We speak to Denise Sexton about her career
Denise, why did you decide to pursue a career in law?
Looking back, although I didn't realise it at the time, it all started at a pretty young age sat round the family dinner table. I was the youngest of a family that liked a discussion and as a result of my age my opinions were largely put to one side; cue a few years later and I put forward an argument for one discussion and for the first time, everyone at the table stopped and listened to me. I think that was my first lesson in listening and thinking first before coming up with a suitable response and that was the start of it all. However, it did take another few years before making the decision to convert to Law - I started off with a degree in psychology before taking the leap and doing the law conversion course. Having a non-law degree has been very helpful to put a different perspective on issues and problems to be solved - it also was amusing seeing people's reactions in meetings when they heard that I had studied psychology.
Where have you worked and what’s your specialist area?
I started out as a trainee at a national firm on the south coast. My first seat was in real estate and I was hooked from day one. I moved from there to a City firm as a newly qualified and having done two seats in real estate, coupled with a seat in corporate dealing primarily with real estate transactions, I had a head start in this new job. I was lucky enough to start work in the pre-financial crash era and I got involved in some pretty complex deals right from the start ranging from synthetic leases to development and investment projects across the country. I got made up to partner in 2007 which in hindsight was not the best timing and it was a challenging (but ultimately rewarding) time following the 2008 banking crisis.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Getting involved in the business side of the transaction. I really enjoy getting to know our clients and understanding why they are doing what they do and then helping them achieve their goals.
What’s the most high profile or memorable deal you’ve worked on?
To be honest most deals that I have worked on have been memorable, not necessarily for their high profile nature or even complexity, but more due to the people that I have worked with, both within my teams and the clients and their advisors. It's also often the smaller deals that stick in my mind; for example, working on the real estate aspects of film sets; converting an historic trading building to high end retail; developing a community centre - on all of these whole new sets of issues came up testing my experience and problem solving skills. It's that kind of challenge that pulled me towards the law.
You moved out of London a few years ago; what prompted that decision?
After living in London for over 12 years, the country side of me took over and I moved (with my now husband) to North Oxfordshire. I remained working in London for a further two years, but commuting over two hours each way five days a week catches up with you after a while. Whilst not that long ago, this was in a time where agile working was something that trendy organisations did, and as a law firm we were definitely not trendy! Looking back the approach of having to be in the office five days a week was counter-productive, especially with individual offices, which meant that you could go from one end of the week to the other without really speaking to anyone else. I therefore made the decision to move work closer to home and after a few teething problems, I have definitely not looked back. I now have the balance of working on incredible transactions in and out of London with a superb team, but working in an agile way which suits my clients, my team and - for my own sanity - me. As technology advances and clients often work to a 24/7 rhythm, I believe having the extra flexibility to work in an agile way is key to helping balance work and other commitments sensibly and productively.
Have you ever had any regrets?
When I moved out of London, leaving my team was hard. I had worked with them for 14 years and despite ups and downs it's like leaving your family. However, I chose my new position well - with some help from a recruitment advisor who knew the market and the personalities and therefore where I would fit in best - and now work with a brilliant supportive team and I am very pleased that I made the move.
Have you got any advice for readers who might be considering relocating out of London?
Do your research. Moving firms is all about where you will have the best fit. With Gowling WLG, for me, this was obvious from early on. In one of my interviews, the comment was made that given my client contacts it was like I already worked at the firm. Culture is an increasingly important factor. Yes, it was important to find a firm with a growing international client base and assignments that will challenge me, but it was also clear to me through doing research and the interview process that Gowling WLG places a great emphasis on culture. Firms which look after their people well see the benefits in the personal and professional development of their teams. This, in turn, can only help to make their clients happy too.
What’s your biggest driver in business?
Enjoying my work, having a good team around me and working with (and not for) my clients.
Where do you see yourself in five years' time and what are your personal career goals?
I have always been ambitious and I am always looking to develop my client base and legal knowledge in a commercial setting. However, I am very keen to develop and mentor the junior team coming up. I was incredibly lucky with my mentors throughout my career and I want to ensure that the people I work with have the same opportunities. In five years' time? At the moment, who knows - let's see what Brexit brings first.