Linklaters’ global head of corporate Simon Branigan has been at the firm since 1998. He was promoted to partner in 2009, and in June 2021 took on the global corporate mantle.
During his time at the firm, he has advised on a variety of major deals, including OneSavings Bank and Charter Court Financial Services’ £1.6 billion merger and Capita in relation to its £701 million rights issue. Here, he talks office takeaways and ducking into the bathrooms at Buckingham Palace to take a call.
Home office or ‘real’ office?
For me it’s the real office. I like being around people, around the team, I like the noise, the buzz, the energy. It’s always good to have a mixture but for me it’s definitely the in-person office.
What advice would you give to young corporate lawyers starting out?
Always look after your teams and that will pay dividends throughout your career, and always put yourselves in the shoes of the client in everything you do.
Why did you become a lawyer?
I watched a lot of TV as a kid. There’s no lawyers in my family, I come from a working class Northern Irish background, and I used to watch LA Law (which definitely dates me!). I was convinced that that’s what law was like, life as a lawyer was as glamorous as LA Law, so I thought, ‘I’ll have a piece of that’. Also the fact everyone wore fantastic suits and ties. No one in my family had a job that required suits and ties, so I was very impressed.
What’s your proudest professional moment?
I have three. When I was elected partner because still to this day it feels a privilege; when I was appointed global head of corporate; and seeing very junior lawyers progress, either being elected themselves to partnership or becoming more experienced. Particularly junior lawyers I’ve worked with, you see them with clients and you think back to when they sat with you as a trainee and you can see the progression. That makes me feel incredibly proud.
…and have you had a worst day on the job?
Every day is like one big party! But there is one, as a junior lawyer I was sending out emails very late at night. I did a spell check because I was very well trained. Unfortunately there was an autocorrect and so I sent an email to the lawyer on the other side, with all of the clients copied in, which started off “Dear asexual” as their name was autocorrected. At the time I thought the world was about to end. Now I look back and think it’s hilarious. It’s the only email cockup I’ve had in 24 years so that’s not too bad, but it was definitely a corker!
Most memorable deals you’ve worked on and why?
The ABN Amro acquisition back in 2007 will always be memorable. It was enormous, involving about 70 jurisdictions and was really like 20 deals all in one. Also I acted for House of Fraser on its sale to their Chinese buyer at the time, it was smaller but incredibly complex, mostly because of the personalities involved.
Where’s the most absurd place you’ve taken a work call?
I’m a master of finding quiet alleyways in the centre of London when I suddenly have to do a conference call. I’m like a homing pigeon, able to find a quiet spot with no traffic even off Regents Street! But perhaps the gents toilets at Buckingham Palace is a good one!
What are the main risks and opportunities facing your clients right now?
Overall in the immediate term it’ll be entering into slightly choppier waters. That of course also creates opportunities for clients, but for some there’s a geopolitical angle, particularly with China and Russia, that will create some risks for some clients who have larger presence in those jurisdictions.
What are the main risks and opportunities facing law firms right now?
I would say there’s still a lot to play for in lots of jurisdictions, from Linklaters perspective, like the U.S. We will be increasingly very active, I hope, in the U.S going forward. Equally general competition is a risk, particularly U.S. law firms in the U.K., but also expanding into other jurisdictions where we have offices. There’s real increasing competition in the war for talent.
What most annoys you about the legal profession?
Lawyers that fixate on small points and lose the bigger picture. Particularly, points their clients don’t care about, but they see it as the world’s about to end if they give up this point. It does no one any favours and is not acting in the best interest of the client.
How sustainable are junior lawyer pay rate increases?
We need to be flexible on that. We’ve gone through a number of years where there’s fierce competition in the market and unsurprisingly this leads to increase in pay, led largely by U.S. firms. We need to be very clear in terms of what our offering is. Pay is unbelievably important, but we also have to recognise we offer something in addition to very high salaries. If it was just about the money many of us would go off and work somewhere else and do something else. It’s important but it can’t be the only thing that retains people.
You’re stuck late working in the office, what food are you ordering and what music will get you through?
With the expensive taste I have — Nandos chicken pitta, medium spicy, with fries. Also their mash potato is amazing and that’s coming from someone who’s Irish! My taste in music is terrible. It would be anything by Sigala, Kygo or (and embarrassingly I shouldn’t admit this but it’s true), Little Mix.