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5 minutes with…Jonathan Toffolo, Associate, Shearman & Sterling

Q. What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?

This completely depends on the day. Some days I get in, make a cup of tea, have a chat to colleagues and check the news. On other days my phone is already ringing when I get in the office, so I need to get straight to it and tea needs to wait!


Q. What sort of daily responsibilities does an associate have? How does it differ from a trainee role?

If you wanted to be reductive, you could say checking emails and answering the phone. However, there’s a lot more that goes into it than just that. Responsibilities can include drafting documentation; reviewing documentation provided by the other side and checking against term sheets/precedents/market standard documents/client instructions; reviewing signed documents to advise clients of what steps they need to take/what rights they have when a query or issue has arisen; pro bono work; attending or delivering training; reviewing work completed by juniors/trainees; attending to bills; attending client events including training, pitching and social events and much more. The trainee role includes all of the above, just with more oversight from associates/partners and even more training opportunities.


Q. Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day? What sort of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?

I have a split practice. On the one hand I work on greenfield project financings, typically with international financial institutions, development finance institutions, export credit agencies and commercial lenders for projects in emerging markets (mainly in Africa). On the other hand I work on brownfield infrastructure financings (including for acquisitions) and typically act for sponsors or lenders (including commercial banks and institutional investors). I am also undertaking a number of exciting pro bono matters.

Q. What’s your ideal holiday destination?

A warm city with decent nightlife and maybe a nearby beach.

Q. What is your favourite food?

Anything from any country in Asia.

Q. In your experience, what qualities or attributes does an associate need?

You need a good sense of humour, the ability to work in a team and understand the big picture so you can ensure your work product fits neatly into the overall puzzle, curiosity and a healthy degree of cynicism in order to help you investigate things that ‘don’t quite seem right’ and ask appropriate questions. It also helps to be resilient. By that I don’t mean being able to work for hours on end with no sleep—I mean managing your time effectively and keeping an eye on your health (both mental and physical) to ensure that you don’t burn out.

Q. How would you describe your workload? Do busy periods alternate with lulls or is it all go, go, go?

It really depends as a lot of my work can be affected by external factors such as elections or other political incidents. There are certainly busy periods (e.g. the run-up to summer and Christmas) and lulls (e.g. during summer). It also depends where the project is based and where the clients are. For example, if a lot of your work is with Middle Eastern clients, you may find there is a lull over Ramadan. If you work a lot in Asia, there may be a lull during the mid-autumn festival or Lunar New Year. Often I am on multiple deals in different jurisdictions though, so someone somewhere will always need something, but that works well for me as I much prefer to have something going on.

Q. What songs best describes your work ethic?

‘Work’ by Rihanna.

Q. What would your superpower be and why?

Probably teleporting, so I could save on CO2 emissions when going abroad (and also have more food options at lunch time).

Q. Have you had any particularly memorable cases while working at Shearman & Sterling?

I think my most memorable deal so far was also one of the biggest deals I have done. It was a large-scale refinancing and we were working incredibly hard for a few months, with not a great deal of sleep. Every possible issue that could come up did come up. This probably sounds awful, but actually it’s doing that kind of deal where you learn the most. I hadn’t worked with the other associates on a deal before since joining Shearman, so it was also a great way of getting to know them. After that deal we are all far more in sync and each have one another’s backs. This means we can now manage our deal load super efficiently and also help each other out if any of us are under water.

Q. What was the last gift you gave someone?

Most likely a bottle of something; I’m not very inventive with gift-giving.

Q. What two items would you take with you to a desert island?

A satellite phone and a lighter.

Q. What advice would you give to aspiring lawyers?

Attend open days and try and to meet the people you could one day be working with. It will give you such a better insight into what a firm is really like than their websites.

Q. If you won £10 million on the lottery, what’s the first thing would you do?

Obviously I wouldn’t resign… I would definitely buy a house or three and then, if I had any money left over, maybe tell my friends and family that I won a bit of money on the lottery!