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Q&A: Latham’s Sophie Lamb on life in chambers, practice and the danger of post-Brexit immigration policy

Latham & Watkins’ global co-head of international arbitration Sophie Lamb (pictured) discusses Lord Goldsmith, Latham and the impact of Brexit with Georgiana Tudor.

Why Latham, and how did you find the transition from Debevoise?

I started as a barrister at One Essex Court and made the move to law firm practice relatively early on, so that I could focus on international arbitration. I made partner in 2006 – I was the youngest partner of my then firm – and moved to Debevoise in 2008 where I spent eight happy years working in particular with Lord Goldsmith and David Rivkin. I have an enormous amount of respect for them and that practice.

But Latham was an opportunity for me to put my own stamp on an international arbitration practice. Latham has everything you could want for an international arbitration practice: it is a truly global platform with a clear sense of purpose and ambition.

What were your early years like as a lawyer? How did you get into it?

I was the first person in my family to go to university never mind pursue a career in law. I didn’t know anyone at the Bar but wanted to be an advocate and so I went for it. With hindsight I’m rather glad that I didn’t know at the outset how difficult it can be to get a tenancy: I might have chosen a very different path and then missed out on this whole adventure.

Standout matters in your career?

I often get involved in novel cases which seek to push the boundaries in some way or which involve wider public interests. No two cases have really been the same.

Going to the Supreme Court for the first time in 2013 – acting on a novel point of arbitration law – was definitely a career highlight. Acting for Exxon in its NAFTA arbitration against Canada was a key case for me. Significant because of the interests involved, but also as representatives of other governments were also present following the proceedings – so it was quite the audience.

How much of a risk are US firms to UK firms do you think?

There will continue to be movement in the legal market. Some firms are struggling with strategy and identity, others with financial performance. Having a very strong US component is also key to many practice areas.

You only need to look at the list of people joining Latham and where they’ve come from to get a sense of what is going on in the market. When I joined, I only got to be the new partner for about a week before the next one arrived!

What impact do you think Brexit will have on the legal market?

Among other things I do hope we don’t end up closing the door on the incredible intellectual capital we have enjoyed from across Europe, and especially on young people seeking to join the profession. We have been very lucky to benefit from that. And of course to send our own young people across Europe in return.