Alan Kowalski

Country: United Kingdom
Sector: Law
Job title: Future Trainee Solicitor
Subject of study: History with Study Abroad
Year of graduation: 2021
Type/Level of study: Undergraduate

Current Employer/Organisation Name

Ashurst

What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?

In the years after graduating (2021-2023), I helped run my family’s food & hospitality business, a small and relatively early-stage company that went through a growth period in these years. Accordingly, my responsibilities were wide-ranging. Examples included managing financial reporting, which comprised income statement drafting and accounting functions. Additionally, I built up our social media and SEO presence, led business development initiatives, and managed compliance. For much of my time, I worked in two of our kitchens in a (head)chef’s capacity. I did this alongside submitting applications for law firm training contracts, as that was my ultimate goal and ambition, but running what is in effect a family-owned start-up was an incredibly insightful experience.

Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?

I chose the law, specifically its commercial rendition, primarily because it is a “City career”. I knew I wanted to work in a commercial setting. Being involved in my parents’ business from my late teenage years instilled an appreciation for entrepreneurship, business and commerce; this was only confirmed through my experience working at the company full-time (as explained above). Meanwhile, from insight days, I knew I didn’t want to be an investment banker, and consulting lacked the intellectual challenge that the law offers, which I found out after taking a few legal classes by exercising modularity at Exeter. Since I haven’t started my training yet, I can’t say what I enjoy the most, but I do like that the career places much emphasis on commercial awareness. I haven’t had much choice but to stay on top of what’s going on in the markets and the economy if I wanted to pass my interviews! I think it’s quite comforting to have this knowledge, i.e. to know at any given time why something is the way it is, e.g. the current inflationary problem: where it originated from, what effects it has on businesses, and what is being done to fix it.

Please tell us if you were a member of any societies, groups or sports clubs?

I founded what is now known as Flamank Law Society. I was its co-President for a year and a half before leaving for my study abroad in 2019. Building up its presence, including establishing partnerships with leading City law firms, was exciting, and a useful insight into the management of organisations, even if it was “just” a student non-profit. Seeing one of these partnerships live on today feels quite satisfying. I also played a bit of touch rugby and volleyball.

What did you enjoy most about your programme and what was the biggest highlight?

I loved how in depth and niche my history modules were. This contrasted against the history classes on offer at my study abroad institution, which felt like a high-school history curriculum. I was able to glean off my tutors’ research through their teaching, which was completely unique and original. Very few of my modules felt like a regurgitation of typical history content, which made them engaging. Being taught by what truly are the country’s leading history academics was a high point, even if it didn’t feel like it at the time when those same academics assigned 100 pages of reading each week! My biggest highlight was the ability to complete an internship of my choosing as part of my public history module. I interned at a charity I have been long-term involved with, which led me to attend and watch a debate in the House of Commons, followed by drinks on the Commons’ terrace after the charity’s CEO and, by extension, I were invited.

What did you enjoy most about studying here?

Meeting my friends who remain some of my best friends until today. I was offered an Exeter travel scholarship that took me to the United Arab Emirates, where I and other Exeter students completed a leadership program at the American University of Sharjah. While there, visiting Dubai felt very fun. But the list goes on: my studies, my extracurriculars such as the law society, etc.

Why did you choose to study at Exeter?

My journey into university was slightly turbulent, and did not involve Exeter until the very last minute. I applied to study Medicine, but was rejected. I chose not to go through the application ordeal again, and opted to go for history instead (my third A-level). But I didn’t meet my firm university’s grade requirements, which led to applying to Exeter in clearing. Ultimately, the university’s reputation swayed me, and visiting the gorgeous and modern campus in Penryn consolidated my decision.

What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?

Commercial awareness; confidence in both written and verbal communication; working under pressure; teamwork; resilience.

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?

Commercial law is a fiercely competitive industry. You need to stand out among the crowd through a range of work experience and insight opportunities (open days, etc.) But these also demonstrate that you have thought about what career you want and why, which makes answering standard interview questions easier. My biggest tip, however, would be to get a mentor, who will explain how firms differ from each other and how you can subsequently tailor where to apply to maximise your chance of success. Speaking to mentors about commercial awareness and their experience is also very helpful.

What are your plans for the future?

I am currently studying towards the PGDL, and will begin the LLM SQE in September 2024. I then begin my training in March 2026 and will qualify as a solicitor in 2028, hopefully in corporate — private equity/venture capital practice

 

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