Hogan Lovells’ affiliate James Sharp discusses his work throughout the agency’s busy business expertise staff and why he’s glad being referred to as ‘blockchain man’
Having graduated with an LLB from the College of York, James Sharp, an affiliate in Hogan Lovells’ business expertise staff, says he got here to the agency as a trainee with “no tech background in any respect”. However as soon as he skilled the expertise staff first hand throughout his coaching contract, there was no turning again, with the sphere’s constantly-changing nature and transactional focus being key sights.
Speaking about his profession journey and what attracted him to tech, Sharp confesses he hadn’t contemplated tech as a apply space when becoming a member of the agency and believed he was destined to for a future in M&A. “I used to be fairly fortunate on my coaching contract in that each one my seats had been commercial-focused”, he says. Beginning off in business building, he had the prospect to be concerned in “drafting agreements on giant building offers”, an expertise which revealed that complicated transactions had been “one thing [I] actually wished to be concerned in transferring ahead”, explains Sharp.
With Hogan Lovells’ tech staff solely a pair years outdated on the time of Sharp’s becoming a member of as a trainee, he didn’t know a lot about what they did or the agency’s imaginative and prescient for the way forward for this apply space. However testing the waters on the advice of a lawyer who labored throughout the agency’s tech staff, Sharp shortly found his ardour for this space of the legislation and tremendously loved his time within the Hogan Lovells expertise staff. An enormous a part of this, notes Sharp, was the power “to see a staff construct up throughout the agency from scratch” and the chance to become involved in enterprise growth and thrilling areas of analysis masking blockchain and AI.
“I may come residence, converse to individuals and inform them about what I’d researched that day from a BD perspective, and other people had been truly concerned about listening to about it, even when they weren’t attorneys”, Sharp says. “To me, that was what actually offered it, mixed with the business side which introduced all of my passions collectively in a single staff.”
Talking about his function, Sharp says that he “learns one thing new on each deal, as each shopper needs and wishes one thing completely different”. Living proof, he tells me about two latest issues he’s been engaged on — one is a tie-up between a monetary establishment and a tech supplier to construct a brand new fintech product. His involvement right here is “largely contractual but additionally challenge management-focused”, which sees him “appearing as some extent of contact between the varied events, coordinating specialist enter on all of the completely different paperwork within the transaction and drafting the principle challenge agreements”.
In the meantime, the opposite matter entails “advisory work for a start-up offering expertise which permits for interplay between monetary establishments which can be looking for to transact in digital belongings”. The work is each regulatory and transactional and encompasses a variety of various workstreams inherent within the FinTech start-up lifecycle. Sharp notes that these issues present a sneak peek into the number of his day-to-day. These initiatives display the “fully completely different views” crucial for attorneys advising shoppers at completely different levels. Monetary establishments search “most danger safety and know precisely what their expectations are”.
By comparability, even skilled start-ups “want extra hands-on steerage, regulatory evaluation and assist on the decision-making course of concerning authorized documentation”. Legal professionals are a way more embedded useful resource inside such shoppers, significantly the place these shoppers have restricted or no inner authorized useful resource. He provides a succinct abstract of those main initiatives that he has labored on to date this 12 months: “fairly related transactions, however actually completely different day-to-day roles”.
So, what are the challenges that include advising shoppers in a fast-changing and unsure space like blockchain and different rising applied sciences? “It’s the identical factor that I like about this job”, says Sharp once I ask him this query. “There’s no textbook or useful resource that offers you the solutions to the precise questions being requested, so that you do have to use earlier evaluation that you’ve supplied on related sorts of work and take inspiration from these”, he says. He finds that this high quality “makes the work very attention-grabbing, as you might be actually pushed to use quite a lot of thought to each reply that you simply give”.
However the apparent flipside is that this makes “it actually difficult to present shoppers as a lot certainty on the matter as they want and as we’ve seen, regulators might effectively take a barely firmer stance on blockchain and digital belongings merchandise than maybe is likely to be sometimes taken in different industries”. However in Sharp’s expertise, shoppers on this house “typically perceive this and perceive that its exterior authorized advisors will should be agile, very similar to they’re in their very own enterprise”. So, whereas it’s little doubt a problem, it’s additionally an awesome alternative to expertise fascinating work and “assist shoppers navigate the ever-changing panorama”, says Sharp.
It additionally helps that Hogan Lovells has a big regulatory apply. “We now have lots of people centered on this, and that’s one of many fundamental causes we’re capable of assist shoppers so successfully. If there’s a main replace, all groups can work collectively intently – my staff focuses on the digital belongings and expertise house, and likewise works with the monetary providers regulatory staff and our funds, lending and banking staff. We now have shut connections permitting us to determine and share tendencies between groups and construct a clearer image of the way in which during which regulators are prone to react to developments, and information our shoppers accordingly,” Sharp explains. The fast-changing house additionally signifies that there’s “no fast method of arising with solutions for shoppers”, he stresses, and centered analysis into the precise software of rising expertise merchandise is required for many new issues. “However when you’ve got the fervour and also you’re concerned about studying into these matters, then it’s an awesome place to work.”
It’s no secret that there’s now a a lot larger confluence between legislation and expertise. “It’s so prevalent now that even in the event you’re not a tech-related apply, you’ll profit from understanding expertise — even when it’s a aspect focus”, says Sharp. So, what does this imply for aspiring attorneys? Don’t write off expertise even in the event you’re not going right into a expertise apply, Sharp advises. Additionally keep updated with expertise tendencies, which he notes is “more durable to keep away from” in as we speak’s world, on condition that the most recent information is way more tech-focused than previously.
I additionally requested him how college students who aren’t well-versed in expertise, or barely intimidated by the sphere ought to hold abreast of developments. He notes the significance of utilizing “again to fundamentals” sources and never being ashamed to start out your primary technical analysis utilizing on-line platforms like YouTube to grasp the basics of ideas like blockchain and AI, after which transferring on to use that base-level data when studying papers by legislation corporations, expertise firms and consultancy corporations for extra particular, detailed info.
Sharp additionally delved into what he loved most about his job, saying, “for one — I like the train of drafting contracts. I discover that train very attention-grabbing, and love nothing greater than having an uninterrupted day placing a contract collectively for the primary time and ensuring the whole lot works. It’s extremely satisfying when all of it comes collectively”. He additionally enjoys the broad attraction of expertise work – “blockchain and AI are scorching matters that persons are concerned about speaking about on the pub, and you’ll see real curiosity in its future”.
Lastly, an enormous draw for Sharp is the power to turn out to be a “mini-specialist in one thing actually shortly in case you are on this kind of house”. He sees it as a good way to “set up a reputation for your self throughout the agency”, in his case, as “blockchain man”. So, in the event you’re in search of a dynamic apply with the chance to carve out a distinct segment for your self, a tech apply is the place it’s at – Sharp factors out generative AI and good cities (and related regulatory modifications already rising) as scorching matters which can be “undoubtedly arising the monitor” which can current alternatives for younger attorneys looking for an rising space of focus.
Sharp’s ideas on Hogan Lovells are additionally very constructive. “Pleasant, neighborhood and forward-thinking”, he says, once I ask him what three phrases he would use to explain the agency. He notes that “individuals I do know, who’ve moved on from Hogan Lovells for varied causes, miss the sense that everybody is there to assist you” which isn’t at all times the case in skilled environments. Furthermore, “the agency is absolutely pushing rising areas of focus like digital belongings. We’ve acquired a brand new apply space on the agency centered on this, and we’re one of many first corporations to try this – it’s nice to see that we’re doing this stuff fairly shortly and being modern and agile very similar to a lot of our shoppers”, Sharp provides.
James Sharp can be talking at ‘Expertise and the legislation – with Hogan Lovells’, a digital scholar occasion happening on Tuesday 12 September. This occasion is now totally booked however why not try our upcoming occasions.