Sophia Di Xiao

Image for Sophia Di Xiao

Until three years ago, I had never considered a legal career. There was no lawyer in my family or among my parents' friends. I chose translation as my major in university, because of my passion for foreign languages. When graduation came and with no clear idea about what I wanted to do in life, I went on to do what I did best – being a student. Before I knew it, I was donning a red gown reserved for PhD graduates in the Durham Cathedral and adding the title "Doctor" to my name. By that time, joining the academia was the obvious choice, but I also knew one thing for sure, that the academic path was not for me.

I knew I had acquired many transferable skills whilst in university. I had worked part-time as a freelance translator and interpreter for almost ten years. I also had three years' experience lecturing MA students. I was good at organisation, communication and presentation. Researching  into complex subjects, processing large amounts of information, constructing compelling arguments and an attention to detail were my strengths. I therefore began looking for an industry that valued these skills, eventually finding law.

I applied to all the major law firms in Newcastle, and among them, WBD showed a genuine interest in my non-law background. The firm also has strong international links with regional roots in Newcastle. For me, who had built a life in Newcastle but wished to continue using my linguistic skills, it was the ideal firm. I joined WBD's commercial team in March, and I am now near the end of my first seat. In the past five months, I have been given many opportunities to attend client meetings and gained experience through amending, reviewing and drafting contracts.

From day one, I have been impressed by the firm's investment in my professional development. I was invited by partners to meetings with longstanding clients during my first week and was asked to produce a first draft of the agreement after the meeting. With little practical experience, it felt like being thrown into the deep end, but I loved the challenge and nothing compared with learning through doing. Whenever I did have questions, I knew that support from other teammates was only a phone call away.

I quickly realised that I could rely on not just members of the Newcastle office, but the whole commercial team across the country. Using HighQ as a platform, we regularly share precedents, know-how notes and client training materials to improve the efficiency of our services and maximise the value of our work. Being a trainee in such a well-connected firm has its perks. I was involved in a wide range of interesting and challenging projects, from commercial contracts to data and competition regulations, from the manufacturing industry to the technology sector.

In my seat, I particularly enjoy drafting and learning about client's businesses. Drafting poses the challenge of finding language solutions to reflect complex commercial arrangements. The most exciting project for me had to be a high-value deal I saw to completion, which sent me traveling to York for my first face-to-face client meeting and an action-packed all-party negotiation.

A six-month seat, although short, was enough to show me the day-to-day life of a commercial lawyer and the many possibilities it offers. I learnt a lot from the experienced fee earners on my team and will continue to do so for many years to come. My next seat is going to be a client secondment, which will see me take on even more responsibilities and build my confidence and independence as a future lawyer.