An Open Interview with Shaun Cook
Name: Shaun Cook
Organisation: Hogan Lovells
Division and Job Title: Currently a trainee solicitor on secondment to the Washington DC office in the Banking team. Will qualify as an associate in Business Restructuring and Insolvency team in London in August 2017
Degree: Philosophy and Experimental Psychology
University: University of Cambridge, Sidney Sussex College
Hobbies: Rugby Union
How many applications did you submit for a graduate job? How many interviews did you attend?
I was fortunate to submit an application for the Winter Vacation Scheme at Hogan Lovells in 2012 (for which there were two interviews during an assessment day at the office). I was successful in gaining a place on the scheme at the end of which there was an interview for a training contract which I succeeded at!.
What was the most difficult interview question you have been asked and how did you answer?
A strategic question asking for my view on how I might assist in making key changes for the firm if I were CEO was tough. However, it was an opportunity for me to reflect on information I’d read in the news and how it might feed into possible changes.
I must have got something right because the points I discussed actually eventuated a few years later!
Were you open about your disability during the application process? What support was provided to you?
Yes, I was open throughout the process and the graduate recruitment team was very helpful in providing me with extra time to complete the critical thinking test that the firm uses as part of its assessment process. Other than that there was no real need for any additional adjustments but I’m sure the firm would have been very receptive to any requests I made.
What led you to this role? Why did you choose to join this organisation?
I wanted to be able to do a job where the work varies from day to day and where there was plenty of opportunity for me to develop my professional skills both in a legal and non-legal context. Hogan Lovells was recommended to me as a firm with a great culture, world-class training, and interesting work. Ironically, when I joined the firm I thought I would not be interested in Finance work as it was something I didn’t really understand or have much exposure to with my upbringing, however throughout the course of my training contract I have sat in two Finance seats and ultimately chose to qualify into one of them!
Tell us a bit about the type of work you’re doing at the moment; what are your day-to-day tasks?
Day to day I’m involved in fairly typical junior legal work, such as drafting documents for finance transactions, conducting due diligence on potential borrowers to ensure they are a good company to make loans to from a legal perspective, as well as transaction management through keeping on top of documents that we need to see before the bank can loan money to someone. I also attend various calls and meetings on the deals we are conducting, as well as taking part in on-going training and seminars relevant to my practice area.
How do you manage your disability at work?
I think the most important thing is to be thorough when checking documents, and when time allows, putting a bit of work aside and coming back to it before sending it onto the client or partner who requested it. Often taking a break and having a second read-through of a piece of work will help me to notice any mistakes that I would not have otherwise. The other point is taking extra time to ensure I fully understand the output that is expected of me for a piece of work so that I don’t waste time working in a direction that is not right.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy the variety of getting to do complex and interesting work for high profile clients. It’s always satisfying when a large deal or piece of work is sent to the client and you can see the work that you put into it requiring little or no changes. Also, the sorts of clients Hogan Lovells works for means that you sometimes see what youve been working on coming up in the news. It’s always nice to know about something before the newspapers do!
What about your job/organisation surprised you when you first started?
I think the biggest surprise for me was that even though Hogan Lovells is a large firm, I’ve found the experience and culture of the firm is similar to the work I’d done previously in smaller organisations. A lot of the work is focused in specific teams or groups (although you will find yourself working across teams and offices often), meaning you get the benefits of working for a large firm, but with the collegiate atmosphere of working in closer knit teams.
What aspect of the job have you found most difficult to manage? Is this affected by your disability?
Probably the hardest bits of the job involve taking detailed notes of calls, conversations, and instructions from colleagues and clients. I find the biggest difficulty is being able to pay attention to what is being said and writing the notes at the same time. This is probably something that everyone struggles with to some extent, although I understand dyslexia and dyspraxia can make this more difficult.
What is your organisation’s approach to disability; how has your employer helped you do well in the workplace?
I have been offered support through both assistive technology and the trainee development team letting my supervisors know of my dyslexia, which allows them to make any adjustments they think necessary. I have been fortunate that my dyslexia has not affected my performance at work and therefore I have not required any adjustments. That being said, it’s always comforting to know the firm has structures in place to assist with issues should they ever arise.
Tell us about a personal strength or a valuable plus which you have developed, as a result of your disability. How has it helped you in your career?
I think that having dyslexia has made me more aware that I can have difficulties with my attention to detail sometimes, which means that I consciously focus in on that more. You find that when you start working as a trainee solicitor you think you have good attention to detail until your first piece of work is read over by your supervisor! So it’s always a good strength to keep working on that aspect.
What advice would you give a student with a similar disability, who wants to pursue a career in the field you work in?
My biggest piece of advice is to be open with the people you work with about the nature of your disability so that any assistance you may need can be put in place up front, rather than if or when things may have got on top of you. Also, it’s important to not allow you to be defined by your disability. You’ll find that the impact it has on you in the workplace is probably less pronounced than when you’re at university, and therefore you shouldn’t be put off a career in law just because you worry how your dyslexia or dyspraxia may affect your work or be perceived. Some of the senior lawyers I’ve worked with are in a similar situation and have carved out incredibly successful careers.