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5 minutes with Sam Ogunlaja
Q. When did you join Shearman & Sterling?
I joined the firm as a trainee in September 2011.
Q. What university did you attend and what degree did you study?
I studied law at King’s College London. Although I am from London, studying in the heart of London gave me an entirely different perspective on the city and was a really enjoyable experience. Also, from a career point of view, it was useful being ‘close to the action’ and having all of the City firms and institutions right on my doorstep.
Q. How did you find your training contract at Shearman & Sterling?
Challenging…but in the best possible way. Every day of my training contract presented different opportunities to learn, develop and grow and I was very fortunate to be supported by talented and considerate colleagues, who helped me get the most out of the process.
Also, I was part of a great cohort of trainees, many of whom remain friends to this day. We helped each other through the training contract, and had a lot of fun along the way. As a result, despite the challenges, I have fantastic memories of being a young professional in the City.
Q. What practice group are you in and how did you decide what area to specialise in?
I am in the Project Development and Finance (PDF) Group; based in Abu Dhabi, and focusing on the development of energy and infrastructure projects across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
When choosing where to qualify, I focussed on what I had enjoyed doing during my training contract and also on the practice areas I felt best suited my strengths.
I chose PDF primarily because it is both commercial and international in nature. I also like the fact that our practice revolves around tangible, working assets, meaning that the deals we execute have to work in ‘real life’ and not just on paper. Importantly, I also liked the team and thought that PDF was a group where I could develop and progress.
Q. Why did you choose to move to the firm’s office in Abu Dhabi?
In my view, one of the biggest selling points of working for an international law firm is the very fact that they are ‘international’ in nature and, at Shearman, everybody is encouraged to take advantage of the firm’s global platform.
PDF is fundamentally an emerging markets business and, from a geographical perspective, the Middle East is the perfect place from which to reach the world’s foremost emerging markets in Africa, Asia and Europe (and of course the Middle East itself). I thought that placing myself at the epicentre of these emerging markets, would give me the best chance of experiencing the broadest range of work in my practice area; and, fortunately, I have been proven right…year-round sunshine is also a nice bonus.
Q. What has been the best part of your career to date?
I am actively involved in developing the firm’s Africa practice, which is an area of personal interest and significance. Being able to work on deals, and in jurisdictions, that you are genuinely passionate about is very fulfilling.
I am also a trainee supervisor and it is rewarding to be able to help shape the careers of others…although it is a bit strange as it feels like it was only yesterday that I was a trainee myself.
Q. What has been the most challenging part of your career to date?
The transition from trainee to associate was definitely challenging – the roles are very different. As an associate, you are required to adjust to a new set of responsibilities and expectations, and get up a very steep technical learning curve, all in a very short period of time. This is a difficult, but necessary, process. The key to navigating this part of your career is focus, hard work and seeking out helpful mentors who can teach, advise and support you.
Q. You’ve spent your career at Shearman & Sterling, from trainee to senior associate. What keeps you here?
The best part of my job is working with some phenomenally talented, driven and successful people – both colleagues and clients. It is impossible to work with people of this nature for any significant length of time without being challenged to grow and improve.
I also feel that we have a unique culture here at Shearman & Sterling. Every organisation has its challenges, but I appreciate the fact that the firm is a myriad of different personality types and I feel that I can be myself here. Being able to work in an open and collaborative environment is both enjoyable and invaluable.
Q. What advice would you give to students interested in applying to Shearman & Sterling?
I would advise students applying to any firm to really understand the reasons why they are applying to that firm. At a certain level, all firms are international, do great work and pay well; however, understanding what truly makes one firm different to the others will not only help you make a more informed decision, but will make your application stand out and will give you the best chance of succeeding, should you be lucky enough to be given the opportunity to work there.