Hailing from Belfast, Mark Dowds joined Capital Law in 2019 as a welcome addition to our commercial disputes team. Here, Mark talks Oxford University, training contracts, and embracing new challenges.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in Belfast in the North of Ireland. Looking back, growing up in the North of Ireland was in some ways pretty surreal. I am glad, however, to say we have made some real progress during my lifetime. It is and always will be my favourite place in the world!
Did you always know what you wanted to do?
Yes…it sounds silly now, but I vividly recall sitting on a bench in the clubhouse of my Gaelic Athletic Association club in the days before my 11+ exam telling anyone who would listen that I had to do well because I wanted to be a solicitor. I’m not sure 11-year-old me knew what a solicitor did (or whether he would feel the same knowing what I know now!), but everything since then was about becoming a solicitor.
How did your career develop?
Knowing from early on that I wanted to be a lawyer made choosing my degree subject fairly easy, and I studied law at Keble College, Oxford. Studying law at Oxford was incredible from the perspective of an aspiring lawyer, and meant I had direct contact with some amazing legal scholars and Judges. There were downsides, of course, but I think the memories of the long nights in the library fade after a little while.
In the summer after my second year at university, I did a vacation scheme at Jones Day in London. At the end of it, I was offered a training contract for after graduation, and accepted. I did the LPC at BPP in 2013/14 and started my training contract in September 2014. Jones Day’s training is non-rotational, so the trainees don’t have seats. We are responsible for trying to source our own work from any qualified lawyers in the office – essentially, we have to try to create our own internal mini brand from the get-go. That style doesn’t suit everyone, but it meant I was able to do disputes work for the whole two-year period, which worked for me. I also did some property, banking, insolvency, and competition work on the side to make sure I could qualify.
I spent another three years at Jones Day after qualifying, doing everything from large fraud and asset tracing claims and commercial contract disputes to breach of warranty claims and trust disputes. I even did some advisory work on fairly disparate areas like product liability and cloud-based banking.
After a while, though, the London lights lost their shine, and the pull of family and a healthier work-life balance became too strong, so my partner and I decided to move out of London. Initially I was set on taking a job in Bristol, but thankfully a few people (who will know who they are, I’m sure!) ushered me into the best decision I could have made and convinced me to join Capital!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I’m a contrarian at heart, so being paid to argue is nice! I imagine my partner also enjoys that I have an outlet for that which doesn’t involve household dust-ups…but more seriously, I really enjoy that this job stretches us and challenges us every day. Even familiar legal territory presents different challenges with different clients, and the commercial imperatives at play are always different and changing; what’s best for one client may not be best for another. I know that even now, just seven years out of university, a lot of my friends are bored in their careers and looking for a new challenge. None of the bored friends are lawyers.
All of this is what we call “our way” or “the Capital way” – it’s hard to describe, but once you see and experience it, you wonder how you could ever have worked without it!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Take your time. I thought that finishing my A levels, going to university to study law, getting legal work experience, interviews, a training contract, and ultimately an NQ position was some kind of race. Looking back, I can’t for the life of me work out why. By the time I did qualify and start working as an NQ, I was pretty knackered. But a lot of top-notch lawyers take a meandering route through other academic disciplines and professions and find the law a bit later on. Different perspectives and outlooks are hugely valuable in a law firm and – even better – a bit of life experience and “getting to know yourself” before starting a career in law can be really helpful. So, if you think you shouldn’t study something that has nothing to do with law or take that gap year to travel/learn a language/work in a café/whatever – think again!
What would you say to someone who is thinking about a career at Capital Law?
Go for it! Life at Capital has been a blast for me. The firm’s stellar book of clients rivals many international firms, and the work we do for them is complex, high-value, and often truly cutting edge. There is a unique atmosphere at Capital. People are approachable and friendly, and even the most senior lawyers in the firm are interested in how everyone else is getting on and how they can help. Although it’s an established firm, there is a “start-up” feeling to the place, and a bit of a fizz in the air. No matter where you go, people are swapping new ideas, talking about how to improve themselves and their practice, and ultimately how to help clients in new ways. All of this is what we call “our way” or “the Capital way” – it’s hard to describe, but once you see and experience it, you wonder how you could ever have worked without it!