Allens Confidential podcast
Global connections in the time of COVID
While restrictions on international travel are expected to remain in place for some time, global opportunities in the future are still front of mind for many law students.
In this episode of Allens Confidential, we talk to Mona Abu Zalaf, an Allens lawyer on secondment with our alliance partner Linklaters in London, and Patrick McGregor, a Senior Overseas Practitioner who transferred to Sydney from Linklaters in London. How do the cultures of Allens and Linklaters compare? What's it like navigating a new environment when you're far from home?
What did we talk about?
- Going through lockdown on the other side of the world
- Building a global network
- Career reflections and tips for grads
Listen to the episode
Geneva Sekua Hello everyone and welcome to another sensational episode of Allens Confidential. We are very, very excited today, we are talking about a topic that is very near and dear to many students' hearts, and that is how on earth can I get overseas by practising law? So we are very lucky today to be joined by Mona Abu Zalaf, a legal adviser at Linklaters in London and Patrick McGregor, who is a senior overseas practitioner at Allens in Sydney. We are going to be talking to the two of them today about the most important topic I think for a lot of students, which is how do I get a job overseas and how do I get to travel as part of my legal career. So welcome Mona and Patrick and thanks so much for being on the podcast.
Mona Mabuzala Thanks Geneva.
Patrick McGregor Thanks for having us.
Geneva Sekua So one the very first questions that we always ask all of our guests is a pretty standard one, so I will shoot that out right now, what podcast do you listen to?
Patrick McGregor So I don't listen to podcasts all that often. I think I've got more into them over the last, well since lockdown really I've kind of got a bit more into audio books and podcasts, if audio books count in the podcast sphere. The one series of podcasts that I have listened to quite a bit are the Joe Rogan podcasts. He's got quite a few interesting characters that he gets on his show and asks them provocative questions and always, there's always interesting things being talked about on his shows, so that's one that I've listened to but I must confess that I'm not a huge podcast follower other than that.
Geneva Sekua What's been one of your favourite or one of the most interesting episodes to date that you have listened to? Any recommendations?
Patrick McGregor Yeah he famously interviewed Elon Musk which was a very interesting podcast. So if you want to try out the series that's definitely a good place to start.
Geneva Sekua Great, good recommendation. How about you Mona?
Mona Mabuzala Yeah, I'm just going to come out right out and say I don't listen to podcasts. Though obviously Allens Confidential is an exception. Yeah I'm pretty terrible when I'm just a serial Netflixer.
Geneva Sekua What's your top recommendation on Netflix?
Mona Mabuzala Probably for the year, I'd say the The Last Dance series. Like I'm not even into sport or basketball but they just did that one really right. It was very good.
Geneva Sekua I've heard that. I mean yes, I have zero interest in basketball if I'm very honest but people have just said it's so well done, and you just end up right in the story.
Mona Mabuzala Like you're literally like I'm listening to the theme song playing and I'm like getting pumped as if I'm playing – I'm not playing anything but it's very, very good.
Roseanna Bricknell We love to hear that kind of immersive media experience just like we know we are offering all of our listeners. So if we jump into both of your journeys to where you are now, I think they are a little bit different, they are kind of the inverse of each other, so Patrick if we start with you. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to join Linklaters and then how you came to cross over the dark side to Allens more recently?
Patrick McGregor Of course and I've never heard it described as the 'dark side'. So, I'm as you may have guessed, I'm from Scotland originally, so I went to university in London at the London School of Economics where I studied law as my undergrad. And I guess I ended up at Linklaters because when I was studying law, and particularly at that University, I think all my contemporaries including me were kind of looking at the city of London and the world of business and finance and the bright lights of all that and everyone was really interested and taken by that world and wanted to get involved in it. So there's a few different avenues you can obviously pursue to go into that world, one of which is commercial law, I didn't really much fancy the idea of going to one of the big investment banks so a law firm seemed like a better fit to me and where better to go than one of the best law firms? So that's how I ended up at Links. Unlike in Australia, you apply in the UK in your second year of university so you are actually quite young when you go through the application process. So I joined Links, did my two-year traineeship, six months of which were in Dubai which was good fun, and then I joined the mainstream corporate team after that two-year traineeship. The mainstream corporate team, just for everyone listening, Linklaters does private and public M&A as well as execute caps and markets in much the same way as our MAC team does that same mix of work. So I spent a few years there and then actually how did my move to Allens come about? So I was looking at spending some time overseas somewhere with my fiancé, she's Australian and we were in Sydney last year for a wedding actually, and she was offered a job and Sydney was on a hit list of places to go and we ended up kind of falling together and I felt 'well I could have a go at Allens and see how that goes', and that was all very easy. So that's kind of how I came across and that happened towards the end of last year and I ended up coming across in January of this year.
Geneva Sekua Oh and then you've had so much time to explore Sydney and see everything.
Patrick McGregor No. Quite a lot of it has been in lockdown. I guess we've been taking every opportunity to get out of the city.
Geneva Sekua Good to hear and Mona how about you, you've done the reverse journey where you started on the dark side as Caitlin would say and have moved into the light at Linklaters.
Mona Mabuzala I have. I did law and journalism at UTS. I had no idea what corporate law was let alone you know clerkships and Allens and Linklaters and all these firms that I'd never heard of. And I, like every other law student, I think at some stage wanted to become a human rights lawyer and save the world. I didn't quite go down that path in the end but I weirdly just kind of found out about clerkships through the competitions that you do at uni and I was like oh, okay cool, I have no idea with this stuff is so let me just go to every single event ever and try to figure it out and that's kind of what ended up happening. So like just random events I went to the Linklaters roadshow where Linklaters comes out to recruit their Australian clerks and I went to that by accident because I thought it was an Allens thing, but again I knew nothing so I was like yeah I'll go to this. So that was the first time I went to Allens and I listened to people talk about Linklaters and all these students were so prepared with questions and I was like oh yeah this is not happening for me. So I remember leaving and thinking I'm never going to work at a place like this, I just do not have it in me at all, just because I felt so under‑prepared and it's just not going to happen. But then I went away and again went to every single event ever, I spoke to as many people as I could and somehow got a clerkship at Allens and I started my grad program in March 2019 so at Allens we did two one-year rotations and I did one year in banking and then kind of mid‑way through I was like what if I just for the lols, no not for the lols, but apply to go to Linklaters. It was kind of like if I get it that would be really really cool, if I don't I'll be sad, but it's fine, I know that I could probably go later if I wanted to. So I applied for the secondment program that you can do in your second year as a grad where you can either apply to go to London, Singapore or Hong Kong. I wanted to go to London just because I wanted to do, as cliché as it sounds, really big deals. And so here I am. I've been in London since March, like literally a week before lockdown so honestly I reckon if I arrived like a week later we would have been sent home but yeah, and that's that.
Geneva Sekua What a journey. And I guess one thing we get asked a lot about is how you actually come to be in a position to go to somewhere else. So really, from both sides what's the process like of either coming to Allens or coming to Linklaters. You know, is it challenging, is it straightforward, what were your experiences like?
Patrick McGregor My experience is very straightforward. It was just a few conversations with the partners at Links and a short chat with the partners at Allens and, I think because there's so many open channels between the partners and also, you know, at an associate level as well that made the transition very easy. It meant that I knew people at Allens and in the team that I was coming into that I could speak to and, you know, do my due diligence in advance and see what I was getting myself into. And then have the conversations with the partners which was all very smooth sailing. So, yeah, it was a very straightforward process for me actually.
Mona Mabuzala As I say, I kind of just applied through the secondment program, so essentially at the same time roughly that you get asked for your preferences for your second rotation, you also put in an application to go overseas and it's just a few extra questions, you know, what kind of contributions have you made at Allens, why do you want to go to Linklaters, what do you think your careers is going to get out of it basically. But in advance of that, I knew that it was going to be competitive because obviously they only take, kind of, a limited number of people and it's such an easy and great way to go overseas, so obviously people apply for it. So I thought before that, let me really have a think about what I'm going to put in my application and I spoke to a lot of people who had gone to Linklaters and really worked out what I'm going to get out of it and I think that definitely helped me to be able to write my application and maybe that's part of the reason I was able to go, because you know, I kind of thought about it in advance but yeah it was definitely a lot easier than I expected in terms of just filling in a form. And in saying that, I think even if I hadn't got it, I, you know, I don't think it's very difficult at all to go over as an associate later on so, yeah, I guess that's another reason I was like, I’ll just put in the application and see what happens.
Geneva Sekua So to clarify, in your questions, your response wasn’t for the lols that I want to go over
Mona Mabuzala Yeah, no I thought about that initially but I spoke to a few partners and stuff and they said that probably wasn't a good idea.
Geneva Sekua Do you have any helpful advice or guidance for people who might be in your position either next year or the year after? Just in terms of what kind of things do you think people should be considering about what benefit going overseas might have to their career?
Mona Mabuzala Yeah, I say have a think about it, it's very hard, because you know, you've just started, you don't know what you're going to be doing in two or three years' time, you don't know if you're going to be absolutely loving your rotation, or like, you know, if .. there are so many variables but I think have a think about what you do like about the work you're doing at the moment and then, what you really - this is so basic, but what do you want when you go overseas, are you going over just to travel? Because that's kind of fine I think, but I mean that was definitely part of the reason I wanted to go, but I think for me, in terms of my personal circumstances and kind of just the context of what I want from my career it made sense that I go early because I wanted to come back to Allens and kind of continue my career there and I think getting exposure to really large transactions and working with bigger teams early on for me was just something that was a bit more appealing than going later. But I think just generally like really have a think about what you want and at the end of the day, like, yes, you don't apply for the lols but also don't ever discount yourself and like, give it a go. You might absolutely love it and it might be the dream experience that we all have and you might hate it, and that's totally fine. But I think always give it a go.
Patrick McGregor Definitely give it a go that's good advice I would say and if you have these options, it's definitely a good idea to grab them with both hands I think and you know, being able to go to different offices within the same network and come back if that's what you want to do, to come back to your kind of home office. It's an amazing thing that you can do within this network of Allens and Linklaters that most people in their law firms and in their other companies just don't get the opportunities to do. So I definitely echo that advice and say go for it and keep your mind open.
Geneva Sekua And how have you guys found the differences or similarities between cultures. I suppose both at work and more broadly as much as you've been able to experience from the confines of your respective bedrooms at times?
Patrick McGregor So in terms of culture and mix of work, the firms are very similar .. as I mentioned earlier, the mixture of work that comes across my desk in corporate in Sydney is very similar to that which came across my desk in London, which is a good mix of capital markets work as well as private equity work and public takeovers and things like that. So it's a very good mix and there's a focus at Linklaters as well on ensuring that you have that mix even until quite a senior level so you'll find partners doing all those different types of work. There will be some partners that are slightly more specialist than others. But generally speaking, everyone is expected to be able to pick up all different types of corporate work which isn't necessarily the same as all other firms where they, you know, some firms have a model where they kind of, I don't want to use the word pigeonhole, but they streamline people at an earlier stage. And in terms of the actual substance of the work, whilst, yes on average, you might get more mega deals in London, there's still some pretty big deals to be done in Australia and the clients are often very similar and there's a lot of shared clients between Links now, so for example, I just did a deal with BP and we were instructing them and they were based in London and they're the same individuals and clients that I would work with at Linklaters in London. So there's certainly a lot of similarities and I'm struggling to think of too many things where there are differences in culture or the makeup of the work and there's an abundance of things where I can say yeah, this is similar and this is similar.
Geneva Sekua So you had a little bit of time in the office before lockdown started. I mean how did you find just even that transition period of getting used to being in a different office with different colleagues? Was that .. did you feel sort of like you were still in the family a little bit coming to work or was it a bit of a shock to the system?
Patrick McGregor I did. Everyone was very friendly and, you know, quite a few of the partners when they came to say hi, said 'oh you worked with "X" in London, I know them very well', which helps and that did make it feel like I was within the family and I also knew a handful of people on my floor who I had actually worked with at Linklaters, some of whom were on secondment to Allens and some of whom had done a few years in London and had come back to Allens. So that's was really nice to have all those familiar faces and it made it really easy.
Geneva Sekua Lovely and how about you Mona, because you obviously didn't have as much time to physically be with your co-workers.
Mona Mabuzala So one of the nice things about going as a grad on secondment is you get to go with three other grads also on secondment. So there was me and three others, one from Perth, one from Brisbane and one from Melbourne. So Sarah, Baz and Andrew, a shout out to you guys for keeping me sane through lockdown.
Geneva Sekua They're going to be listening.
Mona Mabuzala Yep. Yep, the really nice thing is we all came over together and for circumstances/due to covid we kind of all ended up living in the same building in separate apartments for six months during the peak of the lockdown and so we really did I guess get really really close because we were literally the only humans that either of us had seen. It was really nice to have Australians to experience that with, even if you don't have your own network because odds are you probably know others who've moved and done the London trip but it was nice to have them to experience it with, but also just to be able to have those office bants that you wouldn't usually get to have or we couldn't have anymore this year because of lockdown. But in terms of integrating with Linklaters and trying to branch out of my Allens bubble, we got to go into the office for two days for training and then I remember by Wednesday everyone was like, 'nope you've got to grab your stuff and go home, no one's allowed back in'. So at that point I hadn't met anyone in my team, I hadn't seen the floor that I was going to be working on or anything like that so obviously I was very, very nervous about it in the beginning, how am I going to make an impression if I want to stay? How am I going to be able to work with these people meaningfully without having met them? But actually there were so many people in the same boat and the teams or Linklaters generally I'd say are quite understanding of that and they were quite understanding of the fact that we're all in this very, very weird new normal and so there were a lot of little things that your team would do to make you feel part of the team and give you the opportunity to meet people. So we had these really great breakfasts every two weeks with random different people in the team where you'd jump on and talk about random stuff and figure out how other people are coping with the lockdown and I thought generally the firm is doing such a great job of trying to have an inclusive space virtually even if we can't be there physically. In saying that now, the office is open on a voluntary basis but I haven't quite gotten around to going in too much other than for the occasional lunch.
Geneva Sekua Are many people from your team going in? Because I know even at Allens we're sort of open, it's a little bit patchy; you see the same faces in and out.Are many people from your team going in? Because I know even at Allens we're sort of open, it's a little bit patchy; you see the same faces in and out.
Mona Mabuzala So I'm in a new team at the moment. So I haven't actually gone in yet while I’m in my new team but while I was in leveraged finance for my first six months I went in twice and it kind of mixed so it all depends on the day you go in if it just kind of happens that there are a lot more people but I'd say you're getting at least five people in your team and five people doesn't sound like a lot. I guess it's not in Linklaters' team number size but it's increasing I think. In saying that, it is very much voluntary and there is no pressure to go in if you don't feel comfortable doing so.
Geneva Sekua Totally reasonable. I've noticed in the Sydney office at least it seems as though numbers are a bit lower on a Monday. I only know that anecdotally because I myself don't come in on a Monday but Caitlin's pretty diligent in being in the office so she can give us a rundown of all the different attendance rates.
Roseanna Bricknell I definitely don't come in on a Monday. It hurts my body and my soul too much but I do come in on a Tuesday because it reaches a point where I need to accept that even though I've been at home on the Monday, it is actually a working week and I do need to put clothes on. So we work at a balance but we're getting there.
Geneva Sekua We used to do this every day. Like you'd get up and you would go to work, you would commute there on public transport, you'd be crammed in around other people, my skin was so dry from the air conditioning because I'd been in this outdoor – I can wander out through the day and just be outside all the time.
Roseanna Bricknell See I'm not ready to put my skin through that.
Geneva Sekua There's no need. Mona, has there been any shift in – if you feel like in London, the situation's rapidly changing? I mean are people thinking they'll go back to being fully at home or is it they're keeping the offices open?
Mona Mabuzala So yeah they're keeping the offices open. So what I expected to happen – because the office is open and everything was like 'lah de dah, happy days, we're going in, it's good' and then of course two weeks ago or maybe even just a week ago, Bo Jo was all 'guys, please, we've got to get this under control'. So I expected there to be another shutdown but no, I think Linklaters is comfortable with what they've done to the office to keep it safe and I can very much see why. I've been in and there's bottles of sanitiser that you can just pick up for later. There's like an endless supply of masks and it's such a Linklaters thing to just have endless supplies of things but they've split out the offices, if you wanted to share an office they've got Perspex screens in there as well. I have not seen the Perspex screens but I'm told they're there but yeah it's cool and also getting your own office to yourself when you were a grad at Allens living in the trenches with other grads is quite nice.
Geneva Sekua Definitely. Well I mean I know it's been quite an unusual year I suppose we can say but one of the things that we do always ask our guests on the podcast is to reflect on their careers and to think – I mean we've touched on some of those but looking back, if it was day one of your career, what's the advice that you wish you'd had on that very first day of working in the legal industry?
Patrick McGregor Tough question. I think as a junior lawyer I think I probably didn't take enough time to – I don't want to say 'just chill out and relax' because you do want to work hard when you're starting off and you are keen to impress but I think sometimes I was too involved I doing things quickly and now as a slightly more senior lawyer, you can see the value in taking a step back and taking time to think about things and how valuable that is. Often when you're a junior and I guess it's partly just due to lack of experience and you don't know what on earth's going on half the time, you have a tendency to deal with things very quickly. So I think that's probably a big thing that I would tell myself if I could tell day one Patrick at Linklaters what to do.
Geneva Sekua How about you Mona?
Mona Mabuzala This is probably going to turn into a rant but …
Geneva Sekua Go for it, we love a rant…
Mona Mabuzala I think if I could go back I'd tell baby Mona trying to work out what Allens is, to just back yourself. It's super basic but I think it's really important when you're trying to get a clerkship or trying to get a grad job, any job really, or actually or even when you're starting out and working at a firm or anywhere, that you really back yourself. I think I struggled a lot with that when I was trying to work out what I was going to do and how I'm going to get a clerkship, just because I felt so on the back foot, not having known anyone who works at these firms and not knowing what they are and what kind of work they do but I think if you put in the work you can get there, if that's what you want. And another thing I should say, you shouldn't feel like this is the right thing to do or 'I have to get a clerkship because that's just what every fourth year student does'; you don't need a clerkship if that's not what you want to do. Obviously I highly recommend them but I think if I could go back I would just tell myself 'back yourself, yes you've had a very different experience but that's not a bad thing, it's a good thing; you should be proud of your diversity' or just the fact that you've had a different experience and I think that that's something you can bring to the table as opposed to something that should stress you out or make you afraid to give it a go.
Geneva Sekua Amazing. Any final comments on career opportunities overseas?
Mona Mabuzala Just do it
Patrick McGregor Yeah, just do it. Do it, have fun.
Geneva Sekua Get outta here. Thank you so much for joining us. I think for a lot of students in particular, this is such an important topic because it's a time where you really think big and dream big and really wonder where your career can take you and for you both, your careers have taken you all over the world which is super amazing and it's been great for us to hear about. So thank you so much for your time and we're so pleased to have had you on Allens Confidential.
Mona Mabuzala/ Patrick McGregor Thanks for having us