Q and A with Claire Thompson

MLS alumni Claire Thompson has been recognised as one of Australia's best rising lawyers, after she was announced a winner in the Mergers and Acquisitions category of the Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 awards.

Claire Thompson professional profile photo

Ms Thompson (LLB 2011), who now works as  a solicitor at Herbert Smith Freehills, tells us about her achievements after graduating from Melbourne Law School.

Can you tell us about your work in mergers and acquisitions?

Practice as a mergers and acquisitions lawyer has a strong focus on contract drafting and negotiation. I work in a team that does both private and public work so I get exposure to a wide range of transactions. For example, I might work on a private sale process that is bespoke to the business of the target company, as well as more heavily regulated public company transactions.

I don't have a particular specialisation yet, and I have a lot of variety in my work. Because most of the transactions we do involve changes in ownership of companies, these are often very significant moments for our clients and it is important we get things right. It is interesting to help a client navigate a major transaction because there are so many aspects to consider, not only deal-specific risks or issues, but how the transaction operates in the context of a client's existing contractual framework or future growth aspirations.  

What did you do directly after graduating?

With law, you throw your hat into the clerkships ring in your second last year and see what happens. My transcript left a bit to be desired so I wasn't exactly the most sought-after clerk in town, but I did two clerkships. That meant I got to try a few different areas of practice, and I enjoyed mergers and acquisitions the most.  For my graduate job I decided to work at Norton Rose Fulbright, which was a great firm to start with because it had just become international. As part of my graduate program I completed a secondment in the London office. To be only 18 months out of Melbourne Law School and already working in London was a great experience. It was over the summer which was also fabulous because we got to watch Wimbledon and do all those traditional English summertime things.

I was very lucky to start my career working with a great Partner and Senior Associate at Norton Rose Fulbright who taught me a lot. I was there for about 3.5 years before I moved over to Herbert Smith Freehills.

What are some of your career highlights so far?

Working in London was a career highlight. Since then I’ve also worked on a couple of difficult transactions that I felt a real sense of achievement about. Some transactions have a lot of moving parts, and the thing I like best about mergers and acquisitions is that it involves so much problem solving, which I really enjoy. If it doesn’t work one way, you try it a different way. There’s opportunity for creative and lateral thinking. Also it’s not litigious so you work in very positive space with clients who are trying to build something or develop a new business. Occasionally there is conflict, but generally parties are working together with a lot of good faith.

Are you interested in other areas of law?

Every now and then I watch an episode of Silk or Janet King and I think “wouldn’t it be amazing to be a public defender or prosecutor, working in criminal law”, but I think that ship has sailed for me now. The knowledge is very different between criminal and corporate law. I’m not a litigator so I don’t go to court. There’s a part of me that would love to do that one day but the stakes are very high – you’re dealing with people’s liberties. It is probably for the best that I keep it to the true crime books on my bedside table!

How do you feel about your Lawyers Weekly 30 under 30 achievement?

It’s a nice acknowledgement of the work I’m doing and where I’m heading.  The normal lifespan of a lawyer is you’re a graduate, then it takes about a year to be admitted, another five to become a senior associate, and it can be another five to ten years after that until you may become a partner. I'm still just at the start of my career and I have more to learn, but it's nice to know that I'm heading in the right direction.

– As told to Cecilia Dowling