Steve Cooke, Slaughter and May Senior Partner, on his music career and practicing law

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I saw that you produce music for films and documentaries, could you tell me a bit more about that, please?

When I was at Oxford, I played in a student band which broke out a bit, we made a record which was played on Radio One. Most people that do film and television music seem to be failed rock stars, I never wanted to give up music so I basically carried on doing it with a guy I used to share a flat with at Oxford in my last year, he was at St Anne’s and his day job is now writing the Alex cartoon in the Daily Telegraph actually. We carried on doing music together and then about 25 years ago we got a small commission for a short film, which got shown at the London film festival and Channel 4 quite a few times. Then somebody else saw that film and said they liked the music in it, asked ‘could they be introduced to the musicians,’ we got working with him and he then did a really big film about child orphanages in China, it ballooned from there. We had quite a lot of luck, we were in the right places at the right time and we still record most Sunday nights. Even though it is a tough market at the moment it is a great antidote for the day job.

How do you manage juggling both your music and law careers?

I don’t think you have to check out the rest of your life when you work for a law firm and as I say, it’s something that’s different from the day job. Although it’s a business it’s also a real pleasure, it’s always good to make the most of your downtime through doing something completely different, whether that’s walking or sport or something else, and music is definitely in that category for me. There are times when you will get a demanding music client who will say that they really need something ready for tomorrow which can get quite stressful but most of the time it’s a good antidote, as I said.

Did you ever consider pursuing your music career instead of law?

Yes, certainly, I did at the beginning when I had made a record and my band was being played on day time radio. I absolutely thought we were going to become global rock stars and that’s what I wanted to do. Then the records never quite made it and the band split up, so I went for an interview at Slaughter and May and that was the end of the years of innocence and the beginning of my adult life.

the records never quite made it and the band split up, so I went for an interview at Slaughter and May

How did you end up choosing Slaughter and May over other law firms to apply to?

I didn’t really have that many interviews and I applied for a whole range of firms, many which were nothing like Slaughter and May, I was a bit of a shambles actually. I think that was my second or third interview and I liked it because there were two interviewers, one guy was the good cop and the other the bad cop who was asking me really some quite difficult questions. Although it was quite nerve-wracking, I got through the interview okay and I got an offer from them. I really quite liked that interview because the interviewer gave me quite a hard time in a testing way, I quite liked him. Also, my tutor at the time, I was piddling around wondering which one should I go for, I had two or three offers, and my tutor said for god’s sake stop messing around and go for Slaughter and May. I did, and actually I worked a lot with the bad cop interviewer in the future and I sat with him as a trainee, he was effectively my unofficial mentor and is still one of my best friends.

What made you decide to do mergers and acquisitions?

Pretty much because that’s what my mentor did, I liked that sort of work, it seemed to be quite exciting, it seemed to have a good component of technical stuff but on the other hand, things that were judgemental and you could inject your personality into as well. I expect that some people expect me to be able to ex post facto rationalise it, but it just seemed like quite an attractive thing to do and particularly because the guy who was mentoring me was doing it.

I didn’t really have that many interviews and I applied for a whole range of firms, many which were nothing like Slaughter and May, I was a bit of a shambles actually

How do you maintain your practice in mergers and acquisitions whilst also being a senior partner?

I probably wouldn’t just say that it’s mergers and acquisitions these days, it’s probably a bit broader than that; as you get more and more senior your practice evolves into basically anything, it’s kind of glorified common sense. I also do quite a lot of investigation work as well as M&A. I think it’s anything that’s a big issue for my clients, I’ll try and help them with it. How do I do that? Well, I’m very well organised, I do spend more than half of my time on client work, but I do get a lot of good help here and to be honest this firm is a very easy one to run, as everyone is pointing in the same direction, with a common view of strategy and culture. It doesn’t really need a lot of management direction and certainly administration is not one of the things that really lights my fire, so I happily don’t do that.

What do you think sets Slaughter and May apart from other top law firms?

I think what sets us apart is that we’re a true partnership in a legal sense, we’re not an LLP, we’re a general partnership. And that’s something that you may not think is very significant but actually it is, you feel as if we are really a partnership of equals. We are not paid according to what work you bring in, it’s not an eat what you kill kind of firm, it’s probably the most egalitarian partnership of any significant law firm in the world. That means that everyone here feels like they have a stake in the business and are part of it and hopefully that transmits itself throughout the whole of the organisation. Another thing is that I don’t think anyone ever says that there is a Slaughter and May type because there isn’t really. You come into this building and there are all sorts, there is a very broad range of intellect and types of people and that’s really what we need, we don’t want a group of people who think in the same way. Probably a large proportion of our work is doing things that haven’t been done before and doing it in different ways, for that you do need quite a broad range of different thinkers. It’s a constantly surprising place when you find out what people do outside of the firm.

it’s not an eat what you kill kind of firm, it’s probably the most egalitarian partnership of any significant law firm

If you have one tip for someone looking to get into law what do you recommend?

I think work out whether or not it’s for you first of all. I think trying to shoehorn yourself into a job that you don’t know if you’ll enjoy and if you’ll be good at is not a good idea. I think first work out if you want to be a lawyer and what makes a good lawyer. I think the two most important characteristics would be a good logical analytical brain and being able to communicate complex concepts simply, because that’s what our clients need. Creativity also, you’ve got to have the first two, but creativity is additionally quite important, particularly in our sort of firm. But I’d say if you don’t have the first two, you’d struggle in a top city firm at least.

Steve Cooke has written an autobiography, The Morning Of Our Lives: Growing up with popular culture, which covers his early life and dreams of rock stardom.

Image Source: Slaughter and May