Name: Ellie Pinnell
Role: Litigation partner
Trained in: Reed Smith and Hill Hofstetter
Qualification year: 2010
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What is your most memorable memory as an intern?
I really enjoyed my training contract. I have had so many varied and sometimes bizarre experiences, running to court to get things issued and being asked unexpected questions by the court clerk. I was dispatched to make requests to remove travelers from the sites of a large real estate client and explored a field of rubber boots that would later become the site of a client’s corporate headquarters building.
I took my turn on the photocopier and I colored. My first shift from Christmas to New Years was all about copying bundles and highlighting confidential passages in yellow highlighter for a big case before the Competition Appeal Tribunal. I ended up with yellow all over the side of my hand and arm. It was kind of like the A0 map I had to color during my siege of ownership and ended up with green stains all over my arm and sleeves.
I’ve also had the fairly common experience of being an intern when you’re asked at the last minute to attend an important client meeting and take a note. You don’t know anyone’s name, so my notes after had things like “beard” and “red jacket”, hoping I’d later be able to find their names without looking completely clueless. I have never forgotten it and I take great care these days to inform the juniors well before going to the meetings.
What is the thing in your professional career that terrified you the most or pushed you out of your comfort zone?
I have spent time helping to build a mass practice from scratch. As part of this, I really needed to understand what everyone on the team was doing and if it could be done more efficiently.
So I spent half a day in a job exchange with a PA in a group claims department. I was answering the phone non-stop to new and existing clients, while trying to write attendance notes, fill out forms, file things, answer emails. It was an extremely stressful experience and made me appreciate even more the skills and dedication that so many unsung PAs bring to the job every day.
What is the wisest thing anyone has ever said to you (and who said it)?
There are two ways to make yourself look big: 1. Make everyone else look small or 2. Make everyone look big.
This was told to me by a very famous American opera singer when I was about 10 years old. I was still tall for my age, and it took me centuries to figure out what that meant.
The second way (making everyone look big) is definitely the way to go, and I’ve realized that more and more as my career has progressed. The team around you (and below you in terms of seniority) are the people who will make or break your career. You can’t get anything off the ground without a great team around you.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the work you do?
Each brings a different set of skills to the job: some excel in the technical side of the law; others are better commercially/strategically. Understand your strengths and build on them, work with others to complement your skills (i.e. be a team player).
I’m also a big believer in the power of inclusion and diversity. If you are “different” in some way, don’t hide it and try to assimilate yourself. Instead, figure out how your traits can benefit the team. Be proud of who you are and what you stand for.
What’s your best friend from law school doing now?
One of my law school contemporaries, Dan Hayward, is a great associate of mine at Fieldfisher.
I was recruited mostly by women, and I am particularly happy to see that a good number (with and without family) have now become partners in various law firms.
A few of my friends have now left the law, some have gone into business, and some have gone in entirely different directions.