If private practice is not for you and policing the City and public interest issues are more your thing, life as a regulator could be the answer.
Embarking on a legal career that involves climbing the greasy pole to partnership at a big City firm does not appeal to every law graduate.
In fact, many young lawyers opt against private practice and instead decide to develop their careers with a regulator.
Regulators, such as the Financial Services Authority (FSA), the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) or Ofcom are there to preserve order, encourage a competitive market and enforce industry regulations.
Lawyers within regulators have a variety of roles, including advising on the organisation’s statutory responsibilities, conducting marketwide investigations and even sometimes drafting new laws.
While most regulators have a mix of junior and senior lawyers, not all offer training contracts. Both the OFT and Ofcom require their lawyers to have at least two years’ post-qualification experience (PQE) before joining.
Now, the FSA has launched its first dedicated legal training programme in a bid to attract young lawyers who will remain at the regulator for the long term. The City watchdog is set to accept its first intake of trainees in September, with the aim of offering two training contracts per year.
As part of the new scheme, trainees spend a year in the general counsel’s division, six months working in the enforcement division and a further six months on an external secondment to a City law firm.
The graduate salary starts at £27,500, with a sign-on bonus and flexible benefits package. The FSA is also offering a maintenance grant of £6,000 per year to students.
Of course, graduate positions at the FSA are highly sought-after. In its first year, the FSA received more than 100 applications for each job.
But do not let the competition scare you off. Working within a regulator can be a very rewarding and satisfying career.
Lawyer 2B has interviewed three young lawyers – Ed Hyde of the FSA, Katerina Soteri of the OFT and Stephen Smith of Ofcom – about their experiences of working within a regulator.
Regulator: Financial Services Authority
Lawyer: Ed Hyde
Qualification: Two years’ PQE
Reports to: head of general counsel division Andrew Whittaker
Ed Hyde has built his entire legal career at the FSA.
Now a solicitor in the general counsel’s division, Hyde joined the financial services regulator in 2001 after completing his university degree.
With more than 100 lawyers at the authority, Hyde is one of at least 20 junior lawyers (under three years’ PQE).
Hyde took part in the FSA’s old general training programme before becoming a qualified solicitor.
As a student trying to decide what he wanted to do with his degree, he knew he did not want to work in a private practice, where his primary responsibilities would be to represent the interests of business clients.
“I wanted my work to have a public interest aspect to it, and I found that at the FSA,” says Hyde. “I didn’t want to be at a law firm where I had to be totally responsive to client demands. The FSA has a completely different perspective. We have to take into account issues affecting businesses, individuals and other interested parties.”
As a trainee, Hyde was involved with everything from advising on FSA policy to contentious law. He also completed a six-month stint with City firm Simmons & Simmons.
“Trainees typically spend time in both the general counsel’s division and the enforcement division and then a further six months on an external secondment to a City law firm,” he says.
Through his role in the general counsel’s division, Hyde provides legal advice and support to the authority to ensure that it meets its responsibilities. He also advises the FSA on its functions under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 and is involved in advising on EU and international issues across the FSA.
As a solicitor at the FSA, Hyde says his work is varied and interesting. “The FSA is a unique regulator in that it not only enforces law, but we’re also able to write law as well,” he says.
Being a lawyer at the FSA also has its challenges. “European law is very complex,” he says. “When we’re drafting laws, they often have an international focus and that can be tricky.”
Regulator: Office of Fair Trading
Lawyer: Katerina Soteri
Qualification: Three years’ PQE
Reports to: OFT Competition Enforcement Division senior director Ali Nikpay
Katerina Soteri trained and qualified at magic circle firm Clifford Chance before joining the OFT almost four years ago.
As a competition lawyer by background, Soteri was initially attracted to the OFT because of the changing competition law landscape within the UK.
“When I joined the OFT in 2002, the UK competition law regime was going through a major period of change and I saw this as an exciting opportunity to develop my experience in competition law at the heart of enforcement,” she says.
Nearly four years after joining the OFT, Soteri is an adviser on competition law matters in the legal and policy branch of the OFT. As part of her job, she does everything from providing legal scrutiny of documents, such as merger decisions, and advising on policy issues to advising on and participating in dawn raids.
“The work across the office is very interesting and varied and you’re given a lot of responsibility, whether as an adviser or case officer,” she says. “A lot of the work is quite high profile, so it’s satisfying when you see cases reach a conclusion and have a positive impact on consumers.”
Soteri says she often liaises with the European Commission and other national competition authorities.
“I really enjoy working in an environment where the influence of the European Community case law has such a strong bearing,” she says. “It’s also very satisfying to have input in policy evolution at both European and national level in this very dynamic area of law.”
Junior lawyers at the OFT have a great deal of scope to move into different legal roles within the regulator. “You can gain a broad range of experience and progress your career within the OFT,” she says. “Alternatively, you may find it interesting to gain a few years’ experience at the OFT and then develop your career further in either the private sector or in the government legal service.”
Lawyer: Stephen Smith
Qualification: Four years’ PQE
Reports to: head of legal Polly Weitzman
Stephen Smith joined telecoms and broadcasting regulator Ofcom just eight months ago from City firm Slaughter and May.
The four year-qualified lawyer decided to complete his training at a private practice before joining Ofcom as the regulator does not offer any legal training programmes for graduates.
“Because the environment is quite complex, it doesn’t really lend itself to trainees,” he says. “We do have a mix of lawyers, ranging from junior, as in two years’ PQE-plus, to senior.”
Ofcom is a relatively new regulator, created just four years ago to take over the roles of the Radio Authority, the Independent Television Commission, the Office of Telecommunications and the Radio Communications Agency. It regulates on the range of issues previously covered by those agencies, including content and competition, but its primary remit is to protect the interests of consumers.
On a day-to-day basis, an Ofcom lawyer could be working on anything from a Competition Act investigation to looking at complaints received about Jerry Springer – The Opera or Big Brother.
With a background in competition law and having spent time in Brussels, Smith was an ideal candidate for Ofcom.
“I’ve been involved in everything from our spectrum awards programme, including spectrum auctions, which is interesting and challenging, to competition investigations,” he says. “The lawyers at Ofcom work across a range of projects and don’t stick to any one area at all. There’s no real hierarchy at all.”
Ofcom has around 20 in-house lawyers in its legal team, including three junior (under three years qualified) lawyers. It also takes secondees from private practice.
“I’m a big believer in the revolving door policy, where lawyers can move freely between private practice and regulators,” he says. “Coming to Ofcom was a refreshing change.”
Ofcom’s youth was part of the attraction for Smith, who was keen to be part of a developing regulator. And with a new regulator came new regulatory policies. “Ofcom’s quite young, which makes it a very interesting place to work,” he says. “Particularly in the policy-making area, where everything we do is new.”