Talking all things Training contract related: an Interview with erika federis

“The best advice I could give here is to stay in your own lane, don’t worry about what other people are doing, and most of all don’t compare yourself”

Erika is a qualified solicitor in England and Wales after completing her training at Foot Anstey. She is currently working as legal counsel at Wirex, a digital payment platform. In this article we discuss the challenges of her current role, her training contract experience and her interest in Blockchain and Cryptocurrency.

What would your advice be for those who are due to or are currently completing their training contract?

Your training contract is what you make of it – whilst you will be supervised by more senior lawyers, it’s important to ensure that you gain as much knowledge as possible, and learn technical legal skills as and when you can. I think it’s really useful to do some background reading to supplement the education you’re receiving during your training contract.  

In addition, make sure you use the time to really figure out what area of law you want to qualify into. Whilst some people are lucky and already have an inkling earlier on, for most of us, it’s difficult to know until you’ve given it a lot of thought. For example, I did a very real estate-heavy training contract as I was convinced I wanted to be a real estate lawyer – up until the point when I got involved in some blockchain/crypto type work and did a complete 180 and decided I wanted to go into FinTech – nothing else was going to do it for me!

During your clinical negligence seat you were seconded to Enable Law, do you have any tips on how to make the most out of secondment opportunities?

In terms of secondment opportunities, I think it’s very important to look into the type of company you’re going into and what value you are able to provide for them. On top of that, you should also treat it as an opportunity to build up your network and get to know people there, ask questions when you need to and maybe even make some friends along the way! 

What have you found most challenging in your role as in-house counsel for Wirex?

I think being a junior in-house lawyer is quite challenging as it’s a very different environment to private practice. As an in-house lawyer, you tend to be directly involved with all matters relating to the company you work for, and you’re expected to run with different projects very early on in your career. I’d say it’s a bit different to private practice, where you would usually be involved in similar types of work day in day out, particularly as a junior; no two days are the same in-house, I think. You could be dealing with regulatory issues one day, and employment issues the next; there is really no predicting what will come your way on the daily. It was particularly difficult for me having a very real estate-heavy training contract and therefore no proper experience in corporate/commercial/financial services law. Now coming up to my first year of qualification, I’ve learnt how to get the hang of it, but it certainly wasn’t easy at first!  

You are heavily involved in Blockchain and Cryptocurrency and was recently included in Computer Weekly’s Most Influential Women in UK Tech 2020. As these are complicated areas, what resources would you recommend our readers start with if they are interested in knowing more about these areas?

What really helped me at first was to look through very nerdy websites like hackernoon.com and blockgeeks.com – there are some seriously helpful guides there to talk you through the basics of the topic! Also, albeit not necessarily a techy site, Investopedia helped with my foundation knowledge of blockchain and crypto as well. I would also recommend reading the following books: 

  1. Blockchain Revolution by Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott – they set out some really interesting use cases for blockchain tech; and
  2. Cryptocurrency: The Future of Money by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey – this book looks at a brief history of how the monetary system works and how cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin play a part in our society.

Has your experience modelling developed any skills applicable to your legal career so far?

Modelling is a very harsh environment and you have to be incredibly thick-skinned to be able to survive in the industry. There are a lot of rejections, and a lot of words thrown around that may be perceived as unkind or unfair. The biggest lesson I took away from this experience is that it’s incredibly important to be secure in yourself and to not take it personally when you don’t land a job or a campaign, or when someone has been particularly unkind towards you. I think this is entirely applicable to applying for training contracts, as well as during your training contract. When I was applying for TCs I got so may rejections, to the point where I felt incredibly defeated and was seriously considering a career away from law. Luckily however, I did end up landing a TC at a good firm and qualifying in the end. 

It’s also possible that there might be some people in your cohort who may adopt a very competitive or ‘dog eat dog’ type attitude during your TC. The best advice I could give here is to stay in your own lane, don’t worry about what other people are doing, and most of all don’t compare yourself – you managed to land yourself a TC, you’re good enough to be there, and that’s not something you should ever forget. 

What are your top 3 pieces of advice to aspiring solicitors?

  1. Make sure you’re getting into law for the right reasons. Do as much research as you can and decide whether it’s the right career for you. There are a lot of ups and downs that come with pursuing a career in law, and it will be even more of a struggle than it already is if your heart isn’t in it. 
  2. Brush up on your commercial awareness. In addition to knowing the law, we as lawyers are also required to understand our clients’ needs in order to be able to provide the best advice for them. The business section of news publications such as the BBC is very good for this type of thing – the Financial Times and the Economist are also very good resources to consider. 
  3. Be aware that every single person you come across during your career path will play a part in your journey, however big or small. Always be respectful of others, whether they be a client, a partner, a senior associate, the reception staff, a secretary or anyone more junior than you.

You can find Erika on LinkedIn.

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