Sacker & Partners - Sophia Russell - Associate

26th July 2023

Sophia Russell

Company: Sacker & Partners LLP
Job Title: Associate
Job Location: London
University: Newnham College, University of Cambridge 
University Course: Theology and Religious Studies (MA)


Why did you choose this profession?

It always seems a bit pretentious when people say they “fell” into a particular sector, so I’m not going to say that. However, I certainly didn’t expect to become a pensions lawyer when I first started my training contract!

I knew I wanted to be a solicitor from my early teens as, in truth, I have always been a bit of a nerd and liked the idea of being able to carry out technical research as part of my job. Pensions is certainly a more technical area of law than most, which is one of the reasons why I decided it was the one for me.

I also liked the idea of working collaboratively with others to come up with creative and pragmatic solutions to legal issues. This is why pensions law in particular is so interesting; it is constantly evolving and often requires thinking outside the box.

What attracted you to your role?
The department in which I qualified at my previous firm provided advice on pensions, employment and incentives. However, it soon became clear that pensions was my favourite area of the three and when I heard of an opening at Sackers, I couldn’t help but throw my hat in the ring. Sackers has a fantastic reputation as being not only the UK’s leading specialist commercial law firm for pensions, but also a really lovely place to work (and I promise I have not been told to say this). 

I was also aware that the role would involve a lot of trustee advisory work. This appealed to me as I liked the idea of having clients who come to you with anything and everything, as it keeps the job interesting.

What was the application process like?
The application process was very thorough, but not overly stressful, and I felt valued as a person (rather than just a candidate) throughout. I was initially nervous about considering changing jobs, so the first stage was an informal chat with two partners to give me a better feel for the firm. This fully convinced me to go through to the next stage of the process, which was a technical interview with two different partners to assess my legal knowledge. Following the technical interview, I had around a week to complete a written exercise, the purpose of which was to further assess my ability as a lawyer and my written communication skills. The final stage was a lovely, casual catch up with a couple of associates over a drink.

From start to finish, the process took around a month. Sackers were very considerate of the fact that I had to fit the written exercise and interviews around my job, and so I had a good amount of time for preparation at each stage.

Is it a 9-5 job?
I don’t think being a lawyer is ever a 9-5 job! However, being a pensions lawyer is relatively unique in that the flow of work is generally pretty steady; you don’t often experience the same significant peaks and troughs that corporate lawyers can face, for example. The hours are therefore very reasonable, and it helps that the work is incredibly interesting and varied.

What skills are useful in this profession?
Being prepared for anything and everything! You can be looking into a query regarding whether someone is entitled to a discretionary death benefit one moment, and be looking at a benefit specification for a buy-in transaction the next. However, all the work requires a keen eye for detail, good time management, great interpersonal skills and – above all – enthusiasm (if that can be counted as a skill).

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to enter the profession?
I think my key piece of advice is not to put pressure on yourself to rush through the process of qualifying as a solicitor. I considered studying Law at university, but I also loved Religious Studies at school (despite not being religious) and wasn’t quite ready to give it up. As a result, I chose to read that at university first and go down the conversion route. It also took me a few years to secure a training contract. Law is a very difficult area to get into, so don’t be disheartened if it takes a few tries before you are given an opportunity to enter the profession. 

In terms of deciding which area of law to choose – try to get experience in as many practice areas as possible! There are plenty of pensions lawyers who started their careers thinking that they would be a litigator or a corporate lawyer, but if they hadn’t trained with an open mind they wouldn’t have discovered how interesting pensions law can be.  

As to specifically becoming a pensions lawyer: try to make connections with as many people in the industry as you can. It really takes a village to keep a pension scheme going, and understanding the roles of other advisers gives you a much greater breadth of understanding of a scheme as a whole.

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