Ann Benzimra graduated from Birmingham Law School in 1988 (LLB Law with French). She is a leading expert in dispute resolution and a partner at the Birmingham office of the international law firm Fieldfisher LLP. She is one of 13 women lawyers worldwide who has been awarded an Acritas Star and named one of the world's stand-out lawyers this year.
What first attracted you to study at Birmingham?
There were very few universities offering the course I wanted to do, Law with French, and I remember visiting all six of the possible universities. I immediately fell in love with the campus at Birmingham: it felt lovely, had a great vibe, a beautiful setting and it was friendly. There were 20 of us who took this combined course at Birmingham.
And what did you most enjoy about your time at the University of Birmingham?
I loved Birmingham. In my first year it was about learning how to be away from home but in a safe space, the whole setting, meeting new people, and the enjoyment of being taught by some great lecturers.
Did you know, whilst studying at Birmingham, that you wanted to be a lawyer?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do straight away. I actually had no specific intention of being a lawyer; I had chosen law as a practical subject alongside the French. Even when I was applying for training contracts I wasn’t sure and was honest about this in my interviews.
And where did you start your career?
I trained as a solicitor at Birmingham’s Needham & James, specialising early on in contract disputes and injunctive relief. From there I moved to what was then known as Wragge & Co (now Gowling WLG) and I was made a partner in the Dispute Resolution Team in 1999. Then I moved to Hammonds (now Squire Patton Boggs), where I was a partner and Head of Commercial and Dispute Resolution for the Birmingham office. I progressed to commercial litigation and arbitration partner at Hill Hofstetter, and the firm merged with Fieldfisher in 2016.
Can you tell us about your current role?
As a litigator, I deal with a whole range of contractual disputes, particularly although not exclusively for tech clients. I have also dealt with hundreds of mediations. I have just litigated a case based in India, another for a German client. In another recent case I successfully took out an injunction to stop a provider terminating IT services to thousands of customers of a client.
Fieldfisher LLP is a great place to work. We've just won law firm of the year at the Legal Business Awards and the British Legal Awards. We are a leading firm in many specialist areas, too many to mention here.
Most of my clients are international, so I get to use my language skills, mainly French and German. I do also travel, largely in Europe, as the work is client-driven.
With your specialism in the tech sector, you must have to work hard to keep up-to-date?
Yes, I am actually frightened of tech, but immerse myself in it. I talk to competitors, clients, read the press. You’ve got to be enthused about what you’re working in.
And what has been the highlight of your career so far? I know you recently won an Acritas Star, and Fieldfisher has been named Law Firm of the Year twice in the last year!
There are so many highlights. One sticks in my mind in particular when we were working one very hot and stuffy Saturday morning having just been served with an injunction. I was reading through the evidence and spotted a glaring mistake that the other side had made and they had failed to provide full disclosure of a chain of correspondence. How lovely it was to be able to use this failure to get the injunction kicked out and costs in favour of the client. Early on in my career I also applied for an injunction and we had the hearing in the judge's house whilst he was in bed in pink pyjamas! I do like people so that’s the joy of the job.
And yes, I’m proud of the Acritas Star because the people I’ve been banded with are people I respect and rate as lawyers, so it’s an honour to be classed alongside them (as the only general litigator included).
What advice would you give to students considering a career in law and applying for vacation schemes and training contracts?
- This is a career about people: the legal sector is a people industry.
- Be honest; don’t say what you think we want to hear, on application forms and interview.
- Be confident: be yourself and be confident about being yourself, as this will come across well.
- Have a sense of humour.
- Don’t lie in your application form as you will get found out in the interview.
- Enjoy the interview process, as there are always positives to be taken, even if you don’t get the job or internship.
And did you make any mistakes in interviews early on in your career?
You’ve got to be yourself but sometimes I can be a bit too direct. So, think before you speak, and give yourself time to answer. Use the silences; this is something I have learnt, especially in court.
As well as working as a leading lawyer, Ann has generously volunteered in various roles for the University of Birmingham. In particular, she has undertaken work with the medical school, helping with allocation of alumni funding, supported moot competitions, hosted student interns and mentored law undergraduates.
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