From Hong Kong to Moscow to Oxfordshire
Since completing the BVC, Kevin Withane has worked for a charity, in both the public and private sectors, private practice, internationally (in Asia and Russia) and now in-house. He’s also been made redundant along the way but has bounced back from that and is enjoying his role in Oxfordshire, where he is a legal adviser for a global automotive parts company. We spoke to him about his varied career.
mtl: Hi Kevin, you’ve done so much already - please can you start at the beginning of your career.
Kevin: I finished my law degree in 2000 and took a year out to travel afterwards. I did the BVC at the College of Law but wasn’t offered a pupilage in 2002 when I finished. Instead, I went in-house to RNID (an incredibly well-run charity for the deaf) on a contract basis. In 2003 I moved to the Strategic Rail Authority and stayed for a year before trying the private sector where I worked for a small telecoms company as a lawyer and company secretary.
In 2005, my partner at the time moved to China for work. I was told that it would be difficult to find work there myself, but I went anyway. As I didn’t have the language, in-house roles weren’t an option but when I got there I interviewed with several local and international firms for a corporate position. Simmons & Simmons gave me the best offer and I joined their Shanghai office. Initially I was employed via the Hong Kong office until I got a work permit, which took over a year to obtain.
I loved Shanghai and stayed there for two years. I was part of a great team and did a mixture of demanding joint venture and M&A work at about the 2/3year PQE level. I then moved to the Hong Kong office, where I became a bridge between the two offices, returning occasionally to Shanghai.
I then decided that I’d like to specialise in energy and infrastructure work in the long-term. However there was very little of this type of work at Simmons at the time, so I looked around for alternative jobs. Russia and the Middle East were the obvious destinations to head for and I got a great offer from a US firm in Moscow. My fiancé (who was a lawyer at A&O) and I moved there in 2008 and I joined Chadbourne and Parke as a 4/5year PQE lawyer. Although we had a great time living there, life as a lawyer in Moscow is much harder than in Asia as fewer people speak English and it was harder to justify our existence as ex-pats.
Unfortunately I didn’t get the energy work that I’d been promised and so I did more corporate and private equity deals. After a year, the downturn hit and my fiancé and I were both unexpectedly made redundant and given a couple of weeks to leave the country, far sooner than we wanted to go. During this period I’d taken the QLTT exam as a precaution. It wasn’t necessary when working internationally, but in the UK it is useful to be a solicitor rather than a barrister.
mtl: How did you deal with a double redundancy?
Graduated with a law degree
Strategic Rail Authority
Premier Communications International
Simmons, Shanghai and HK
Chadbourne & Parke, Moscow
Travel, studying Chinese in Shanghai
In-house at TI Automotive
Kevin: The first thing we did was to drive around Europe for a few months in a camper van while deciding what to do next! I was very keen to go back to Asia as I wanted to improve my Chinese, so I enrolled in the University of Shanghai, where I spent the next six months studying the language. At that point, we discovered that my wife was pregnant and so it became necessary to sort out my employment situation sooner rather than later.
We returned to the UK to look for work and I saw an advert in The Lawyer for a senior legal adviser role for Europe and Asia for TI Automotive, based in Oxford. It’s a £1.6bn global automotive parts manufacturer based in 27 countries, with its head office in the US. There are only four lawyers in total and we are therefore very busy.
My role involves a mixture of corporate refinancing, corporate transactions, commercial work, helping business managers with processes and contractual procedures and litigation. It also includes a lot of travel, especially to Asia, which suits me perfectly. The hours are great and although I choose to start by 8am, I am usually home by 6:15pm. My bosses are amazing, it’s a great company work for and I can work from home if I need to, which is handy as we now have a new baby.
mtl: What are your plans for the future and do you have any advice based on your experience?
Kevin: I’ve only been in my current job for six months and I’m really enjoying it. In the long-term we’d like to live in Asia again, but this job allows me to travel there in the meantime and there is scope for moving back with the same company at some point.
In comparing my different roles, I found that in private practice there is always a team behind you and a lot of support on offer. However you never really understand what drives your client as you are not part of the day to day business.
Working in-house means that you can fully understand the client and embed yourself within a business, become relied upon and see things through, which is much more satisfying. You also get a greater level of responsibility and deal with senior management on a regular basis. In-house can be very challenging as each day is different, the work varies so much and you have to be able to turn your hand to many tasks.
The experience I had early on in my career gave me exposure to being in a business and this helped when I was working in private practice. Likewise, the experience of working in private practice internationally has helped me in my current job because I understand how different jurisdictions and customs can be and how you address them.
If you are ever given the opportunity to work abroad then take it as it is amazing to learn so much about a different culture. I really can’t see any negatives. I had complex and challenging work and more freedom at a more junior level to get involved with it than I apparently would have done in London.
Finally, I recommend applying for jobs directly to the employer in lean times as I had much more success this way myself.
mtl: Thank you for getting in touch with us and good luck with your career.
If you know any other lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives or who have a great work/life balance then please get in touch.
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