I used to pretend I decided to be a lawyer at 16. My sister made a visit to me in London and one of our smarter associates asked: ‘So, tell us when Phil decided to be a lawyer?’ My sister said: ‘You were eight, weren’t you?’ She blew my cover. I’ve always been attracted to it.
I don’t believe people that do well have an unerring right to succeed and it’s entirely down to their own abilities. Loads of incredibly able people don’t hit the right spot. I was very lucky that I started working as a lawyer doing something that I turned out to be good at. I could easily have done something else. I applied because I didn’t know what else to do.
Law attracts people who are not just in it for money, but want that sense of professionalism and intellectual curiosity, and also people who want to work with other people. I became more entrepreneurial as I became older, but whether I am entrepreneurial, I’m not sure. I’m a team person, not a classic entrepreneur.
It’s been an amazing career. I’ve been with Clifford Chance (CC) for 40 years. People had just stopped wearing bowler hats when I started, I was relieved to notice. What I remember was being in Royex House at Coward Chance. No air conditioning – we used to bake in the summer. People used to go out for lunches and have a bottle of wine a head and work in the afternoons.
I remember watching then senior partners walking in at ten in the morning. They’d go for a long lunch with clients and go home at three. I thought one day that might be my life. Of course, it never has been my life. The City has changed completely.
I’m a forward-looking type of guy. Looking back on your career is something you do when you’re retiring. At the bright chickeny age of 50 it’s not the right time to be looking back. In a traditional English law firm, when you come to 50 there’s this unspoken thing of ‘when are you going to go?’ It’s sort of like granny sitting in the corner. In a US firm nobody thinks you know anything until you’re at least 50.
Management is not my thing. I’m more interested in the clients and doing the work. Triangulating complicated personalities and mucking about in committees is not my thing. Continue reading “Life During Law: Marco Compagnoni”
In 1980 I went from doing conveyancing in Manchester to international finance at Coward Chance (CC). The banking practice at that time had around five partners and we were left to our own devices. I got to spend a lot of time with clients, one of which was Citibank, where I went on secondment in 1984 – there were no in-house teams at that time so I was the only lawyer there. At that time, Chase Manhattan Bank was one of Allen & Overy (A&O)’s key clients. I remember going back to my senior partner at CC and saying I thought we could get a lot of work from Chase, and I was told not to bother. But I gave it a go and, eventually, they became one of CC’s biggest clients.
I’ve been really fortunate. I’ve had extraordinary opportunities in my career. I’ve had the opportunity not just as a hands-on lawyer, but also to do some politics, to take part in the affairs of the country… I’d like to think also that I’ve helped some people in a number of ways.
There have been a lot of memorable cases. The Afghan warlord we got convicted at the Old Bailey. I suppose Caparo in the House of Lords – a huge case on auditors’ negligence. That was a tremendous result – we happened to get the result on the day of my wedding anniversary. That was quite nice.
The favourite part of my job is being in court. It shouldn’t be but it is. I like being there, I like arguing, I like winning. It doesn’t always happen. I want to put on a good show, to do a good performance, and to solve the problem. I don’t like not solving legal problems.
I was in the first ever gender-mixed year at my college in 1976. I got on very well with one particular girl and she was reading law and I developed an interest. I applied to Freshfields, Linklaters, Allen & Overy, Lovell, White & King and Simmons & Simmons. I got five interviews and five offers in 1982 and chose Freshfields. In those days it was a lot easier to get a job.
Regrets? I would have loved to have gone off and done more mountain climbing, but that would have been very selfish as I had a family. Sport has always been a stress buster – I used to work closely with Anthony Salz, when he was co-senior partner at Freshfields, and I used to drive him mad because I’d hit the gym for an hour right in the middle of a deal, but it really helped to refresh me. But there was a tension between being a sportsman and a serious lawyer. But from early on, I wanted to be the best M&A lawyer. My three boys – Max, Tim and Nicky – are all sportsmen and it drives my wife mad as it is one hell of a competitive place at home.