Ahead of ‘How to make it as a City lawyer’, King & Wood Mallesons partner Ajay Pathak shares what he has learned on his journey to the top
One of the pieces of advice I give to young lawyers is to create their own network. Some find that those networks are already in place through friendships from school and university. Others have to be more proactive and go out and create them, drawing on any ties that they may have.
For me, having grown up in Mumbai before moving to the UK aged 16, some of those ties were in India and as an associate I worked hard to develop them. For example, while on holiday there in the summers I would meet with clients and lawyers. This set me on the path to leading King & Wood Mallesons‘ India group.
The ability to build relationships and develop business is a key factor in solicitors making the step up to partnership. To this end, lawyers from ethnic minorities can use their diversity as an opportunity to bring something else to the mix.
But there are many ways that you can develop networks. A very important break that I got early on in my career as a junior associate at King & Wood Mallesons legacy firm SJ Berwin was when I was sent on a secondment to a subsidiary of the Bank of New York. Although it was quite a big organisation in itself, employing over 500 people, it had no in-house legal counsel. So I ended up spending 18 months there working effectively as head of legal. During that time I became more involved in hedge funds, and made some excellent contacts within the industry which I was able to build upon when I returned to private practice.
I think that I was probably helped on my journey to becoming a partner at a relatively young age by the fact that my firm has always been seen as very entrepreneurial and unstuffy. If you are performing well, you are good enough.
This mindset has continued since the global merger three years ago when we became King & Wood Mallesons, which has taken us from a European firm to a truly international one that is able to seize opportunities on a global scale.
For students seeking to join firms like this one, the opportunity awaits for a tremendous career. Although you work very hard, it’s a privilege to do what I do and you wake up in the morning looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead. One of the great things about this job is that you see so many different industries and get to learn all about clients’ businesses from the inside. At the same time, your role as a lawyer is a very active one — you are constantly being required to analyse, give your view and help find solutions. As someone who has always liked to test things, I enjoy the process of assessing how a transaction is structured and seeing whether there is an alternative way to look at it.
To unlock the door to a training contract it’s important to want this career really badly. While it has become increasingly hard to make the cut, you can certainly make it happen. I have seen some of our youngsters come through in recent years after working in-house or in compliance and maybe taking a couple of years longer than the students starting with us immediately after the LPC. Some people claim that as a paralegal you will never get a training contract at a global firm, but that’s not true. The reality is that people will want to keep you if you are really good, work hard and are seen to be adding value. It’s a principle that will apply right through your career.
Ajay Pathak is a partner at King & Wood Mallesons in London finance team.