The Director – Shaz Aziz
It has only been a couple of months since I left private practice for the technology space. Having been an associate in the corporate team at Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), I am now Director of Customer Engagement and Solutions at Neota Logic, where I am responsible for onboarding new customers.
Neota Logic is an automation tool for the professions. We want to provide professionals with a wide range of easy-to-use tools to rapidly build applications that automate aspects of their services, using the power of automation to deliver high-quality advice and expertise to their clients and business for a fraction of the cost. It is easy for companies to get sold on the automation dream, without appreciating what it takes to get real value from it. Whether it be through hackathons, workshops, webinars or focus groups, I help our customers generate ideas and get real value from our platform as quickly as possible.
Like many others, I had been focused on the dream of a corporate legal career since the day I arrived at university, and I soon set about applying for workshops, open days, insight schemes and anything else I thought would give me an edge for vacation scheme applications. I was committed to the City. It is difficult to pinpoint when I started to change my mind, but the year before starting my training contract was an important period in the timeline. I worked at Debate Mate, a social enterprise teaching debating in schools internationally. I met some of the sharpest and most driven people I know during my time there, many of whom went on to turn down or exit City professions to do what was, in their minds, more meaningful work.
Once I arrived at HSF, I was committed to reaching the promised land of partnership. However, I found myself quickly becoming frustrated at a lack of control: control over my time, over work processes and over the advice and services delivered to clients, which I would pour so many of hours into.
By the time I qualified in 2018, automation was already beginning to take root around me – both in my work and in my network. My department had begun trialling some new technologies, and a trickle of friends entering the technology space became a steady stream. Despite being at the finish line of a 24-month marathon, I did not feel the relief or the elation that I had expected. Instead, I nurtured a growing interest in legal technology, which eventually led me to Neota.
The scariest part of leaving corporate law is the few days before you communicate your decision. You worry about the opportunity cost (would I have become a legendary City dealmaker with a roster of FTSE clients and a 30-acre estate?). You worry about being too hasty (should I gather a couple more years of experience before taking the leap?). You worry about taking a pay cut, about starting at the bottom of a new industry, about things falling apart. You worry about disappointing the people at your firm who invested time and energy to train and develop you as a lawyer. In the end, all these worries went quiet in the shadow of a bigger and more powerful realisation: that my profession is undergoing revolutionary change, and I want to be a part of the shaping its future.
I am sure there are many young, new lawyers in the City who feel as I did. If you are thinking about entering tech, or another industry, I think it is important to pursue (or at least seriously investigate) the impulse. There is no better time to take a career risk, and speaking after only a couple of months experience, it is far easier to invest your time, energy and effort into something that fascinates you. It is scary, and it could go wrong, but you should trust in your own resilience and start building a career that, had you remained where you were, your old self would envy.