In-House Legal Counsel Insight
Netanya Clixby is Legal Counsel at G-Research, a quantitative finance research firm. She was previously a Derivatives and Structured Finance lawyer at American firm, Latham & Watkins.
Netanya is also co-chair and co-founder of the London Bisexual Network (the “LBN”), a network for bisexual people and allies working in finance, law, and professional services. Since 2016, the LBN has promoted bi-visibility and inclusion by organising industry events and providing training to employers.
Netanya also serves as the bisexual representative for the Law Society’s LGBT+ Division Committee. The Law Society is the professional body responsible for representing solicitors in England and Wales and is committed to promoting inclusion in the legal profession. The Committee provides an opportunity for LGBT+ solicitors to have their voices heard.
As a St Andrews alumnus, what was your experience at university like?
I loved St Andrews, it was the best four years of my life (so far)! One of the pieces of advice I always give to anybody at university is to just enjoy it while you are there. Firms do look at transcripts throughout your whole academic career, but you can get a decent 2:1 without having to miss out on student life. I got low 2:1s for the first two years of my degree when the grades did not count towards my final degree classification; I would not really recommend anything below that. Then, for the last two years, I got high 2:1s and firsts. Those kinds of marks are fine as long as firms can see a consistent improvement in your grades.
I would recommend that anyone looking to get into law should make sure that they are getting those rich experiences and making the kind of contacts that you do not even think about when you are there. Many of my university friends are useful to my career now because most of them went to London after graduation and are in law firms and other industries.
How did you decide to pursue a legal career following your Philosophy degree?
I went into a Philosophy degree with the idea that I would probably want to do law in the future. When I was at university, however, I wanted to focus on a topic I loved. I found Philosophy so interesting and it was therefore fairly easy to do well in it.
Philosophy is also relevant to law as it teaches you how to formulate very structured arguments and develop writing skills that are transferable to law. Much like in an essay, a question will be posed such as “What should we do about X? Please explain your reasoning”.
I have always had a job and worked at Zest during my 4 years at St Andrews. However, I realised I had no legal or relevant commercial experience on my CV when I graduated. With a grant from St Andrews, I completed a summer course at Harvard in emerging market economies. This really helped my applications, as it showed I had some commercial awareness.
How did your Masters of Business Adminstration develop your business understanding and support your career in commercial law?
Simmons & Simmons LLP sponsored our MBAs in Legal Services at BPP University, alongside our LPCs and training contracts, to help its trainees understand the business side of law. I am really happy I did it because I have always been more interested in the commercial and business side of matters, rather than just pure law. The reason I love my current job so much is because it is about understanding how the financial markets work which, in turn, fosters global connectivity. The fact that our global markets are so interconnected is one of the reasons that globalisation is so powerful.
The MBA also built on my summer course at Harvard and helped me understand profit and loss accounts and net present value of money, etc. It taught me to think in a business-like way rather than just a legal way. It also really helped me understand how law firms work and create value and therefore why I was doing certain tasks and, in turn, how to do them more efficiently for the firm.
What advice would you offer for students to develop their commercial awareness?
I think getting jobs is very important to get a broad range of experience; growing up, I had always had some sort of job. Even if you have done a lot of relevant courses, if you have not had some sort of job (at a cafe or a summer internship etc.), it will make it harder when you apply for a training contract. Understanding how businesses make money in all different industries is a relevant and transferable skill when applying for a training contract. If you are just seen as someone with only academics, you will be competing with all of these people who have real-life experiences.
How were your experiences at commercial firms such as Simmons & Simmons and Latham & Watkins and what areas of law are of particular interest to you?
I had a great time at both firms and feel very lucky to have worked at both of them.
During my undergraduate degree, I realised it is important to find a powerful narrative for your training contract interviews, especially being a non-law graduate, to prove to the firm why you are interested in law and that firm in particular.
When I thought about my own experience I realised I could build a narrative around Intellectual Property (“IP”). Philosophy, like IP, includes the study of intangible objects. Most IP does not really exist, it only does so because we agree it does. This provided a way for me to connect my degree to why I was interested in law. On top of that, I had some work experience in the entertainment industry in America with an agency that represented actors and actresses which was connected to copyright law.
The next step was then to figure out which firms specialise in IP but also have a broad enough base for me to try out different things. The top firms in London for IP at the time were Simmons & Simmons, Bird & Bird, and Bristows which were my top three choices for securing a training contract. It was important for me to get through the door and secure funding for my GDL and LPC as any type of law would then be open to me after my training contract.
Simmons & Simmons was my top choice because they had a broad base and a strong financial practice, which was an area I knew I might be interested in as well. However, I had nothing to show as to why this may have been the case and it would be difficult to convince somebody in an interview of this when I had zero finance experience or connection to my degree.
I did a vacation scheme at Simmons & Simmons and then accepted a training contract. My first seat was IP and I hated it! While the concept sounds interesting, the actual work I did on a day-to-day basis was quite boring to me. I did my third seat in Derivatives and Financial Services and I loved that and ended up qualifying into that area. I had a very good experience at Simmons, but after I qualified into their Capital Markets team, I realised they did not do the type of transactions that I wanted to work on at the time. Latham & Watkins had an incredible reputation for financial services in the United States and increasingly in the United Kingdom as well. So I moved to Latham and got to work on the type of deals that I was the most interested in, developing my skills as a financial services lawyer.
What links my experience with both firms is that I have always had an interest in financial technology (“Fintech”). Just before I started my training contract, I had six months off after my LPC during which time I was employed by a Fintech company to work on some software they were using to review old derivatives documents. At Simmons, I was able to keep my interest in Fintech going because the IP department advocated for this and I also had the opportunity to do a seat in Information Communication and Technology. I kept up my interest in Fintech at Latham by tweeting regularly about Fintech news topics (@NetanyaJackson).
My current organisation reached out to me because I had relevant experience in finance and an interest in technology, both of which I could do at the company. As a three-year qualified solicitor, you get to a stage where you can work fairly autonomously without the need for as much supervision or training. It was a bit earlier than I expected to move in-house, but I thought it was too good an opportunity to miss. So far so good - I have been there for three months and am really enjoying it!
How does working in a law firm differ from working in an in-house legal team?
In private practice, they tell you that you cannot do the same kind of work or develop as well working in-house, but I have been doing more varied and interesting work over the past three months than I was able to do at my firms. This is because as an in-house lawyer you are really embedded in the business. If you are working in-house for a company in an area you find interesting, such as telecoms or data privacy, you are really able to get stuck into it, in a way that you do not get to do as a private practice lawyer.
Moreover, as an in-house lawyer, you get to think about the big picture, rather than in a law firm where you become a specialist in one area. Having stayed in private practice would have meant I would be very good at a particular area but my general understanding of financial markets may have taken longer to develop. That was worrying for me, as I am interested in understanding broader financial markets and it was not satisfactory for me to only be specialised in a particular area.
There are some people who love black letter law and debating what a line of legislation means. For those people, staying in a law firm would be ideal. If what you actually find interesting is the business side of things and the law is a tool to experience the business, there is less of a benefit to you staying at a law firm after training. You can go out there and actually apply the legal training to real-life scenarios. As I was always more interested in the business side than the law, it was a bit of a no-brainer that I would eventually end up in-house.
What are Fintechs and what sort of work are you involved in?
“Fintech”, an abbreviation for “Financial Technology”, is often used to refer to companies that develop technology to be used in financial markets. Among other things, my company develops algorithms (a type of computer programme) that can be used to try and predict what the financial markets are going to do in the future. It is really interesting because you are encouraged to develop an understanding of financial markets, consider how they work, and explore the legal impact on technology.
How do you anticipate the relationship between the legal and technology industries to develop?
As a junior lawyer in the profession, I realise we are going to have to grapple with technology and will absolutely have to get our heads around.
Financial technology for me is so exciting because of how efficient it can make global markets — there is so much friction around how payments are processed, how trades happen, etc. Things that you would assume take milliseconds considering the technology we have, sometimes take two to three days because we are using paper and phoning people instead of using integrated computer systems.
As these technologies become more common, the legal contracts behind them will have to become more integrated and, in turn, lawyers will need to have a greater understanding of them. For me, this is why Fintech and Lawtech are so interesting: they are both important for a financial services lawyer because you will increasingly have to understand both to work in that industry.
Even beyond financial services, Lawtech is still relevant. Executing a document should take seconds now with electronic signatures, but instead sometimes takes days to get hard copies couriered to somebody. This type of inefficiency will be swept away with the development of Lawtech. Therefore, lawyers do need to take a critical view and get to grips with it.
Could you please tell us more about your work with promoting greater diversity and inclusion for LGBT+ lawyers?
I definitely recommend everyone having an extracurricular project they do outside of law, if anything to keep them sane. There are lots of ways to get involved in extracurriculars — most firms have affinity groups such as Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic (BAME), LGBT+, women’s equality, social mobility networks, etc. If one of those topics interests you, it is a great way to develop your network and contacts in the firm.
During my first training contract seat in IP at Simmons & Simmons, one of the partners was the Chair of the LGBT+ network and he encouraged me to found the LBN. We had our launch event when I was a trainee and it has been going ever since. Four years on, we recently did a Pride march with Citibank. We have done a lot of talks with organisations, such as JPM, Accenture, and Moody’s, providing bi-visibility training to help bisexual colleagues feel comfortable at work.
It has been great fun and has opened doors for me to speak to senior people at organisations who are invested in Diversity and Inclusion. As a trainee, you do not have the ability to do that but I could pick up the phone to senior people at organisations because of my extracurriculars.
My work with the LBN has also meant that I was appointed to the Law Society’s LGBT+ division committee, for which I am now the bisexual representative. Our role is to give a mouthpiece to all LGBT+ lawyers in England and Wales. While it looks good on a CV, it is also a nice thing to be able to do in addition to your day-to-day work. Particularly working in financial services, where I am not helping individuals, it is nice to do an extracurricular where I am having a positive social impact. I have also had the opportunity to write articles for the Law Society Gazette and the Law Society website on Diversity and Inclusion:
A decade of the Equality Act 2010, The Law Society Gazette
LGBT lawyers overseas - Are law firms doing enough?, The Law Society Gazette
Five bi-myths busted, The Law Society
What is it like to be BAME and LGBT+ at work?, The Law Society