Interview with Ed Foulkes, Corporate Partner at Clarke Willmott

Posted in Interviews on 29 May 2018

This month we interviewed Partner in the Corporate department of Clarke Willmott, Ed Foulkes. He spoke to us about the greatest talent challenges for law firms, his career highlights and gives advice for those at the start of their legal careers...

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m a Partner in the Corporate team at Clarke Willmott LLP. Our firm has seven offices and around 600 people. I’m based in Manchester and also travel around the country quite a bit. Our North West offering is growing fast and we moved into new offices earlier this year. It’s a very exciting time to be here and a great market in which to work. I’m also married with two children aged seven and nine.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in the legal sector?

There are a few lawyers in my family so it was something I was aware of and thought I might enjoy. That said, my degree was in Experimental Psychology so I subsequently did a one-year conversion course and the LPC in Manchester. I liked the idea of being an expert in something and being able to deploy that expertise to help people achieve their aims.

Tell us about your role

Most of our work revolves around mergers & acquisitions, with a mix of sell and buy-side.

We also act on fundraisings of various types. The work is varied and I find it very interesting. As my role has become more senior, it has changed slightly so I find myself doing more co-ordination of deal teams and supervision than I once did. I’m also heavily involved in business development, which I really enjoy, and administration, which for the most part I don’t.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Lots of things: problem-solving, variety, negotiation, intellectual challenge, team work, and meeting lots of different people…

What’s the most challenging element of your job? / Have you faced any crossroads in your career so far and if so how did you manage  that?

I’ve had a few twists and turns along the way, including a couple of recessions and an early-career redundancy as a result. When difficult times come along it’s very important to maintain your professionalism and integrity.

In common with many people, I’d say the most difficult element of my job is maintaining a sensible work-life balance. I don’t have a magic answer but everyone needs to find a compromise they can live with. We know how important this is to our people and we try very hard to make our firm a good place to work. Our clients rightly expect us to be available in the evenings and at weekends if we need to be, but technology makes that so much easier than it used to be.

So far what has been your career highlight?

It’s a cliché but becoming a partner at Clarke Willmott was a proud day. It’s difficult to name a particular transaction as they’re all different and each is special in its own way. The deal where our client took us for lunch in Barcelona to celebrate was good fun though. 

Who or what has had the biggest influence on your professional career so far?

I’ve been very lucky to work with and for some great lawyers. I try to learn from everyone, and to be generous with my time in return (not easy when you’re busy). If I had to pick only one I’d mention the late Richard Rouse, my training supervisor. His good humour and dedication to client service set me on the right path I think.

What do you believe are the greatest talent challenges for law firms?

It’s no secret that we have a talent gap as a result of firms lowering or freezing the number of training contracts that were available at the time of the credit crunch. The impact of this is fewer people approaching partnership than in previous years. On the other hand, we are probably seeing partners retire later so this will likely correct itself in coming years.

Clients are looking for deep expertise and firms need to be agile in changing their emphasis according to the market backdrop. A good example of this is bricks and mortar retail, which relied on commercial property expertise. With the shift to ecommerce, clients may be looking to firms with a strong commercial, intellectual property and data protection track record.

What do you think the emerging skills are which will best equip lawyers for the future?

The fundamental skills required to be a good lawyer haven’t changed and I don’t think will. Intelligence, analytical skills, empathy and commercial awareness will always hold strong. The way we use these skills may evolve and the technology channels lawyers use to work and communicate with clients will continue to change. As a profession, we should all embrace this.

Do you have any advice for new trainees or paralegals beginning a career in law?

  • Be honest with yourself but be ambitious.
  • Set yourself high standards and keep to them.
  • Treat everyone as you’d like to be treated.
  • Take opportunities when you see them. They won’t always reoccur.
  • Try not to burn any bridges. You never know when you might need them.

What could you see yourself being or doing if you hadn’t pursued a career in the legal sector?

I’ve always been keen on writing but I don’t know what form that would have taken.

Possibly journalism? At one stage I had my heart set on being a train driver, but I was five at the time.

What do you do to relax outside the office?

Play with the kids - actually it can sometimes be more relaxing in the office.

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