Alumna: Emma Matebalavu, Clifford Chance
Emma Matebalavu is a Partner in Clifford Chance specialising in real estate finance and all types of structured debt. She specialises in real estate related senior and mezzanine debt, intercreditor arrangements, portfolio sales and CMBS.
How did your career progress from graduation to becoming a partner in Clifford Chance?
I completed a vacation scheme at Clifford Chance during the summer vacation before my final year at Oxford and joined the firm in 1999 as a trainee solicitor. I completed our two year training contract and spent one of my 6 month seats in the securitisation department of our Rome office, which was not only a fantastic experience but whetted my appetite to qualify into the securitisation team in London. At 4 years PQE, after returning from maternity leave, I started to prepare for partnership and I was elected to the partnership in 2008.
I joined Clifford Chance because it was international and diverse. I completed Course II at Oxford – having spent a year studying in Paris I was attracted by the truly international nature of work here. I liked the fact that Clifford Chance is dynamic, innovative and meritocratic, which were qualities I really looked for in my future employer.
Do you use anything from your Oxford law degree in your everyday work?
Being a partner at Clifford Chance is a challenging role – law and regulation change constantly (particularly in light of the financial crisis) and client needs and transaction structures evolve rapidly too. My degree prepared me for analysing new problems and making my points effectively and clearly. The tutorial system prepares you for asking (and answering!) difficult questions, which is one of the key elements of my job.
What’s your abiding memory of your time at Oxford?
I think the mix of academic studies and extra-curricular activities are what I remember most from my time at Univ. I am very proud that I managed to combine my studies with achieving a hockey and a rugby Blue – undefeated by Cambridge in both matches! Learning to balance my time effectively between my studies and my sports was very valuable in preparing me for the demanding nature of my professional life. I also have very fond memories of studying in the All Souls library as one of my tutors was a fellow there and arranged for us to have access to the beautiful library there.
How did your year in Paris influence the kind of lawyer you are today?
Clifford Chance sponsored Course II and has done for the past 20 years or so. The grant they gave us made it possible for me to do a 4 year degree and helped with the year abroad. The year in Paris sparked my interest in international deals and transactions which ultimately led me to apply to Clifford Chance. It was very interesting to get an insight into the Civil law system as well as the French university system, which is very different to studying in Oxford.
Who was the biggest influence on you when you studied here?
I found tutorials with Professor Finnis on jurisprudence quite intimidating! However, I was tremendously lucky to have had the opportunity to have one-on-one tutorials with a fantastic legal mind and fortunately he is a very patient man.
You specialise in real estate finance, would you recommend that as a specialism to current law undergraduates?
Sometimes the study of law can be quite different to practice. My advice would be not to rule out any areas of law before completing the training contract. I had no idea at university that I would want to work in securitisation; I doubt I had even heard of it, but I found out that it draws on many legal concepts which I had studied, particularly trusts and insolvency. I really enjoy real estate finance and securitisation as they are highly structured, involve quite a bit of negotiation and require excellent transactional skills and communication skills to get the deal across the line.
What would you say to someone considering applying to study law at Oxford?
Go for it! It is a fantastic opportunity so grab it with both hands. I would also say (now that I am a parent) that you should attend lectures. They are incredibly helpful and not enough students realise this until later on in their course.