Alex Denny: from aspiring actor to law

Alex Denny, a second-year archaeologist from St Catharine’s, shares his experiences and aspirations in corporate and commercial law

My family is originally from Scotland but I live in Guildford in Surrey.

I currently study Mediterranean Archaeology, which I’ve been interested in since school, and specialise in Egyptian Archaeology. Outside of my academics, I take part in a lot of Cambridge’s societies, including Model United Nations and the Catz Poker Society.

Before I came to Cambridge, I took a gap year.

I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do on it, so I applied to about 70 different jobs, from pub openings to diary assistants, including a Secretary position at Stevens & Bolton, a law firm in Guildford. They offered me the role of Assistant instead, and I worked in the firm’s HR and Marketing departments over my gap year. I interacted with a really broad range of lawyers across the firm, and had the chance to get involved with several of their cases and client tasks. The work that I experienced at Stevens & Bolton was fascinating, and I enjoyed both the problem-solving nature and complexity of working for clients, and the high profile deals the firm was involved in – such as the acquisition of SABMiller by AB InBev from 2015 to 2016.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting legal advisers to the British Museum, Sotheby’s and Christie’s

With my interest in corporate law piqued, I started applying for Spring schemes and internships in my first year.

Last spring I spent time at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Herbert Smith Freehills on their First Year Insight schemes, in addition to also attending BP’s Integrated Supply and Trading Insight scheme. What I enjoyed most about these opportunities was the workshops they offered; while completing corporate case studies and arbitration scenarios, I found assuming the role of a buyer or seller and negotiating with the ‘other side’ of each case study really exciting, as you use the information and your debating skills to try and organise the best possible deal for both parties. I also learnt a great deal at BP about global markets and the direct impact of trading commodities, energy and currency, which I’m hoping to be able to apply to my future career.

Since last year, I have also been a Linklaters’ Brand Ambassador for Cambridge.

This has given me a great insight into the world of corporate and commercial law, and I’ve met many lawyers along the way who have discussed their really engaging work on high profile cases. After graduating, I’m hoping to start a Training Contract at a law firm in London, but I am also really keen to spend time working in Hong Kong, given the growing legal market in Asia and the rise of interaction between firms in the city and their counterparts in Shanghai. While it’s very early to consider the trajectory of my career, I have met lawyers who work on fascinating cases in-house in journalism, finance and the entertainment industry, and I would love the opportunity to spend a segment of my career practising law in-house. In particular, I’ve had the privilege of meeting legal advisers to the British Museum, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, and given my experience as an Archaeologist I would love to have the opportunity to combine my interest in Archaeology and History with my future career in law.

Alex in Fatehpur Sikri, India, near Agra, where he was visiting some archaeological sites with friends

I’ve been inspired to choose law as a career because I find the challenges of corporate law exciting and thought-provoking.

I enjoy researching problems and searching for solutions to complex tasks, and I particularly enjoy the approach that firms take to this by focusing on teamwork and collaboration. Law, of course, holds a variety of obstacles, too – working under pressure (as we all know at Cambridge) can be difficult, and while advising FTSE 100 clients and analysing cases that often make the front page of  the Financial Times is no doubt thrilling, my experience of high-profile clients at Stevens & Bolton indicates that it is also stressful given the high risk associated with your work.

I attend many of the events the Careers Service organises

I’m hoping to find out more about corporate and commercial law over this Summer,

and see the impact of these and other challenges. Last term I was offered a Vacation Scheme position at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, and I’m really looking forward to my three weeks with the firm and learning a lot more about practising law and the experiences of the Trainees, Associates and Partners at the firm. In addition, I’m also going to be attending several excavations as part of my degree in Italy and Austria at Paleolithic sites. With both opportunities, I’m hoping to develop my understanding of the enjoyable elements of being a Lawyer or Archaeologist, the difficulties they face in their work, and how the two areas of study can interact. Following my time at Freshfields, I aspire to receive a Training Contract offer in the firm and spend 2020 preparing for this and beginning both the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC).

During my time at Cambridge, I’ve received a lot of help from the Careers Service towards reaching the current stage of my career.

I regularly read and listen to articles and podcasts released by the Careers Service – from a legal perspective, I find the interviews the CS conducts with former students who are now practising lawyers really helpful for growing my knowledge of what law is actually like for individuals graduating from Cambridge. In particular, I attend many of the events the Careers Service organises. Whether for law, banking or technology, I’ve found it incredibly helpful to meet people working in the corporate world and learn more about what they would have done in my position as an undergraduate and their advice for starting a competitive legal career.

I’m really looking forward to sharing what I learn over the summer with the Cambridge community, and I hope you find it informative. As an additional fun fact, law was actually the second career I was interested in – at school, I was keen to become an actor after I had a role as an extra in a teen comedy in 2009 (It had Colin Firth and David Tennant in it – that’s all I’ll say…)

If you’re interested in a career in Law, explore our Career Sectors A-Z for our best advice, and sign up to receive CamCareers emails from our careers advisers

You should also look out for our two Law events in Michaelmas each year

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