Name: Michael Chissick
Position: Managing partner
Trained at: Herbert Smith
In the Hot 100 for: The transformation of Fieldfisher. Read his full Hot 100 profile.
What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?
The City in the 1980s was incredibly exciting. Thatcher’s ‘big bang’ had deregulated the financial markets and there was an influx of overseas (largely American) banks. It really was the era of shoulder pads and double breasted suits (for both men and women!). It was also pre-email with most documents initially hand written before being given to a secretary or word processor operator to type.
As a trainee, my work was not a priority and so I used Bounty bars as a bribe if I needed anything urgently processing as this was before fee earners had PCs. At 12.30pm I had to ask my training partner what sandwich filling he wanted and I would then have to queue outside one of the few outlets that then existed along with other junior professionals who usually appeared to be running the same errand.
Who has been the most influential person in your career? Why, and how have they helped you?
Moira Gilmour. Moira became managing partner of Fieldfisher in 2006. A woman running a law firm was fairly unusual only 12 years ago and so she was one of a number of important trailblazers who I believe helped to encourage much more diversity across the profession. She taught me the importance of being ambitious for yourself and for the firm you work for as well as qualities such as loyalty and honesty and why it’s essential to have a clear vision.
What was the best career decision you ever made, and why?
In the early 1990s I alighted upon something called ‘computer law’. I can’t claim to have had any strong conviction that it was the future; it just struck me as being something a little bit different.
My decision to focus on it, however, meant that I became one of the earlier legal tech experts and was able to ride the dot.com bubble (and subsequent crash of course), the growth of ecommerce and the digital revolution.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?
To be yourself is probably a cliché but pretending to be somebody or something you are not usually, I believe, ends badly. Having a diversity of skills and talent is incredibly important because we all bring something different to the firm. Not every good lawyer is necessarily a good manager. You need to get your team behind an agreed strategy and objectives. This entails taking risks and planning for the long term and so diplomacy, pragmatism and optimism are pretty key.
What work or career-related project or activity would you really like to do, but don’t have time for?
We are fortunate in the UK to live in a society where diversity is increasingly appreciated and even embraced. In many countries outside of Europe, LGBT communities are often marginalised or don’t have any legal rights at all because of their sexuality. I would very much like to use the legal systems in African countries to repeal anti-gay laws and, from the UK, to lobby our own government to make DfiD funding conditional on their pursuit of true gender and LGBT equality.