Name: Marwa Elborai

Organisation: Allen & Overy

Role: Partner

Based: London

Trained at: NY law qualified. I summered at and started my career at Shearman & Sterling

Year qualified: 2006

What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?

I vividly remember going to Sydney from New York for a documentary diligence trip for a leveraged buyout deal. Getting to go to Australia was highly unusual; most diligence trips for other first year associates in the New York offices were to other office buildings down the street with the occasional trip to office buildings in the wider New York area or to other US states. I even had to apply for a new credit card to be able to purchase the plane ticket as the cost of the flight exceed my credit card limit at the time.

It was February and I remember taking off in a blizzard in New York and arriving to a warm and sunny Sydney extremely jet lagged. Needless to say the other first years were very envious of my diligence trip especially after I tacked on a weekend to explore Sydney. It did not help that I also had other unusual destinations for diligence trips like Chennai and Cairo as I got staffed on a financing transaction that involved an Indian company acquiring a cement factory in Egypt. Nonetheless, I did spend my fair share of time as a first year in windowless conference rooms in Manhattan pouring over diligence documents and I can safely tell you that the conference rooms in Manhattan are very similar to conference rooms in Sydney, Cairo and Chennai.

Tell us about a sliding doors moment when your career could have gone in an entirely different direction?

During the financial crisis, my law firm at the time offered associates an opportunity to take a year off at reduced pay. Despite strong advice to the contrary including from my mentors, I decided to take that opportunity to explore other interests. That was a sliding doors moment for me personally and professionally. It allowed for critical self-reflection, after which it became clear to me that I really enjoyed practicing law but also that I needed a change from New York. I decided to move to London and I haven’t had any doubts since then that this was the right decision for me. I do not know what would have happened if I hadn’t taken that time off but I expect that I would have ended up in an entirely different direction.

There have been other junctures throughout my career where I faced a big decision. In most of these cases I did not necessarily choose the easy path or the path that others may have chosen but in each case I know that the decision I made at that moment in time was the right one for me. I have no regrets about any of the choices I made along the way because they got me to the place I am in now.

What’s the hardest question you’ve ever been asked at interview, and how did you answer?

This is actually the hardest question I have been asked in an interview. I am still thinking through my answer…

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do? 

There is no fixed formula or path to achieving what you want to achieve. My advise would be to take the time to reflect, to know and stay true to who you are as a person and to not measure your success by reference to others. Even though it may not seem that way at times, you are always in the driver seat of your own career. This may feel both empowering and frightening. It requires conscious effort to take the time to look up from your desk and assess whether all your hard work is taking you in the direction that you actually want to go, rather than just taking you for a ride.

Finally we work in extremely stressful environments with a lot at stake and it is important to constantly remind yourself that those around you are operating under the same conditions. It is therefore important to be kind to everyone you encounter on the way and to always handle yourself with integrity so that you can be proud of both your journey and destination.

Tell us about ONE former colleague who you miss, and why? 

I have had the pleasure of working with some very smart and impressive people throughout my career who also happened to be genuinely good human beings. My fondest memories are of my first year colleagues that I started with in New York including my first office mate, who is a close friend to this day. She is no longer practicing law but we shared a very strong bond adjusting to our new environment as first year associates.

More recently though, I would say some of my closest friendships at work were formed by being in the trenches together, rolling up our sleeves and working as a team to achieve the best results for our clients. Those colleagues become like comrades in arms and an unspeakable bond of friendship and mutual respect forms as a result. Those friendships will always be meaningful to me.