60 second interview: Mark Rawlinson
7 April 2009
Freshfields’ graduate recruitment partner talks about his love of the outdoors, his worst job as as trainee solicitor and how his firm is placed to weather the economic storm
Practice area: Head of London Corporate Department
University: Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
When did you join Freshfields and were you a trainee at the firm? I joined Freshfields in March 1982 as what was then described as an articled clerk.
How long have you been a partner for? Nearly 19 years.
Why did you decide to become a lawyer? Initially so I could spend another year at Cambridge – I changed course from History. Certainly not for the money – I started on £3,450 per annum plus luncheon vouchers.
What was your worst job as a trainee? Being despatched on “a mission of the utmost importance and discretion” by one of the senior partners (John Nowell-Smith) and then discovering that I was retrieving his umbrella from Annabel’s nightclub.
How has the legal profession changed since you were a trainee? It’s more a business these days than a profession, clients expect more than technical lawyering and with the growth of the legal press, individual partners have much more profile.
What do you look for in an ideal candidate? Has all the bits – bright, driven, commercial, robust, sense of humour, focus, eye for detail, faster than a speeding bullet, leaps tall buildings … and, most importantly, an ability to empathise and see things through client eyes.
What top tip would you give to students who want to train as commercial lawyers? Make sure that any person that you share your life with is supportive of what you are trying to achieve and only gives you stick for not being there at the end of the deal (when you can cope with it) rather than in the middle (when you can’t).
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the legal sector? How to re-adjust their business model to take account of the “economic reset” that is following the credit crunch. Issues will include more value billing and fixed fees, lower gearing with segmentation and outsourcing and fundamental questions about the current recruitment and retention dynamic.
Describe your firm¹s USP in a single sentence. Clever people-people rather than clever techie-people.
What measures has your firm taken to cope with the recession? Do you think your firm is well-placed to survive the downturn? To be the first major firm to implement a salary freeze which has attracted a good deal of publicity. Clients have responded well to this initiative and associates and trainees prefer it to large redundancies. Comparatively, I think we are really well placed to survive the downturn. We implemented a major restructuring during good times and are in good shape to weather this storm.
How long do you think the recession will last? For the whole of 2009 for sure, and a 50 per cent chance of 2010 as well. Recessions generated by financial crises tend to last longer.
Where do you see the legal profession in five year’s time? Hopefully not in a recession. However, it will be much changed – suspect that the next five years will see more dramatic changes than my 19 years as a lawyer so far.
What’s the biggest mistake someone has made during a job interview? Getting lost on the way back from the toilets.
Do you take your Blackberry on holiday (be honest)? Yes always, though I discovered that it does not work in Gambia!
Who is your legal role model? I have tried to develop my own style whilst including traits that I admire in others – for example, Anthony Salz’s empathy with his clients and Charles ap Simon’s methodical approach.
What do you do to relax? At weekends I am usually on a boundary or touchline watching one of my three sons play sport. I used to play lots of rugby and cricket but these days it is mainly gym, running and mountain trekking. In the last couple of years I have taken up golf, which is bad news for those who like their golf courses in pristine condition.
What is CD are you currently listening to? Adele.
Who is your favourite author? I love reading books about climbing – probably have read more Joe Simpson than anyone else (“Touching the Void” is his best known). Heinrich Harrer’s “The White Spider” is one of my favourites, which chronicles various attempts to climb the north face of the Eiger.
Where did you go for your last holiday? St Anton.