Dealmaker: Nilufer von Bismarck

One of the most respected women in M&A, Nilufer von Bismarck became a partner at Slaughter and May in 1994

One of the most respected women in M&A, Nilufer von Bismarck became a partner at Slaughter and May in 1994

Why did you become a lawyer?

By accident rather than design. I spent my first year at university reading modern languages and quickly realised that my ambitions of becoming an interpreter at the United Nations would be thwarted by the many truly bilingual, and sometimes trilingual, aspirants surrounding me. I therefore switched to reading law and to my amazement found myself enjoying the subject enormously.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

Simon Sackman of Norton Rose. I met Simon while doing a summer placement, and subsequently trained at Norton Rose. Simon was my mentor and inspiration for the four years I spent there; he taught me how to be a lawyer.

What is your proudest professional moment?

Being on the winning side when Granada finally won its £3.8bn hostile bid for Forte after months of hostilities. Up until the final count we were not certain of victory.

… and worst day on the job?

Leaving my passport at home on my first overseas business trip with clients and consequently being left behind.

What is your strongest characteristic… and worst trait?

Conscientiousness… and perhaps too much of it.

Aside from your own firm, which lawyer do you most admire and why?

Tommy Stockdale Bt of Erskine Chambers. His intellect and legal knowledge are outstanding. He combines this with an analytical skill to be envied. I can think of no better person to apply to on difficult questions of law. I have worked with Matthew Middleditch at Linklaters on various transactions over the past 16 years; he is a true gentleman and combines this with a seem-ingly effortless grasp of the law and a recognition of when points should not be fought for. It is always a pleasure to work with him.

What will be the most significant market trend in terms of your practice area over the next 12 months?

Significant inward investment/cross-border transactions (Tata Steel, Ferrovial, Thames Water) and listings of overseas businesses (Russia, Romania etc) in London.

How do you sell yourself in pitches to clients?

I have come to realise that pitches are not about proving knowledge – you can assume a similar level of knowledge from all competitors. Winning is about that extra factor – to me, that is showing that you can truly add value and make a difference – and do it with a sense of humour.

What advice would you give to young deal lawyers starting out?

Always make time to keep abreast of the law and related know-how and to expand legal knowledge. This creates the foundation from which to build.

What are the main obstacles you have found being a woman in a male-dominated profession?

Being both a woman and from a socalled ‘ethnic minority’ has never made an appreciable difference. Having children and taking time away from work to do this properly does mean that in the short term one is catching up with one’s peers. However, this cannot in any sense be described as an ‘obstacle’, merely a maternal necessity in my case.

The Slaughters partnership is well-renowned for its napkin rings – would you ever dare go into the canteen without yours?

What? No napkin! That would undermine the basis of my Roedean education.

What most annoys you about the legal profession?

Those that make law an impediment – it should be used as a tool towards implementation.

Which firm would you choose to be at if you were not at Slaughters?

I have always wanted to devote time to pro bono work and my hope would be to work at a law centre at the end of my career.

What would you do if you were not a lawyer?

Probably wither on the vine!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Definitely at Slaughter and May.

What is your favourite lawyer joke?

What’s the definition of mixed emotions? Watching your lawyer drive over a cliff in your new Ferrari.

What is your favourite cheese?

Vacherin or Mont d’Or (when in season).

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