MISHCON DE REYA

Mishcon de Reya is an international law firm with offices in London and New York. Founded by Lord Mishcon in Brixton in 1937, it attracted attention in the 1990s when it represented Princess Diana in her divorce. It has since acted in numerous high-profile matters, including representing Gina Miller in her successful Supreme Court challenges to the process of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and Boris Johnson's suspension of parliament and acting for global brands including Microsoft, Sky, American Express, Christian Louboutin, Kering Group, Universal Music and Prada.

Suzi Sendama is a litigator acting for clients across a range of sectors. She is shortlisted for Woman of the Year – Rising Star at the Citywealth Powerwomen Awards 2020 and is a finalist for the Rising Star Award at Legal Week's 2019 Commercial Litigation and Arbitration Awards.

Stephen Rowe is Head of Business Development covering Real Estate and Sectors including Fashion & Retail.

WHAT DO YOU WEAR TO WORK?

SR: I’m old-school; my uniform is a dark suit and open-necked shirt, with a tie for client-facing events or meetings.

SS: My work wardrobe consists mainly of dresses. I love tailored shift dresses but I also have quite a few floaty dresses in pretty prints which more easily transition from the office to a client lunch or an evening event. I'm usually not afraid to be bold with colours, but there are occasions where you'll find me in something more "sensible", for example when I'm attending Court.

DEFINE EACH OTHER'S STYLE IN 3 WORDS?

SR: For Suzi: free-spirited, bold, glamorous.

SS: Three words to describe Steve’s style? Very rarely understated.

SR: Ha, I’m not that flamboyant, am I?

SS: Not at all - you’re always dressed perfectly for the occasion.

IS THERE A DRESS CODE WITHIN LAW AS A SECTOR?

SS: Not really. Clients expect a level of professionalism but it's certainly no longer necessary for all of the men in the office to be in a suit and tie, unless they are attending court. Before I started at Mishcon, I went shopping for a power suit, thinking that everyone in the office would be in a suit at all times but I realised from day one that was a misconception.

SR: Within the legal sector, the dress code is frequently driven by client expectations. Media clients, for example, wouldn’t necessarily expect a suited lawyer.

FASHION TRIUMPHS/DISASTERS?

SS: Looking back on my personal life I can think of so many fashion disasters! From a work perspective, I can’t think of any particular fashion disasters as such…

SR: For me, one of the most expensive items of clothing I’ve ever purchased was a full-length black rabbit-skin coat from Costume National. I loved it but it was totally inappropriate for anyone other than a rap star, so sadly it just hangs in my wardrobe where I can stroke it. Maybe someday I’ll turn it into a gothic bed throw.

SS: In terms of the triumphs, I like to think that every day now is a fashion triumph! Ha – just kidding.

DO YOU SOMETIMES DRESS TO INTIMIDATE OR CHARM SOMEONE?

SR: Before I dress for the day, I always check my diary to see what’s happening. Not to intimidate or charm so much as to make sure it’s not wildly inappropriate.

SS: I do the same. Although, as a rule, I prefer to dress for myself rather than anyone else. What I’m wearing can have a huge impact on how I feel.

WHAT SETS MISHCON APART FROM OTHER FIRMS?

SS: One of my current clients recently said that what she admired about Mishcon was our ability to cut through complex issues on behalf of clients in order to get them to their end game. Our clients are entrepreneurial and so we aim to provide creative solutions to our clients' problems, rather than just the legal answer.

SR: For me, its individuality. Obviously, working in a law firm, we need to be professional and adapt our behaviour to suit particular clients; our conversation with a seasoned general counsel within a large multinational will have a different tone to one with a young entrepreneur instructing a lawyer for the first time.But we are all encouraged to be ourselves, and I think that authenticity shines through. Our corridors are full of real characters and personalities.

"Our conversation with a seasoned general counsel within a large multinational will have a different tone to one with a young entrepreneur instructing a lawyer for the first time."

IS IT HARD NOT TO BECOME EMOTIONALLY INVOLVED IN YOUR CASES?

SS: Mishcon's strapline is "It's business. But it's personal." This rings true throughout the firm but particularly in my team where we are, more often than not, acting for individuals, families or owner-managed businesses rather than large corporates. Often I find myself working for a particular client for many months or even years and so of course I feel personally invested in the outcome of their case. It’s because we make our clients' problems our own that they can feel confident we will resolve them as quickly and efficiently as possible.

SR: Within law, your personal and business worlds can collide. I have friends who have become clients of the firm and Mishcon connections who have become friends. A good lawyer will always look at things objectively, but there’s definitely a strong emotional engagement when you get to know someone well and really want the best for them.

TOUGHEST MOMENT AS A LAWYER?

SS: I recall acting for a widow who, after her husband passed away, had left her marital home because she had a difficult relationship with her stepchildren. I accompanied her on one occasion to the property to help go through the items she wanted to take with her to her new home. The stepchildren were there on the day and emotions were running high. I found myself in the role of a confidante providing emotional support rather than simply my client's lawyer. I really felt as though I was living through this incredibly difficult situation with her. They don't prepare you for that side of the job in law school.

SR: I recall working for a few months in a community law centre providing pro bono legal advice to people who genuinely couldn’t afford to go to a lawyer. Some of the domestic situation matters were harrowing and I admire anyone who offers legal support in these situations.

BEST/WORST THING ABOUT YOUR JOB?

SS: For me, one of the best things about the job is how challenging and mentally-stimulating it can be. I have had jobs in the past where I did not feel remotely stretched and I very quickly became bored. In terms of the worst thing, it can be all-encompassing, which can make it difficult to switch off or unwind. The long hours can also sometimes keep me away from family and friends which can be tough – I'm constantly striving to strike the right balance between work and play.

SR: We work with a number of emerging fashion brands through our mentoring partnerships with the British Fashion Council and Walpole. A highlight is attending London Fashion Week to meet designers and see shows and presentations, as well as The Fashion Awards, which is one of the most amazing celebrity-packed nights of the year. For me, the worst part of any job is admin.

SOMETHING WE MAY FIND SURPRISING ABOUT BEING A LAWYER?

SS: We're not all driven by billable hours.I have met many people over the years who think that all lawyers would do anything to drag a case out as long as possible so that they can reap the financial benefits but in reality all we want is to achieve the best result for our clients as quickly and cost-efficiently as possible. There have been times when one letter has been all that is needed to resolve a dispute. I relish those wins.

SR: Just to continue this theme, our lawyers are encouraged to do 50 hours of pro bono legal advice each year, which is a real opportunity to give back to different communities who need help. So it’s definitely not all about the bottom line!

HOW SIMILAR TO FILM AND POPULAR CULTURE IS IT? ARE ANY OF THE CLICHES TRUE?

SS: My husband (who is also a lawyer at Mishcon) and I used to watch the early seasons of Suits and joke about how dissimilar to our lives it was. Particularly when I was a junior lawyer, I would never have spoken to my supervising associates or partners in the way Mike (Ross) speaks to Harvey (Specter). The way in which many female lawyers are portrayed on television can be frustrating too, for example Ally McBeal – although it made for great television. I'm sure you could make a fantastic TV series around the lives of the lawyers at Mishcon and the cases we work on, though – in fact, a film called ‘Denial’, starring Rachel Weisz, was made in 2016 about the Deborah Lipstadt/David Irving case, some of which was filmed in our offices.

SR: As Suzi says, Mishcon is probably one of a handful of law firms actually portrayed in popular culture. Perhaps there will be a film one day of the Article 50 challenge, frequently described as one the most important constitutional cases of our generation.But in reality, the life of a lawyer is not nearly as glamorous as it's made out to be; much more document-reading than bed-hopping.

"I went to law school because I was so taken with ‘The Firm' by John Grisham, so I'd have to say Mitch

McDeere...played by Tom Cruise in the film."

WHICH FICTIONAL LAWYER WOULD YOU BE AN WHY?

SS: When I was 'proofing' a witness last year (speaking to her to take her witness evidence), she told me that I reminded her of The Good Wife's Alicia Florrick – although I hope she was referring to Alicia in one of the earlier seasons, as she was very much an anti-hero by the end of the show.

SR:I went to law school because I was so taken with ‘The Firm' by John Grisham, so I'd have to say Mitch McDeere.Self-made, ambitious, perhaps greedy but ultimately sincere with a good heart. And, of course, he was played by Tom Cruise in the film…

WHO INSPIRES YOU IN YOUR CAREER?

SS: My mum has always been my biggest inspiration. She set up her own law firm when I was very young (and she was a single mother of two) and grew it to become one of the country's leading medical negligence firms with offices in London, Birmingham and Manchester. She handled some of the most high profile medical malpractice cases in the 1990s and 2000s and her tireless campaigning for justice for her clients led to numerous changes in NHS practices and patient services. Having such a strong female role model throughout my childhood has had a huge impact on my ambition and determination.

"Having such a strong female role model throughout my childhood has had a huge impact on my ambition and determination."

SR: Entrepreneurs - anyone who has the gumption to start their own business. Being an entrepreneur is all about doing things first, differently or better, and I admire the creativity and passion that takes. I'm married to an entrepreneur so I know first-hand!

WHAT DO YOU DO TO UNWIND?

SS: I love going to Boom Cycle for a spin class. Also, recently, I've started singing in a band with some friends from work, I don't profess to be one of the most talented singers but dressing up to be on stage is one of my favourite things to do. When I have more time on my hands and need to completely unplug, you'll find me dancing in a field at a music festival with a g&t in my hand.  

SR: A dirty vodka martini (or two) in the Soho Hotel followed by dinner with friends always helps me forget about life for an evening.I also escape through books or films and am currently reading 'The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle' by Stuart Turton.

"A dirty vodka martini (or two) in the Soho Hotel followed by dinner with friends always helps me forget about life for an evening."

WHERE IN LONDON DO YOU LIVE?

SS: I live in North-West London near Hampstead Heath. It's amazing to be so close to central London but at the same time surrounded by so much greenery. I love the Heath on sunny days. The pubs in north London are also amazing for cold, wintry Sunday afternoons spent by an open fire with a large glass of red wine.

SR: We are at opposite ends of the London spectrum on this one. I'm currently living in west London after renovating a house my husband has owned for many years, but at heart I'm a south-of-the-river lad and I can't wait to move back. It's diverse and vibrant, with great bars and plenty of open space, and loads of regeneration in areas like Nine Elms and Battersea. To me, south London has more soul.

RESTAURANT RECOMMENDATION?

SS: I love small(ish) restaurants with open kitchens like The Barbary and Scully, where you can see the food being made and chat to the people who are making it. My husband took me recently to Evelyn's Table, which is an incredibly tiny restaurant tucked away in the cellar of a pub which only seats around 12 or 13 people, mostly seated around an L-shaped marble bar overlooking the kitchen. It’s fab!

SR: Suzi actually introduced me to The Barbary one lunchtime, and I loved it so much I've taken quite a few people there. We are currently hosting some client dinners in the private dining room at Bocca di Lupo, which always goes down well as the food is incredible. My go-to restaurant for a small group is Randall & Aubin in Brewer Street, as it is intimate and cosy with fantastic seafood and service.

SS: Ooh, we’ve been there together too!

WHAT IS THE ONE KEY THING LIFE HAS TAUGHT YOU?

SS: Good things don’t necessarily come to those who wait. If you don't go after what you want, you might never get it.

SR: Karma exists. So be generous.

3 TIPS FOR BEING HAPPY IN LIFE?

SS: Live a life which is true to yourself, not the life others expect of you. Spend less time catching up with your friends on social media and more time catching up with them in the real world. Be kind. To yourself and to others.

SR: Don’t be too hard on yourself. Everyone makes mistakes (even me) so laugh about it and move on. Travel when you're young. The older you get, the harder it is to extricate yourself from life. Own less. The more you have, the more stress you have.

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SHOT AT MISHCON, LONDON
PHOTOGRAPHY BY : CAIRAN LEE