2nd August 2023
Company: Sacker & Partners LLP
Job Title: Associate
Job Location: London
University: Newcastle University
University Course: Law (LLB)
Why did you choose this profession?
Ever since I first picked up a pen/crayon I’ve wanted to be a pensions lawyer. In fact, my first words, so I am told, were “Cash Equivalent Transfer Value”
Whilst the above is not strictly true, it is the case that I wanted to be a lawyer from a young age (and yes, I am fun at parties).
On reflection, what initially attracted me to the legal profession is the challenging, analytical nature of the work involved, and doing something that really ‘makes a difference’. As I’ve built up more experience I can safely say that is still true, but what I’ve found is equally important is the personal/ collaborative aspects of the role too.
I am lucky enough to have experienced a number of different sectors in my time as a legal professional and whilst there are arguments that many of those could satisfy the above, I would respectfully say none quite ticked all those boxes quite like pensions law.
It is technical, which is no real secret, with fast evolving black letter law, and regulatory and industry specific guidance to keep up with. You get to work with and build relationships with a broad range of clients and other professionals such investment managers, officials from various regulatory bodies, actuaries, accountants, and so on (it takes many people/skill sets to run a successful pension scheme!). And in terms of impact it affects (almost) literally everyone, so is important both on an individual level, and in the macro sense.
Take my word for it, it is an exciting space to be in!
How did you get your job at Sackers?
I was lucky enough to have trained as a lawyer in the Government Legal Department, which as I allude to above allowed me to experience a range of sectors.
I qualified into the employment team, with a particular focus on TUPE transfers (for the uninitiated, keeping it brief, the transfer of employees from one organisation to another). It was in this role that I got my first incidental exposure to pensions law, as on such transfers there are complex pensions issues to tackle, especially in the public sector (for reasons, you’ll be pleased to know, are outside the scope of this Q&A).
Whilst this was just a dip of the toe into pensions law, I enjoyed it immensely for the reasons given above. I knew it was a sector that was right for me, an opportunity came up in Sackers, and the rest is history.
What was the application process for Sackers like?
The application process for Sackers achieved that somewhat rare convergence of thoroughness and technicality, whilst also being friendly and good natured.
In terms of stages there was: a ‘get to know you’ partner interview where you get the chance to talk about your background and motivations for wanting to join; a ‘technical interview’ followed by a written exercise where you get the ability to demonstrate your ability as a lawyer; and finally a chance to meet a couple of associates who are happy to answer any questions about the firm to see if it’s the right fit for you.
The above might sound daunting, but that could not be further from the truth (and I’m not just saying that because I work here now!). Whilst there was, of course, an assessment of one’s capability as a lawyer, there was a clear understanding that the job is far more than that. The process focused not just on assessing your abilities and motivations, but getting to know you as a person, not just a piece of paper.
What are your main roles?
Sackers, being the biggest pensions law firm in the UK have a huge range of expertise right across the pensions sphere. As a junior associate, you are actively encouraged to get involved in anything and everything, which is great professionally but does make narrowing down one’s main duties/ tasks challenging.
Suffice it to say I advise on a range of matters, from such ‘ad hoc’ tasks as reviewing contractual agreements, member queries, scheme governance, amending scheme documents, and so on, up to working on long running multi-million pound risk transfer projects.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to enter the profession?
I assume if you are reading this you are interested in the legal profession and are about to/have already started applying for roles. Without wishing to finish on a sombre note, for those seeking to become a solicitor, I know only too well how difficult and disheartening the training contract hunt can be, which has unfortunately only got more competitive in recent years. All I can say is, keep your chin up and keep plugging away. Indeed, if a firm turns down such an excellent applicant such as yourself, then they are almost certainly not the right firm for you!
I am no expert when it comes to alternative routes (there being in my time only really the classic training contract route), but I would encourage anyone seeking to enter the profession to research all their options and see what is right for them. Indeed, Sackers have just hired two lovely graduate apprentices who have joined straight from university; something I would have definitely been interested in if it were an option all those years ago when I was a fresh faced graduate.
To those interested in pensions all I can really say is, go for it. If you are a legal nerd like me who enjoys rewarding and challenging work you will not be disappointed. A seat in pensions is incredibly valuable and will allow you to judge whether it is right for you, but it is not the be all and end all (I didn’t do a seat in pensions, and here I am!)