Mei Lian joined the London office of global law firm Paul Hastings as finance and restructuring partner in 2020. She is recommended by the Legal 500 and has been recognised as the Best Lawyer in Insolvency & Restructuring at the Euromoney Europe Women in Business Law Awards.
She tells The Brief how she spends a typical working day...
I start my day by walking the dog, before making the short commute to our office in the City of London. It takes me about 15 or 20 minutes, and I usually get into the office at about 8.30am.
We are on the 36th and 37th floors of 100 Bishopsgate, which is a fantastic location. The office is fairly new and represents a significant investment by Paul Hastings in its London operations, with room for continued growth.
The firm was founded in Los Angeles in 1951, and now has 21 offices globally, of which London is the largest outside the US. We have 36 partners and 150 fee earners in London.
Paul Hastings is a growing firm, which employs more than 1,100 lawyers globally. It has tripled revenue and profits, and doubled revenue per lawyer globally, since 2000. I also believe it is one of the best practices around, particularly for financing work.
The first thing I do when I get to work is have a coffee. The second thing I do is check the calendar, because I like to have an overview of what commitments I have for the day, so I know what I have to fit myself around.
I also look at my emails continuously throughout the day (I was one of the original blackberry addicts!). I do try to block out time to read and review documents and papers. This generally has to fit in around calls and meetings that are already scheduled – but often this doesn’t happen until later in the evening.
I always have a to-do list on a daily basis. I am one of those people who gets immense satisfaction from striking things off the list.
Adapting through lockdown
I joined Paul Hastings in May 2020, during lockdown. That was an interesting time to join, particularly because I had spent almost 20 years with my previous firm.
I have gone through a love-hate cycle with remote working, which I think a lot of people went through.
First of all, I did not think that working at home was possible or efficient. But I adapted quite quickly and was surprised at how efficient it could be, once you cut out travel time.
I became enamoured with working from home and thought it was the best thing ever. Until I went through the next cycle where I thought, “This is a bit boring now and I’m really glad to be going back into the office.” So now, Covid protocols permitting, I come into the office three or four days a week.
We have maintained quite a high attendance rate since restrictions began to be eased. One reason for this, I believe, is that it really benefits junior lawyers to be in the office.
It is difficult to join a law firm, where you don’t know anybody, or don’t know anybody well, as a trainee and then start by having to work from home. A lot of the learning and relationships you build are from human contact, and there is a huge benefit to being around other lawyers.
In fact, a lot of the junior lawyers also actually wanted to come into the office if they could, because depending on living arrangements, sometimes there isn’t much space and it is hard to focus on work.
I think if the juniors come into the office, then, as a senior lawyer, or a partner, you also have a responsibility to be present. So, I like to come in to keep an eye on them and how they are progressing!
Finance and restructuring team
The finance and restructuring lawyers sit together, and are part of the wider corporate practice. There are five partners that do English law finance, and a further two that do restructuring. I have my own sub-team, which includes a very talented senior associate, David Shennan, with whom I have worked for many years and who came with me from my old firm, and a mid-level solicitor and a couple of juniors.
We also share resources across the finance and restructuring group, because it benefits associates to work with a range of different people and to widen their skillsets.
Following the client
I am primarily a finance lawyer, so my work revolves around many different kinds of financing, either on the borrower side or the lender side.
I tend to follow the client rather than the product, and I have strong, longstanding client relationships with a number of my clients, which are primarily hedge funds, private equity funds and the like. The work is really varied because these funds’ investments and interests can vary quite significantly.
For example, I might be working on bank debt, or capital markets instruments, or bonds, and I also work with warrants, and equity linked instruments like convertible or exchangeable bonds. I am largely agnostic as to what kind of capital instrument is being used, but the fundamental rule is that there has to be some kind of leverage involved.
I also have a significant Greek practice. I do a lot of work with Greek banks and other players in the Greek market, primarily in the non-performing loan space.
Through that, and spending a lot of time in the market, I have established strong relationships there with law firms, corporates and banks. I now receive a lot of word-of-mouth recommendations in the Greek market, and that has carried on since I moved to Paul Hastings.
I like to keep in touch with people, and I make a lot of calls every day. There are always scheduled calls, and calls connected to the deals we are working on but, these days in particular, when not everyone is in the office, it is also important to stay connected with colleagues and clients.
I am a bit old-fashioned and I like to meet clients and other people I work with in person. It helps a lot with communication throughout the process of completing deals, so I do try to meet my clients physically from time to time.
Day-to-day, though, I also like to keep in touch with people via phone calls and emails. If I haven’t heard from, or spoken to, someone for a while, then I make time in my day to reach out to them.
One of the benefits of having been in the market for a long time is that I have a really good relationship with a lot of my clients. I think of them as friends, so it’s always very easy to pick up the phone and say “hello”.
One thing I have found since lockdown is that, in common with a lot of people, the line between “at work” and “not at work” has become more blurred. So, in my area of work in particular, sometimes the day doesn’t really seem to end because, if you are at home, it is very easy just to pick up emails and answer them.
I do try to unwind after work, though. I have recently developed an obsession with Korean dramas on TV (and to justify this, am trying to learn Korean) but the other thing I have done a lot of since lockdown is exercise.
The main activity I do is boxing, and I try to take three or four classes a week at the local boxing studio near my home. It is very good for working out stress!
- Connect with Mei Lian on LinkedIn