Name: Rebecca Perlman
Organisation: Herbert Smith Freehills
Role: Senior associate
Trained at: Herbert Smith Freehills
Year qualified: 2014
What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?
The work I did while on secondment to the National Council for Civil Liberties was really purposeful, impactful and memorable. In particular, I remember working on the landmark case of Morgan and Black v Wilkinson. We represented the claimants, a couple who were challenging their denial of access to bed and breakfast accommodation on the basis of their sexual orientation. The day we found out we had succeeded in the Court of Appeal was unforgettable.
As if that wasn’t exciting enough, the next week I found myself working on a groundbreaking and headline-grabbing case against GCHQ and the UK government, following revelations by Edward Snowden regarding mass surveillance under the Tempora programme.
Although I qualified as a transactional lawyer, this experience in the field of human rights undoubtedly influenced my decision to specialise in ESG and impact finance.
What is the wisest thing anyone ever said to you (and who said it)?
I work in an area of law which, until very recently, was pretty niche. ESG issues used to be seen through a moral, ethical and reputational lens. As such, they were commonly viewed as being dilutive to financial value. Over the past couple of years however, we’ve seen a growing acknowledgment that these issues are not only essential from a risk management point of view, they are also often accretive. This is still a fairly recent development.
I remember talking to a partner at a client event a few years’ ago about the challenges of specialising in a niche area. He told me that it was important to remember to “stay inside the tent” when progressing new ground i.e. if you fail to bring people along, then you might find yourself “outside the tent” by the time they see the value and relevance of the field you’ve been working in or a particular idea you’ve raised. It was really good advice and has stuck with me.
Who (for better or worse) has been the most influential person in your career? Why?
There are two HSF partners in particular who have had a formative influence on me. Each of them has supported and encouraged me in different ways to take a unique path at HSF. They have challenged me when I have needed it and they have fought for me when I have needed it. This combination of support and challenge has been instrumental, motivating me to be and do my best.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?
Don’t be afraid to take a risk and do something a little different from your peers, even if that means stepping outside your comfort zone and grabbing an off-the-wall opportunity to work in a unique place or in challenging situations.
If I hadn’t gone on secondment to the Government of Sierra Leone, I might never have found the area of law about which I’m passionate. The work I was doing for the Government regarding its Ebola emergency response was incredibly rewarding and exposed me to the growing but – at the time – fairly nascent areas of ESG and impact finance. I’m really glad I took the secondment opportunity; it had a massive impact on me personally and professionally.
Taking a risk doesn’t have to be as drastic as that. It might mean spear-heading a new BD initiative or taking on a challenging pro bono matter, where junior lawyers tend to have far more client exposure and responsibility – these opportunities are a meaningful way to give back and gain valuable legal experience.
What’s your best friend from law school doing now?
He’s a novelist living in New York. Talk about taking risks…!