Emma qualified into the private equity / investment banking group at Clifford Chance, where she worked for two and a half years. Despite enjoying her job and liking the firm, she moved in 2005 to do “merger arbitrage” equity sales at UBS. We asked her why she made this change and how she finds life on the trading floor compared to being a lawyer.
mtl: Hi Emma, please can you tell us about your legal background?
Emma: Although I studied law, I didn’t originally intend to practise as a lawyer. However, when the milk round came to my university, I decided that a City training contract seemed like a good option. I trained at Clifford Chance and stayed for 2 and a half years PQE. I really enjoyed my time there working within the private equity / investment banking group focusing on UK plc takeovers. It was a great team and I loved the work.
mtl: So why did you move if you were happy at Clifford Chance?
Emma: Although I loved the work and enjoyed the buzz, I eventually came to the realisation that working at a big City Law firm meant that I couldn’t control the hours that I worked - and I was no longer happy with that.
I had always been proud to say that I was a corporate finance lawyer and whereas I could have gone to work for a smaller firm with more regular hours, that didn’t appeal. I wanted to do a job that was still challenging, rewarding and hard work, but that also gave me greater flexibility. I spent several months looking at alternatives and finally met a girl on a ski trip who worked at UBS. She was doing sales-trading on the merger arbitrage desk and the more I heard about it, the more I became convinced that it could be the perfect job for me.
Through various contacts, I was able to gain work experience on the desks of several different trading floors early in the morning before going to my day job at Clifford Chance. I explored various areas including the derivatives and straight-forward European equity sales desks. However I realised that my M&A background fitted perfectly with merger arbitrage. Within a couple of months I was offered my coveted job at UBS, working with the most respected merger arbitrage salesperson "on the street".
mtl: So what exactly is merger arbitrage? And what do you do all day?
Emma: In short, it is my job to try to know everything that is going on in a takeover, and from that to try to establish whether the level at which a company’s shares are trading in the market, in relation to the offer on the table, is too high or too low.
My role involves speaking to hedge fund clients and working with them to understand European takeover situations - they make money by buying/selling shares in the target, or otherwise trading around the situation. A normal day involves getting to my desk on the trading floor at 6.30am and checking the newswires for overnight news on the deals we’re following, and then reading through the business sections of seven UK newspapers, cover to cover, to pick up on any relevant details or quotes.
During the course of the day I may speak to analysts to better understand the fundamentals of a deal, or the regulators to better understand the conditions to a bid. I will always listen to management conference calls and attend management presentations on deals, all of which is overlaid with an understanding of how takeovers work and all the legalities and rules around them – which is where my M&A background is vital. The role involves being on the phone for much of the day. It is a very fast-paced and intense environment...
mtl: It sounds hard-core! Why do you think it is preferable to doing law?
Emma: There is nothing mundane about my job and every day is different. The job is exciting, interesting, intellectually challenging and much more commercial than law. My M&A background is invaluable, from understanding how the Takeover Panel functions in practice to general corporate matters, but I know a lot more practical law than I ever did before, in jurisdictions across Europe - the anti-monopoly commission process in the Ukraine, fiduciary duty rules in Switzerland, new put up or shut up rules in France.
Working on the trading floor is more fun than you can possibly imagine – there is constant noise, banter and jokes. The atmosphere is surprisingly warm and all-embracing, rather than being aggressive which I think some people expect.
mtl: How do you find working in a bank compared to a law firm?
Emma: The first six months were very tough and daunting, particularly as I had to take the FSA exams while also working. However the rewards have made it worth it and I absolutely love what I am doing.
mtl: What sort of person could make a similar move?
Emma: To move from law to merger arbitrage, you would have to have an M&A background and would have to know how takeovers work. You need to be very comfortable speaking to clients all day, every day on the phone. You need the attention to detail that you will already have as a lawyer and you have to be proactive and able to follow things up using your own initiative.
There are a number of other areas on the trading floor that could be of interest to a lawyer. The skill set that lawyers have would generally be relevant to both sales and research. I was lucky to find somewhere that was an obvious progression for my background.
mtl: Do you have any tips for lawyers thinking about making this move?
Emma: If you have an M&A background then you will have an advantage over other candidates trying to get into this area. Be persistent. Do your homework and read up thoroughly on what the job involves. This is a very specific world but if you genuinely think it would suit you and you are qualified to do it, then go for it. UBS is a great place to work and is always looking for talented individuals. It is a challenging environment and you have to be willing to work very hard, but the rewards are good.
mtl: Thank you Emma.
Law, Nottingham University
LPC, Nottingham Law School
Trainee and corporate assistant, Clifford Chance
Moved to do merger arbitrage at UBS