I’m a construction lawyer so I mainly draft and negotiate construction contracts, be that in Cambridge, London or anywhere else in the world. Given my innate (Chinese-influenced) predilection towards harmony and balance, I prefer non-contentious work so if anything goes wrong I leave the litigators to do all the arguing! During the last 15 years or so, I’ve worked on a number of Cambridge projects and am proud to have been involved in the rise of this historic city (both literally and metaphorically). There’s something quite satisfying about looking out from the sixth floor of our Cambridge office and assessing my construction empire - Station Road (including the Microsoft Building), the Fire Station, Addenbrookes Research Park, the University of Cambridge and numerous Cambridge Colleges. Not only is the type of work I do interesting, but I also get to work with some supportive and (dare I say it) intelligent people and that’s become a really important part of my working life at Mills & Reeve.
I’m also a long-standing member of the firm’s China Desk and have been over to China regularly with the work. During this time, I’ve helped to forge ties with a number of Chinese law firms and multipliers and I’ve been instrumental in building an increasingly diverse Chinese client base.
Messing up at School
I went to a high-profile Grammar School in Slough, but I didn’t work very hard and left with just two O’ Levels (both grade C). After leaving school at 16, I pursued a career as a painter and decorator under the Government’s Youth Training Scheme for a modest salary of £25 a week and I realised fairly quickly that it wasn’t for me, not least because I was scared of going up ladders! From there I followed a rather uninspiring career path into catering and retail.
Thanks to the guiding hand of a great friend at the time, I went back to school (well, college) in Amersham and picked up the A Level grades I needed to study East Asian politics at Newcastle University, specialising in China. From there, I learned Chinese, got a First in my undergraduate degree and then a PhD and the rest, as they say, is (Chinese) history. I’m author of (nearly) 6 books on topics relating to Chinese human rights, regime legitimacy and the role of history in the contemporary era. I can occasionally be heard pontificating about Chinese matters on national radio (including the BBC) and I hold down teaching posts at Cambridge University, King’s College London and Tartu University in Estonia whilst also being a full-time lawyer here at Mills & Reeve.
I decided pretty quickly that I didn’t want a full-time career in academia as it’s quite a lonely existence and I fancied doing something that was a bit more commercial. Law seemed like a good option given the importance of academic ability, so I trained with Clifford Chance (including in Shanghai) before coming to Mills & Reeve in February 2005. In so doing my daily commute reduced from almost 4 hours a day to about 10 minutes on a push bike, if the traffic lights are red!
Why Mills & Reeve?
I moved to Mills & Reeve because I’d heard a lot about the firm’s reputation as an excellent law firm that looks after it employees and that has certainly proven to be the case, hence the longevity of my employment here. I’d highly recommend the firm to anyone thinking about joining, especially trainees and newly qualified lawyers given the high quality work and responsibility on offer.
My advice to junior lawyers…
- Avoid waffle in your written and oral advice. Clients hate it and don’t want to pay for it.
- Don’t be afraid to clarify the instructions you are given with the person giving them. Often that person may not have done so very clearly!
- Don’t worry too much about work when you’re away from the office (easier said than done!).