Name: Sean Upson
Trained at: Baker & McKenzie
In Hot 100 for: Leading on Stewarts’ big-ticket litigation. Read his full Hot 100 entry.
What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?
As a trainee I was in a team dealing with the Hoover free flights dispute (Hoover offered a free flight to anyone who purchased its products but was then inundated with applications for flights which cost more than the product).
It was my first experience of a complex matter and it opened my eyes to the essence of being a litigator: learning about the client business, people involved and commercial objectives and then applying the law to that matrix.
Who has been the most influential person in your career? Why, and how have they helped you?
A lot of people have helped and guided me at every level but I think the people who help you at the earliest, formative stages of a career have the most influence. In my case that would be Ian Pratt at RJR Solicitors. Ian gave me my first law-firm job in about 1990 and that job started my career path.
Ian was also a role model, showed how a lawyer should bring absolute integrity to the job and he has stayed in touch with friendship and advice ever since.
What was the best career decision you ever made, and why?
Taking the plunge and setting up a firm with two colleagues. It was a real leap of faith to see whether, in 2004, a litigation boutique could succeed. In fact the business took off, we were quickly instructed on high-profile financial disputes (for example with Bear Stearns and for Samsung) and the profile of that firm made it a perfect fit with the commercial litigation practice at Stewarts (which we merged into in 2010). I see the decision in 2004 as a key point in my career.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?
Seek out opportunities which ’round-out’ your CV; for instance overseas work, an internship, a secondment or working in a legal practice which is doing something new or different. Our job is as much about the commercial realities of a situation as about the law and so having a rounded CV better equips one to deal with the commercial issues; it makes one a better lawyer and standing out from the crowd obviously helps with career progression.
What work or career-related project or activity would you really like to do, but don’t have time for?
I wish I had applied to be a judicial assistant or had the time now to sit as an arbitrator. I think that having a different perspective on litigation ‘shakes things up’, suggests new and better ways of doing things and makes one a better lawyer. For example, I practised overseas from 1999 – 2000 and the approach to things like costs and mediation were ahead of anything we were then doing in England.
Similarly I was called as a witness in a case (on the issue of whether someone had mental capacity when signing a document). While my evidence was brief it gave a great insight into the process of giving evidence and helped when I was advising clients what to expect. I would therefore love to have the time and opportunity to see things from the other (tribunal’s) end of the telescope.