Jonathan Cope has been legal counsel at RSA Insurance Group since June 2013. Having spent 9 years in private practice as a corporate lawyer at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and Weil, Gotshal & Manges, Jonathan talks us through his current role, compares private practice to life in-house, and gives some general tips to those seeking to enter the profession.
Tell us about your current role
I work in the Group Legal team in London. The work is varied and includes advising a wide range of people in the head office and around the globe on mergers & acquisitions, commercial contracts, insurance and reinsurance matters, and internal group projects. RSA is a huge international company so the scope for potential legal issues is very broad.
Is your current role much different to being a corporate lawyer in private practice?
Er, yes! As an in-house lawyer I need to be a jack of all trades; every day I learn something new about the law or the business. It’s closer to the impression I had when I was younger of what being lawyer would involve, spending time advising key people on legal issues on a one-to-one basis, and less (actually no) time managing transactions and churning big documents.
Having said that, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do this role without the years of experience as a corporate lawyer, so I look back on my time in private practice fondly. I focused on private equity and although I now work in insurance, the skills I acquired stand me in good stead for a role that requires me to pick things up quickly and make decisions.
How do US firms compare with UK firms?
It’s difficult to compare as each firm has its own culture, but the size and significance of US firms in the London market is definitely on the up. Many US firms in London actually have very few US lawyers and are increasingly UK-focused so the feel isn’t that different from the UK firms.
US firms still pay more than their UK counterparts, but the old argument that the quality of the work and the training at UK firms counterbalances the pay differential seems to be less valid nowadays.
What tips would you give a law student seeking to choose between US and UK firms?
Make the decision based on the reputation of the firm and the quality of the training you will receive there, not the money. Being a junior lawyer is about learning, connecting with people, and building a good CV. If you decide one day to move from that firm (and statistics would suggest that you almost certainly will), then the people sitting across the table from you in an important job interview years down the line aren’t going to care how much you have been paid.
Generally speaking, on any application or in any interview it is crucial to be convincing about exactly why you want to be a lawyer and why you are choosing that particular firm. If you can emphasise and justify these points then the US / UK distinction shouldn’t really be a factor.
Life as a corporate lawyer in private practice in three words?
Intense, pressurised, satisfying.
Life as a corporate lawyer In-house in three words?
Interesting, commercial, enjoyable.