Ex-barrister runs own firm after a varied international career
After gaining a first class degree in law and training as a barrister, Dan Harris started his career at Erskine Chambers. From there he moved to a firm in the Cayman Islands and then to Shearman & Sterling in New York. After returning to London, he spent four years in-house at Goldman Sachs, leaving to set up his own specialist law firm. His firm’s clients are some of the world’s largest and most successful hedge funds. We spoke to him about the moves he has made in his career.
mtl: Hi Dan, please can you start at the beginning?
Dan: I began my legal career at the Chancery Bar, where I was involved with non-contentious company law matters at Erskine Chambers. Professionally this was very stimulating and challenging. I was instructed on BCCI-related litigation in Cayman and ended up joining the local instructing firm there. Although I sometimes miss the academic slant of being at the Bar, I have much preferred being more directly involved with the commercial world. Working in the Caribbean, one inevitably gets involved in routine off-shore work involving hedge funds and financial services. It was at that stage that my career began to take shape.
Inns of Court Bar School
Called to the Bar
Assistant, Cayman Islands
Assistant, Shearman & Sterling, New York
In-house, Goldman Sachs
Set up DHCI
I found the Cayman Islands in the mid-90’s fairly isolating from a personal point of view due to the lack of mix of distractions that you would find in a city. Although the level of responsibility as a junior lawyer was high compared to London (because of the smaller firms), the work was often in support of London or New York law firms who were doing the primary work on innovative financial transactions.
After two years I moved to Shearman & Sterling in New York as I was in need of some city life again. I joined the derivatives group there doing work for the large New York-based hedge funds, such as Soros and Tiger. It was hard work and as anyone who works in a Manhattan firm will tell you, the hours are long and on top of that you have to find time to study for the New York Bar. There is a culture of working very long hours. However, as a reflection of the maturity and sophistication of the New York hedge fund and derivatives markets, the work was probably more sophisticated at the time than it would have been in London and I was exposed to a great mix of work.
mtl: What made you return to London?
Dan: I took an in-house job at Goldman Sachs in London after a couple of years in New York. This was partly for personal reasons as it was time to come back to the UK. I also wanted to be in an in-house environment with hours that were more reasonable. There was an additional level of pressure in the job as I worked directly with traders, but this also made it more exciting. I was responsible for the legal cover for the physical and synthetic prime brokerage and offshore hedge fund administration businesses.
mtl: Tell us about setting up your own business?
Dan: I left Goldman Sachs in December 2004 to set up DHCI. The idea was partly fostered by the fact that there is an entrepreneurial culture at Goldman Sachs. My business has now completed three years. We have a very select client base and only act for the largest hedge funds globally. We focus on day to day trading issues, particularly bespoke and exotic credit, loan and equity swaps, prime brokerage, margin financing, repo and securities lending. We know our clients very well, encourage long term relationships with them and are fully accessible to them, including weekends.
Running my own business is hard work. As an employer rather than an employee I seem to have two jobs. My day job is to service clients and my night job involves administration, billing and accounting, which you can never completely outsource. As a result my hours are long and I often work weekends. However I imagine it is the same running any other business.
The lawyers working at DHCI are extremely talented and all have outstanding academic results and professional qualifications. They work hard but there is not a culture of being in the office for the sake of it. They have developed a whole host of contacts in the market that one might not as a junior associate in a bulge-bracket law firm.
The environment is pressurised because of the nature of our client base but it is also much more relaxed as there is not the same kind of formal structure found in a large institution. My colleagues interact directly with clients and develop their own relationships. The nature of the client base means that a fast turnaround, prompt answers and a deep level of understanding are all expected, so we employ high calibre lawyers.
For me, Goldman Sachs and DCHI have both provided interesting environments to work in as I have seen more of a cross section of disciplines and had more interaction with the commercial world.
mtl: Having practised at the Bar, in private practice, in-house and now that you are running your own business, do you have any tips for our readers?
Dan: First of all everyone is suited to a different working environment and you should at least look at the alternatives to the big City firms if you don’t feel comfortable where you are. Secondly, there is no shortage of lawyers in London or New York. To advance in your career I think you need to develop a particular specialism. Clients come to DHCI not because we are a full service firm but because we all have specific experience.
mtl: Thank you Dan.
If you have the charisma to work in the hedge fund sector, strong academics, derivatives experience at a top firm (and ideally also in-house) and you are interested in working for DHCI, then please contact Dan at Daniel.email@example.com.
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.
Send this feature to a friend: