Jeff Twentyman, partner
Jeff Twentyman is the Head of our Private Equity group. He joined Slaughter and May as a trainee in 1989 and became a partner in 1998. Here he talks about how it all began, some of the highlights – and challenges – of his career so far, and what it takes to be a successful lawyer.
How it all began
"I liked watching courtroom dramas, I liked arguing, and I once had quite a debate with a policeman. He said "you should be a lawyer", and it all came together. However, I was not a model student and my tutor was rather surprised when I told him that I would indeed like to qualify as a lawyer. By that time I had missed a place at law school (now the LPC) so I spent a year working in a bank, lending small sums to the unemployed, farmers and students, and sometimes having to go around and ask for it back. I didn’t really have any help with choosing a law firm. I gathered a few brochures and sent off some letters. I came here for an interview and liked the look of the place, so I accepted."
My first day
"I turned up with 70 or so others and felt completely out of my depth. Surrounded by people who seemed confident, intelligent and sophisticated – not words that I would choose for me. But soon enough, I worked out that first impressions aren’t always right and it was a job that was rather practical in fact and you could get a lot done by smiling and trying hard."
A valuable lesson
"I remember going along to my first meeting with a senior partner. He had arranged it and, as we set off, he asked me where we were going and what we were going to talk about. I had no idea. But he was making a point and I remember thinking those two little things would be useful facts to find out for the next meeting."
Mon stage á Paris
"I spent some time in Paris as a trainee, living in a little flat in Montmartre. I couldn’t believe my luck. I worked really hard doing all sorts of things but also had a great experience both professionally and personally."
"Then I qualified into the Corporate and Commercial group in September 1991. They were exciting times and the pace was frenetic, but there were lots of us at it, and the team spirit was good: a mixture of camaraderie through shared suffering and pride to be doing really the best work around. I was learning at an incredible rate and making contacts that have remained with me ever since. Many of the clients I worked for back then remain clients now. You meet people and, when you get on with them, and can make them laugh (even if it’s at you), a feeling of loyalty is created. And I think clients can tell when you are committed to getting a good result for them."
"I always found that Slaughter and May gave me the space to develop and take on responsibility. I had to earn it, but the rewards made it worthwhile. I remember one time singing a song in a bar (the culmination of a charity event) with some blokes from a company I had never heard of, and the next working day being surprised/sheepish to find myself advising them on the early stages of a public takeover. I never felt there was a limit to what I would be allowed to do and felt encouraged to develop my own style. Gradually I started to believe that I wouldn’t be found out after all."
Joining the partnership
"When I became a partner I realised that wasn’t an end but a beginning. I work with many of the clients I worked with as an associate, but now I’m responsible for that relationship. I inherited some clients from older partners but also found that with the support that was available to me, I established new client relationships and I now manage a number.”
A people business
"I like the people I work with, clients and colleagues, at least most of the time. It’s really important to understand that this is a people business. You have to be able to communicate and get on with people, but it is also a service business: we do things for other people. If you don’t enjoy these features, it’s not the job for you."
"I have a busy life both inside and outside the office. As well as looking after my clients I have just joined the partnership board. Away from work, I act as a mentor to a few charities and I am vice-chairman of a legal industry project that addresses the legal sector’s climate impact. I have never felt overwhelmed by my work (for very long) – at most it is occasionally first priority – and only think of myself as a lawyer when I am in the building."
Coping with the challenges
"There are frustrations too. Sometimes work interferes with your interests; sometimes the people you deal with aren’t on your wavelength; sometimes you just cannot get the outcome you want, but you learn from the frustrations and hope to be wiser next time.
My work is now a mixture of liaising with clients, communicating with the teams here, making sure we are doing our best for our clients and doing the work itself (which means reading and writing legal documents). Above all, it’s a practical job and we are very sleeves-rolled-up here. This can be quite intense and demanding, but I balance that with plenty of other things too. After some years now as a partner, I keep learning about people and the importance in a serious job to laugh and make others laugh too."