Rebecca Burford, Partner, Charles Russell Speechlys

Rebecca Burford, Partner, Charles Russell Speechlys

Who/what influenced you to train as a lawyer?

I wanted to be a lawyer from the age of 15.  What initially sparked my interest was reading John Grisham’s legal thrillers and watching legal dramas like Judge John Deed.  I considered the bar route initially and gained work experience shadowing a barrister to learn more about the profession.  As a student I also joined the mooting society as well as the negotiation team, and competed in national competitions on behalf of my university.  This gave me a good insight into the practical aspects of a career in law, in addition to the traditional academic side studied at university.  As I progressed through my law degree, I realised the corporate and commercial elements I enjoyed most (such as non-contentious negotiating and drafting of documents rather than being an advocate in court on a dispute) were more suited to a career as a solicitor. What also appealed to me about training as a solicitor was the client contact and teamwork element.

If you didn’t pursue a legal career, what would you be doing now?

I would probably be running my own business, perhaps in property development and interior design. That, or I would be working for a racing team designing Formula One cars!

What fictional lawyer would you compare yourself to?

I’d say I definitely aspire to be like Jessica from Suits. Indeed, my friends often compare me to her, as they say I’m calm, fair, but take no nonsense.

Why did you choose to specialise in corporate law?

I like dealing with sophisticated businesswomen and businessmen as clients, alongside the business aspects of the work.  I studied business models such as economics, marketing, accounting and financial risk alongside my law degree, which I enjoyed and found that corporate law combined some of the business focused areas I found interesting alongside the legal aspects.

What does success mean to you?

For me, success would be finishing a deal, and once I leave the room, having people (either client or the other side) say: ‘she did a really good job and was a pleasure to work with’.  

Personally, the other obvious answer would be becoming a partner at my current firm Charles Russell Speechlys.  However,  reaching partner is not the only way to define a successful legal career, and there are many other routes and roles within a law firm one can work towards which when achieved would certainly be counted as highly successful.

A misconception about aspiring/junior lawyers in the profession?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that a career as a lawyer is what the TV shows portray.  It is nothing like that in real life.  In the UK, it is also very different to practicing law in the US. For example, in the UK it is unusual for corporate lawyers advising on Mergers & Acquisitions to appear in Court.

Other misconceptions are that all lawyers go to court.  Typically, it is only lawyers specialising in areas like family, crime, commercial disputes and property disputes who attend court, but there are many other areas of law that do not involve court proceedings.

People often tend to assume all lawyers earn mega bucks – but again that is not true of all areas.  For example, those in smaller high street firms, or working on legal aid matters will often earn significantly less than their counterparts in large City or US firms.

What helped you bounce back from a time when you felt like giving up?

When I didn’t have a training contract, and at the same time saw lots of my friends at law school get offers, it was certainly a challenge. It was easy to feel disheartened and like I was not good enough. However, I always had a spirit of perseverance and the role I secured in advance of my training contract enabled me to shave off time from my formal training, which typically lasts two years.  In turn that meant I was able to qualify slightly earlier, whereas if I had qualified at the end of the two-year period I may not have been so fortunate in securing an NQ solicitor role as this was during the peak of the economic crisis.  It was not until I had been through this experience that I was able to look back and realise how some of the really tough challenges would actually result in something more positive than I could have imagined. Becoming a successful lawyer is a long-term journey and a process – qualifying is just the start of your career.

What career advice would you give to your younger self

  1. Keep going and keep persevering!
  2. Build a network as early as possible (for example, by attending young professional events, joining committees, and putting yourself in spaces where you will meet people in the same ecosystem).
  3. Make the most of opportunities that come your way and be open-minded.

 What are the key skills to have as an aspiring lawyer?

  1. Good interpersonal skills are important as solicitors are required to work with a variety of different personalities so need to be able to communicate clearly and effectively with colleagues, solicitors on the other side and clients.
  2. Confidence is important for solicitors for a number of reasons, including displaying confidence so your supervisors have reassurance in your ability to carry out the tasks you are being asked to do, and also so clients have confidence in the advice being given by the solicitor.
  3. Organisation is an essential skill for solicitors as they are often required to juggle a number of tasks with competing priorities and deadlines.  Being organised helps ensure work is correctly prioritised and that deadlines are not missed.
  4. Proactivity is also a key competency, particularly for junior solicitors who are required to work as part of a team.  For example, taking the initiative to offer to help, to thoroughly research a task and taking the initiative to do the next required step in the process if you know this will be needed in addition to the immediate task you have been asked to do. 

What has been your proudest achievement?

I was ranked in The Lawyer’s prestigious Hot 100. I was also recently appointed as Chair of the Racial Equality Action Group at my current firm and appointed as a committee member of The Law Society’s Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division.