candidates for partnership to a much smaller pool. I looked at it and thought, “well, hang on a minute the competition here is not so great and maybe I can make it here” as the next couple of years shook out. Fortunately for me, it came through.

 

Oliver Hansard 

What do you think makes a partner in one of the big City law firms?

 

Andrew 

It's a given that you need to be technically very competent in your chosen area of law. But beyond that it's a combination of things. It's being able to lead teams across transactions, and more generally; it's a thirst for winning work from clients, and having the skills to do that. And, frankly, having a good bit of stamina, because there are times when it can be a pretty challenging job to do.

 

Oliver Hansard 

So Andrew, whilst you're a partner, I'm always fascinated to know, in that role, how much lawyering do you actually do?

 

Andrew 

I reckon, probably more than you might think. So if by lawyering, you mean, like writing?

 

Oliver Hansard 

Yeah, getting your pen out in anger, as it were?

 

Andrew 

Yeah, so I think people who work for me will probably say, I do quite a lot of lawyering; probably some of the associates will say, I do too much and interfere too much! I still spend quite a lot of my time reading the documents, and making sure that they say what they should say. And I think lawyering is a lot more than the documents, though. I mean being involved in conversations that help, judgments being made on things, which are maybe commercial, maybe legal issues; lawyering that clients value. So, yes, very much I think my job is lawyering.

 

Oliver Hansard 

How much support Have you had from the business in being able to become a successful leader?

 

Andrew 

In addition to the on the job training, if you like, I have had a couple of spells of third party coaching along the way, which have helped me identify some of the things that might have been holding me back in certain situations and enabled me to be a better contributor.

 

Oliver Hansard 

Is that quite commonplace in Freshfields, the use of coaching?

 

Andrew 

Yeah, I think it is. It tends to be a bit ad hoc. So it tends to happen at different points in different people's careers. I know a number of my partner colleagues who've worked with coaches at various stages. Indeed, a number of our associates have done that too. I found it to be a good thing because you're in a safe environment when you're talking to somebody and you can be very open about your issues and experiences in a way that maybe you'd feel less comfortable talking to your peers within the business.

 

Oliver Hansard 

You also mentioned getting work as a requirement for being a partner. I imagine before you were made up, you had to do a business case, and demonstrate your ability with clients, not just on the technical side, but on a relationship and business development side. So the winning of work, therefore is also an important measure for a partner?

 

Andrew 

Yes, and probably increasingly so I think. It's always been important to have those skills, but I think it's a skill that law firms, not just Freshfields, probably look at more and more. It's an ever more competitive market for the very, very best work. And it's not just about winning work, it's also about once you have client relationships, nurturing them and developing those relationships. Sometimes the more glamorous bit is to go off and win the new client; but actually, in many ways, the most powerful thing is looking after a client over a number of years and maintaining that relationship and growing it where you can.

 

Oliver Hansard 

So what makes a good client relationship?

 

Andrew 

First and foremost, it's about communication and trust; understanding the requirements of the client, how they like things done, the way that they like to operate, understanding their business – these are all important ingredients. In a client relationship, approaching every job like it's the most important job you've ever done for them is an important test.

 

Oliver Hansard 

You must have multiple clients who will all be material to the business. One assumes that it's an enormous task to understand enough about each of your individual clients’ requirements and contexts and deliver great service as well. How do you balance all those all those demands?

 

Andrew 

It can be challenging, but we're lucky in the sense that we've got a lot of internal resources to support us. So we have great teams who help us with client relationship management; we have great associates who see it as part of their job to be part of that. And, as I was mentioning earlier, a lot of it is team work; the best relationships don't rely on a single partner running them, they rely on a group of partners running them. And so if you divide up those needs, then then it becomes a lot more a lot more manageable.

 

And actually when you work with clients, you learn a lot about them. So doing the fee earning work is often the best way to get to know them, and to nurture them. But to your point, as a perfectionist, which pretty much all lawyers are, there's always more you can know, and more you could do. And so one of the challenges is trying to work out how to spend the hours that you do have effectively across your clients.

 

Oliver Hansard 

You mentioned that it's the whole team's responsibility; the relationship is for the whole team to develop. So you would encourage associates to have their relationships within clients in a similar way that the partners? Would it be early on in your career that you would be expected to start building those relationships?

 

Andrew 

From the firm's perspective, absolutely. Clients obviously have people are at different levels in their organizations. And I think it's fantastic when there's interaction at different levels. So not just that partner - general counsel level, but there's interaction across the teams at all levels. I also think that for the associates, given what we were saying earlier about the need to have the development skills as a partner, they don't just arrive overnight, there's something that you learned over a number of years. So an ambitious junior associate should be looking to develop their client relationship skills from a very early stage and take that bit of their job just as seriously as doing the work.

 

Oliver Hansard 

You mentioned being robust and having stamina. How hard work is it being a partner in a big law firm?

 

Andrew 

There are times when it can feel relentless, particularly in a transactional practice, which I have. I'd be lying if I said there weren't times when you wished you were doing something else. But I can honestly say that the vast majority of the time I feel very privileged to have the job I have; in fact, it's not so much a job, it's more of a way of life.

 

Oliver Hansard 

Do you think the business gives not just the partners but all the fee earners enough support in a pretty gruelling at times environment?

 

Andrew 

I think that's something that's probably changed during the course of my career. The systems and the pastoral side of looking after people has improved enormously. There is a lot of focus on ensuring that there is that structure and support. That's not to say that it's not challenging for people at different stages in their career. It is the responsibility of partners and others in law firms to make sure that those that need picking up and need help get it.

 

Oliver Hansard 

So there's help on offer. Are there also different career paths on offer? So that it's not just partnership or, or failure? How good is Freshfields in finding the right roles for different individuals?

 

Andrew 

I would never present it as partnership or failure. It's absolutely the case that a small number of people make partnership, but it's probably also quite a small number of people who actually want partnership. We have many of our alumni in absolutely fantastic positions, either in other the law firms, but more commonly working as lawyers at clients.  We try to develop people and help them build their careers in a way that equips them either to have a long term career at Freshfields or to have a fantastic career away from Freshfields. I always like to think that no year at Freshfields is a wasted year and it betters everybody.

 

Oliver Hansard 

What sort of impact do you think the Coronavirus pandemic is going to have on the legal industry and Freshfields in particular?

 

Andrew 

I can certainly say that we've all got better at using technology! When we left the building in March, I think I'd had a Skype camera on my desk for about four years and never turned it on. And within a week, we were all experts at using teams and zoom and, and so I think in many ways, one of the positive things is that we are going to modernize the way that we interact with each other. The fact that all the communication is tending to happen through video calls has meant that it's actually shrunk the world rather than make it seem a bigger place in the sense that I can have the same quality of communication with a colleague in New York or in Hong Kong as I can with somebody in London, which has, in many ways been terrific.

 

So I think there's certainly a working practices piece, obviously, our people have been pretty much 100% working from home and we're about to move into a new office on Bishopsgate, which we're really excited about. But I think we see this as a real opportunity to reset how we think about when we need to be in the office and don't need to be in the office. So we're thinking this through at the moment, but our expectation is that that people will spend more time working remotely and will have a bigger focus on agile working.

 

Oliver Hansard 

How about business development and client relationships?

 

Andrew 

Some of the things that you might like to be able to do like face to face meetings or social occasions have been not possible. But everybody's in the same boat at the moment and so having online coffees and discussions has actually been good. Certainly, where you've got, existing relationships, maintaining those relationships has been a, it's been a lot easier, easier to do than you would think.

 

Oliver Hansard 

I want to ask one last question about success and asking a partner in a city law firm, “do you think you've been successful in your career?” sounds like a bit of a mad question, I suppose. But as you look at where you are, have you been as successful as you maybe would have hoped?

 

Andrew 

It's a good question. I don't think I've ever really paused to think, what does success look like for me.  I've been enjoying the different twists and turns in my career, both through the leadership positions I was describing earlier, on through the client work have done, that has meant that I haven't really felt the need to worry about whether I'm being successful or not, because I've been enjoying what I'm doing.

 

I suppose if I if I objectively stand back then, yes, I think I've had a very successful career and a very interesting career. If I do look forward, I think there's lots more that I can still achieve.  There's more I can contribute in terms of the leadership of the firm. There are lots of different ways in which that can come about, but I certainly enjoy that aspect of my role. And from a from a client perspective, I've been very fortunate this last year or so to having been working on one of the biggest deals in the market, and I feel like I'm at the stage of my career where I've got the opportunity to work on a few more of those. In many ways they're career defining type of transactions.

 

So I think the combination of those things mean that I could have a very enjoyable further few years as a partner in a law firm. I still think it's quite an interesting dynamic for partners of my sort of age at law firms because, typically, we don't work as partners to a very old age. So, hopefully there's another phase to my career at some point beyond Freshfields, and that will be something that I'll be wanting to turn my mind to over the coming few years.

 

Oliver Hansard 

Look, Andrew, it's been absolutely fascinating talking to you. Thanks ever so much for your really valuable time. And I really appreciate you coming on the Lawyer’s Coach podcast.

 

Andrew 

You're very welcome. And it's been a pleasure to talk to you.

 

Claire Rason 

So that was Oliver Hansard talking to Andrew Hutchins of Freshfields.  Oliver, that was a really interesting conversation. What I particularly enjoyed was how he's almost fallen upon partnership. He's enjoyed  and he really does seem to be enjoying what he's doing.

 

Oliver Hansard 

I think that's right, I think there's a real passion there, not only for the business, but for the pathway that he's taken into partnership. And also, he just is so committed to his clients, and to have that over that length of time in a law firm is really admirable.

 

Claire Rason 

And what's interesting is that when you asked him about does he feel successful, he actually said he hadn't really paused to think about it. And that really struck me because I think sometimes people are searching for that kind of holy grail of success. But, you know, perhaps that isn't the way to get there.

 

Oliver Hansard 

Maybe that's true, maybe it's not to plan it out, but to enjoy the ride and, and see where you end up. And, and maybe it's all those small decisions he's made on the way through that have been almost confirmed by enjoying the work that have gone him where he's got to today.

 

Claire Rason 

And particularly, because when he set out, he wasn't setting out to conquer Freshfields. He expected to be there for a few years, and then, in his words, take His City experience up North. So, maybe a lesson for us all there.

 

Oliver Hansard 

I think that's right, I think fair play to him and also, fair play to Freshfields, where they create that environment where one can succeed without it being a grand plan. One succeeds because you actually enjoy the environment, you enjoy your colleagues, and in particular, you enjoy the work with with clients. So, yeah, I thought that was a really interesting model. And in some ways both quite traditional but also quite heartening that you can succeed in that really straightforward manner.

 

Claire Rason 

Oliver, thank you for interviewing Andrew and thank you for listening to this episode of the Lawyers Coach podcast.









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