Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) banking litigation head Rupert Lewis has spent 20 years at the Anglo-Australian firm. Having joined legacy Herbert Smith in 1999 as a trainee, he was made partner 12 years later and appointed head of banking litigation in May last year. Career highlights include advising Bernie Ecclestone in relation to a series of disputes arising in connection with bribery allegations, and Credit Suisse in successfully defending against a $30 million misselling claim brought in the Commercial Court in London.
Why did you become a lawyer? To some extent, law is in the blood. I come from a long line of high-street solicitors. My father was a sole practitioner in Earls Court. The practice had originally been started by my grandfather in the 1920s. As a teenager, perhaps predictably, I wanted to do anything but law. However, I used to help out my father in the holidays with typing, photocopying, faxing, answering the phones and being the receptionist. Seeing at first hand my father’s diligence, good humour, love of the law and deft handling of all sorts of clients changed my mind and inspired me.
Have you ever regretted the decision? No, I have been incredibly fortunate in my career… so far…
Who has been the biggest influence on your career? I have been lucky to work with many outstanding practitioners. Going back to my early career, David Gold (HSF former senior partner) and Alan Watts (HSF head of general commercial litigation) were both hugely influential. However, without question Damien Byrne Hill (HSF head of disputes for UK and US) has been the biggest influence on my career.
Most memorable case you have worked on and why? Acting for Chevron on the fallout from the Buncefield oil depot explosion in late 2005 was particularly memorable. It was high profile, multifaceted and jampacked with all sorts of unusual legal issues. For example, I never thought I would come across the rule in Rylands v Fletcher in practise but it was one of the main causes of action relied upon by the claimants. The case also provided the opportunity to work closely with Jonathan Sumption QC (later Lord Sumption), one of the foremost advocates of his generation. That experience showed me that there are no shortcuts to the top.
Proudest professional moment? Being introduced by a GC to a team of 70 in-house litigators for a large banking client as the bank’s “trusted adviser”. I had worked at that relationship for close to a decade.
…and worst day on the job? When an associate, sending an email that included a moan about the management style of a very senior partner I was working for. And then realising I had sent the email to the partner in question. To err is human, to forgive is divine.
What’s your strongest characteristic… and worst trait? I am secretly extremely competitive. As to worst trait, I bemoan clutter but then hoard sporting equipment. My garage is a museum to my multiple sporting failures.
What advice would you give to young lawyers starting out? You need to jump in with both feet but it is essential to maintain a sense of humour and perspective at all times.
Best part of your job? Without doubt, the teams I work with. They are smart, motivated, engaging and willing to challenge me.
What do you hope to do when you retire? Anything that involves being in the great outdoors. I am at my most relaxed up a mountain, on a bike or on a boat.
What most annoys you about the legal profession? Timesheets and the fact that there is a tendency in the City of London to forget about the rest of the profession, who also work extremely hard for considerably less pay.
If you could instantly change one thing about the industry what would it be? Fast forward the progress the profession is making on mental health.
What is the daftest bit of corporate jargon you’ve heard? “Pivoting.” I think it means changing direction but I’m still not sure.
What are your desert island discs? My music tastes are stuck in the 1980s – Ace of Spades, Motorhead; Back in Black, AC/DC; anything from Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses.
Favourite boxset(s)? Modern Family.
What would your motto be? Work hard, play hard.