Name: Sally Davies
Firm: Mayer Brown
In Hot 100 for: Becoming Mayer Brown’s first female London senior partner. Read her full Hot 100 entry.
What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?
There was a particularly hideous checking exercise of a trial bundle. There had been some photocopying errors, which meant the whole set of files (about 75 x 6 sets) had to be checked page by page. The error was found on the Friday (obviously!) and the bundles had to lodged at court on the Monday. It involved working all weekend and I was gutted as I had a major party to go to on the Saturday night.
So, with some good negotiation/bribery/promises of free booze etc I enlisted several other trainees, a junior associate and even someone from photocopying to come and help me. We all worked all day Saturday. We took the risk and went to the party then all came back on Sunday and finished the job by lunchtime. There was no security, risk police or swipe card records.
To this day my supervisor (Jim Oulton, who still is at Mayer Brown) thinks I did the whole checking exercise myself.
Who has been the most influential person in your career? Why, and how have they helped you?
There are many career influencers but the standout one has to be Michael Regan. I was his trainee for three months which I was not happy about at first. I was moved from my first seat (with a senior associate) to Michael as his trainee had failed her law school exams and “left the firm” alarmingly quickly. I was annoyed as he was almost completely mute. He is quite reserved and it takes time to win his confidence.
I assumed he thought I was an idiot.
I am quite (okay, very) chatty and this silent treatment really irked me. I managed about a week and finally told him that if he wasn’t going to talk to me, I may as well go back to my original supervisor. He looked exasperated and he still didn’t say anything but I invited myself to a meeting he had that afternoon.
Things got better after that and he introduced me to life as a litigator. He had lots of huge, high profile disputes and we had a trial while I was a trainee. I loved the drama, the team work, working with barristers and experts and learning from Michael. He is a first-class lawyer and he taught me the value of attention to detail, thinking, strategising and planning revenge (a dish best served cold) but also the value of deep client relationships and superb client service. Clients adore him.
He was determined to turn me into an intellectual (which never happened) but he has been an incredible mentor. He has helped me hugely in this new role as senior partner. He also taught me that sometimes it is better to just shut up, but he also encouraged me always to be myself, never to split infinitives, and use my naturally belligerent nature to be a tough litigator and negotiator but always be fair, decent and never arrogant.
He is also one of the funniest people I have ever met (except on a Monday, when he is a misery). He also taught me to appreciate gin, and the “perfect G&T” is one of his specialist subjects along with calculation of the SAAMCO cap, contribution claims in multi-party actions, football and cricket.
I am still trying to persuade him that I am not an idiot.
What was the best career decision you ever made, and why?
Not to go back to the property department when I was a trainee. When I started my job I had no idea there was a discipline of Construction Law. It opened a whole new world to me which is perfectly suited to my personality. I think the technical and complex engineering issues resonated with me as my Dad was an engineer, as well as the scrapping and argumentative skirmishes with the other side – which I loved. But most importantly meeting such a wide range of diverse and interesting characters.
Contractors, construction professionals and Insurers, for whom we still do a lot of work, are notoriously sociable, fun, down to earth and approachable. The work is so variable, and I really enjoy that the different challenges which arise every day, and working in a team which I love. As well as enjoying my job immensely, I have made many life-long friends.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?
That is very tricky. There is no “golden rule book” to follow. I would say, know yourself and be yourself. Follow your instincts, but also listen to advice from people that you trust. You have to be prepared to work very hard, be tenacious, a bit pushy sometimes but never arrogant or superior. I have learnt to listen. But never listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do something or can’t achieve something. It is a weakness, as well as a strength, that I cannot take “no” for an answer. If it is something you want, then go for it.
Also don’t forget to have fun and enjoy life. If you are not enjoying what you are doing, most of the time, then you need to change direction and don’t be afraid of that either. I always ask people what they think, seek advice and feedback. Ask how you can improve, do better, do things differently. I have found that hugely helpful. You need to have a sense of humour and never forget how important it is not to take yourself too seriously
What work or career-related project or activity would you really like to do, but don’t have time for?
I would like to do more pro bono work and CSR. It is so important that we use our skills to give something back and help others. It sounds trite, but it is something I am passionate about. I have some CSR initiatives with clients that I am keen to drive forward and I need to find time for this. I have a wonderful team of enthusiastic and energised associates and business services staff who are really helping me with this, but I haven’t had as much time to focus on it as I would like. I would also really like to be a mentor to more junior people. I love being able to help people develop their confidence, and skills, and share my experiences with them, most likely over a G&T.