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Career and life lessons from RPC's training principal

Simon Hart, a partner at RPC and its head of financial disputes, explains how he found his niche in litigation and why your career choices should be driven by what you enjoy.
Simon Hart
Job title: 

1992 Graduated with a degree in history and economics from the University of Durham.
1992–1994 Studied for CPE and LPC at the College of Law in York.
1994–1996 Completed a training contract at Wilde Sapte (which later became Dentons), qualifying with the firm and becoming an associate.
2002 Moved to Richards Butler as an associate.
2005 Became a partner.
2007 Richards Butler merged with Reed Smith.
2012 Moves to RPC as a partner, specialising in finance disputes.
2014–present Acts as training principal for RPC’s trainees.
2018 Appointed head of financial disputes.

There are a variety of factors that influence career decisions, but for me it has always come down to whether I enjoy what I do. My advice for aspiring trainees is: if your career ever turns into just a job, pause and reflect. It may be that you are in the wrong type of law or at the wrong firm for you – or it might be that you should consider switching to do something else.

Having said that, I didn't study law at university and I didn't have a driving passion for the subject ever since I was a child. At university, I was looking for a career with a structure and law appealed to my interests; lots of history students become lawyers, possibly because the written style of advocacy and the structured argument suits the historian.

I wanted to work in a City firm connected to the financial markets because I suspected I might enjoy it, but I never thought I would end up as a litigator. However, I was placed in a litigation seat on day one of my training contract and I loved it. I still enjoy the dynamics of a legal dispute, creating an argument and advancing your client's position. I like the strategy involved in taking a matter from day one through to court or resolution. In fact, one of my most memorable matters involved pursuing a Catch Me If You Can-style fraudster through multiple jurisdictions. I always say to trainees to be completely open minded about which training seats they do; at RPC we accommodate preferences where possible, but often you don't really know what you like until you try it. That was certainly my own experience.

From newly qualified solicitor to partner

I qualified into litigation after my training contract and my work involved retail banking claims, acting on behalf of the banks. These tended to be lower value, but it gave me great experience of the court system and a solid foundation in litigation. When I moved to Richards Butler it was the opposite: our practice focused on bringing claims against investment banks, which were of much higher value.

I wanted to become a partner because I liked the idea of having a business role within the law firm. Becoming partner brings an element to your career that is not solely about giving legal advice.

Following Richards Butler's merger with Reed Smith, the focus of my work switched to corporate investigations to fit in with the strategy of the new firm. I enjoyed this for several years, but there was so much litigation coming out of the financial crisis that by 2012 I felt I needed to return to my professional roots. I moved to RPC, which had set up its banking litigation team in 2010.

Joining RPC

At RPC, I focus on acting for clients with claims against investment banks. One of my responsibilities as partner is to help grow the practice. Growing this practice area has different challenges to other areas of the firm because our clients aren't institutions, feeding us regular work; they are often one-off clients. It means that we put a lot into generating leads and building referrals – but we have undertaken significant, news-worthy cases and our team has grown both in numbers and in reputation as a result.

My day

Some of my day is spent in direct contact with clients; another proportion is spent with associates in various teams, joining them on calls with clients or talking them through strategies and priorities. There will always be some business development activities. Periodically I go to court. On some matters I can go to court two or three times in six weeks; on very large matters, I might have one big hearing in a year.

I also have quarterly reviews with the associates in our team to discuss their career progression. My role as a training principal spans the recruitment of trainees, and the organisation of the summer scheme through to discussions about trainees' seat moves, the qualification process and occasional pastoral care or development issues. I do not supervise our trainees directly on a day-today basis, but I know them all and we have quarterly breakfasts in order to get a feel for their priorities and concerns.

Law is for the level-headed

Good lawyers are level-headed; while you should be passionate and invested in your client's case, they are paying you to advise them and you need to be calm to evaluate things carefully. When disputes get heated, you can always give a knee-jerk response, but you learn with experience that it is better to send a more nuanced reply when you've had time to consider the matter properly.

Find a personality match

Each law firm has its own personality and it's important to find one that suits yours. RPC's personality is friendly, open, collaborative and entrepreneurial and, while we do want ambitious candidates, pursuing your own agenda should never be at the expense of others. The trainees and summer students who impress me are proactive – those who complete a task and think through or undertake the next step.

When I interview trainees, I am impressed by candidates who have made the most of any opportunities they have, even if those have been limited. You don't need to have done ten vacation schemes, travelled the world or completed charity work overseas; I just want to see that you have been proactive with whatever opportunities have been in front of you.

This content first appeared in the UK 300, a product developed and created by the editors at TARGETjobs.