The Counsel

by Dr. Shahid Jamil
Associate, Michelmores LLP, UK
" Pakistani experience has given me a sense of the entrepreneur that isn't bound by precedent or by market convention...."

The legal practice in a large London firm is starkly different from that of Pakistan. While practicing in Pakistan I was more of a "general practitioner" with the concept that specialisations were split between criminal and civil practices and corporate law was the "chamber practice" that many law firms engaged in addition to their civil litigation practice. With notable exceptions, most firms in Pakistan organise themselves in the same manner. Lawyers are generally ready to take on any case or matter that comes their way, ranging from family and property disputes to e-commerce or commercial matters. Counsel's general aim with each client being to meet their needs on any issue, regardless of whether it be on topics as different as tax or human resource; thus becoming a trusted advisor for their clients.

In contrast, the scale and sophistication that is offered by the London market forces lawyers to specialise in every aspect of legal work. Clients themselves are highly specialised and so lawyers are forced to also be equally specialised. And specialisations abound, with, for example, derivatives lawyers, general banking lawyers and project finance lawyers all inhabiting the same "finance" space but fulfilling completely different roles and dealing with radically different people working at the same client. The same is true for litigation (though not to the same level of differentiation).

The demands of each area of practice are such and the number of deals that are executed so voluminous that most areas of practice have standard industry-accepted templates in place. The job of a London lawyer is largely to understand the mechanics of these standardised templates and to negotiate around the standard clauses to fit their client's needs. Accordingly, there is less room for bespoke drafting, but where bespoke drafting takes place, it is so extremely heavily negotiated that your final agreed clause looks nothing like your first draft! The challenge lies in really understanding these large contracts that typically stretch over 100 pages at a time and to understand how each of these related documents (eg. board minutes, shareholders resolutions, directors certificates, security documents, etc) interact with one another and make sure that they all marry up accurately.

Deal team: Another level on which my London practice in a large firm has varied from my Pakistani practice is in the number of lawyers involved in a deal. Large law firms typically have at least 4/5 lawyers on any given large deal; and in addition will have several lawyers engaged to assist them outside of England. If a deal involves a large multinational company that has subsidiaries in many different countries, the deal team in London will typically spend a lot of time supervising and assisting each of the lawyers in each of these countries. So the London lawyer will not only have to negotiate and agree documents governed by English law with the other side's lawyers, but will also have to get involved in the negotiations that take place across all the other jurisdictions involved in the deal as well.

In my experience as a leveraged finance lawyer, both the borrowers and lenders have lawyers in each jurisdiction that comment on the main loan facility agreement and then draft and negotiate all security documents, corporate authorisation documents and any perfection documents as well. Invariably this means that any one deal can incur considerable legal fees and employ large armies of lawyers.

Personal challenges: The scale of things is what initially overwhelms a person walking into a large London law firm for the first time; offices that house over 2000 people; a huge cafeteria; armies of secretaries; and a print room that can churn out any number of documents at any time of the day. However, for me, the real challenges lay in the significant learning curve that I had to climb and the level of detail and complexity that accompanied each stage of that curve. Senior lawyers were able to read 100 page agreements in a few hours and make comments on minute details (ranging from big commercial points to missing commas and full stops). The level of detailed accuracy that I had to display in order to get up to speed in a short space of time stretched and honed my abilities greatly. Having gone through those experiences, it took me about a year to really feel comfortable with the scale of the documents involved and to perform at the same level of detail and sophistication as the other lawyers in my peer group.

But there is a different type of experience also available in the London market. My current law firm, Michelmores, is a smaller firm with a niche restructuring and insolvency practice. And being in such a niche practice allows me the flexibility to do not only restructuring and insolvency work but some commercial litigation and arbitration work as well. To a large extent I now feel equally as entrepreneurial as I did in Pakistan and feel closer to my clients in terms of being viewed as a trusted advisor.

Is the grass greener? That is a recurring question that a lot of my Pakistani lawyer friends keep asking. Some have an itch to find out just exactly what it would feel like to work for a firm abroad. Some have been there, done that and are underwhelmed by the experience.

I personally feel that being in a large practice has allowed me to gain some excellent training and enabled me to understand how large multinationals organise themselves and all the complexity that that entails. However, due to the scale of things, any change usually occurs on an incremental basis and so the ability of a lawyer to add value is usually on a marginal basis.

Alternatively, my Pakistani experience has given me a sense of the entrepreneur that isn't bound by precedent or by market convention; who can define his own role within a market and take that forward. When changes and reforms occur in Pakistan, it is usually in a dramatic and sweeping way where, if properly positioned, a lawyer has the ability to add value in a significant manner.

At the end of the day, it is between those two views where the choice lies.

Shahid Jamil worked at Jamil and Jamil, Barristers-at-law in Karachi before working in the Banking and Finance Department of the London office of Linklaters LLP. He currently works in the Restructuring and Insolvency Department of the London office of Michelmores LLP. Comments may be directed to