Name: Peter King
Job title: Legal Director, HM Treasury
Backstory: I became a government lawyer nearly three years ago after 35 years as a private practice lawyer doing corporate and M&A work, mainly with public companies and largely in the financial services sector. I trained at Linklaters and became a partner there in 1990. In 2003 I moved to Shearman & Sterling and in 2008 to Weil Gotshal & Manges.
My current role involves leading a team of about 90 people. We provide all the legal advice that ministers and officials in HM Treasury need. Some of this is in areas with which I am very familiar, like financial services regulation, but other aspects are new to me, such as the law on public spending. One of the most interesting aspects of my work is that we tend to be writing the law, rather than just seeking to interpret or apply it. As an in-house legal team we often instruct external law firms, which I find particularly enjoyable, having been on the receiving end of those instructions for so long.
Who or what influenced you to train as a lawyer? My parents suggested it when I was in my teens. It was very shortly after I started studying law at university that I realised that this was what I could enjoy doing for the rest of my working life. I am very fortunate that I’ve never lost that enthusiasm for the job, even when it has been particularly tough at work.
If you didn’t pursue a legal career what would you be doing now? I have a wide range of interests, but not sure I am good enough at any of them to pursue as careers. I was a linguist before turning my hand to law, studying French and German, and briefly considered a career in the diplomatic service. At one point I even thought it would be good to pursue my interest in cooking and run a restaurant, but after looking into it I realised there was far too much hard work involved. Sadly, I was never a good enough musician to have a career performing either. So law it was!
What does success mean to you? For me success is not about money: it’s about working with interesting people and solving problems together as a team. My team of 90 is part of the Government Legal Department, which is full of highly motivated, intelligent and committed people who are used to working together. I work with lawyers across the whole of government as well as from regulators and other agencies. I really enjoy those times when our advice leads to a policy being implemented effectively, or defended in court in judicial review proceedings, and when I can see that we have worked together to make something happen. In my current role I feel one of the key measures of success is whether I have assembled a diverse team which is working well together and in which people are enjoying their work.
Imagine a time when you felt like giving up. What helped you bounce back? Often I’ve felt like giving up when I’ve made a big mistake, or what I think is a big mistake. Usually my wife manages to persuade me that it wasn’t such a big mistake after all.
What advice would you give to your younger self? I wish someone had managed to convince me early on about the importance of maintaining a network. I lost track of so many people with whom I worked and who could have become important sources of work or assistance in the future. Even keeping up just a few more of those relationships would have made my life as a partner a lot easier.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt about life and / or work outside of a formal education setting? The importance of integrity and honesty, not just in a work setting, but across all of life. I seek (but don’t always succeed) to be the same person wherever I am and in whatever setting I find myself. This is largely a result of my Christian faith, but I also find it makes life a lot easier when you don’t have to pretend to be something you are not.
If there was one skill you could’ve excelled at during your formative years as a lawyer what would that be? Knowing when to say no. I am still very bad at this. My instinct is always to be helpful if I possibly can, and I’m often unrealistic about how much time or energy I can find to take on more responsibilities or tasks.