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Liesje Korff - Senior Legal Counsel at Standard Chartered Bank

Alumni spotlight

Liesje Korff

Senior Legal Counsel at Standard Chartered Bank

Being a lawyer was not always a life-long dream for Liesje Korff. After training as a beauty therapist, she secretly enrolled on a law degree course at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.

This spur of the moment decision led to a training contract with Eversheds Sutherland and a move to Dubai, where she is now Senior Legal Counsel in the Major Disputes and Government Investigations Team for Standard Chartered Bank.

How did your journey into the law begin?

My father, uncle and brother are all lawyers, but I was always interested in beauty therapy so studied that after college. During the course I became pregnant, and having my son Oscar was the catalyst for reconsidering my career choice, and deciding to do law. I also realised I much preferred having beauty treatments, over doing them!

I remember pushing my one-year old son in his pram past Anglia Ruskin University. I decided to go in and enquire about their law degree course starting that September. They were extremely supportive and encouraged me to apply, which I did without telling any of my family. I ultimately ended up graduating with first class honours.  

Why did you choose Eversheds Sutherland?

I was successful in securing a place on Eversheds Sutherland’s vacation scheme. But to my huge disappointment, I wasn’t offered a training contract as I narrowly failed a maths test. After pulling myself together, I maintained a strong relationship with the firm and landed a paralegal job in the Cambridge office. Then I applied again for a training contract and, happily, was successful the second time.

One of the key things with Eversheds Sutherland, and what I fell in love with, is the collegial atmosphere. It’s a firm of the most brilliant legal minds, but the lawyers also have personality and compassion.

Liesje with Claire Kelly and Claire Doone (Cambridge)

On qualification, you chose litigation. Why was that?

That was the seat where I felt I had finally found my calling – which is interesting, as I was convinced I wanted to do corporate law. Litigation is such a varied area; it allows me to get involved with many types of cases and is mentally challenging. I find that very rewarding.

I worked for a long time on an aviation finance dispute but also did employment, IP, banking and real estate litigation. I worked on a significant construction arbitration, where the lead partner entrusted me to conduct the advocacy during the hearing – and we won.

How did the opportunity to go to Dubai come about?

I was working with Dickon Court, then a senior associate, who chose to put me on a huge Middle Eastern dispute. That case led to me being invited to do a ‘mini secondment’ in the Dubai office to support on the disclosure exercise.

I fell in love with the city and all it had to offer, and felt like a valued member of the Dubai litigation team – especially being mentored by Ben Bruton, the Managing Partner at the time. Ben always had faith in my abilities as a lawyer, and put me on some really interesting cases which allowed me to do a lot of traveling and interacting with the clients.

It was in Dubai that I met Rebecca Copley, now Head of Litigation in the Middle East. As well as getting on like a house on fire, Rebecca was hugely significant in my development as a lawyer.

Shalagh Massingham is another I must credit for giving me responsibility early on and trusting me to manage my matters independently.

Liesje with Shalagh Massingham (Dubai)

Tell us about your current role at Standard Chartered Bank

I continue to be based in Dubai and manage the Bank’s major disputes and government investigations across Africa, the Middle East region and Pakistan. I have about 40 active cases at any time so it keeps me very busy and mentally stimulated. I feel fortunate to be a part of such an inclusive team, and once again I’m surrounded by technically and commercially brilliant lawyers, so the learning never stops.

What are the main differences between life in-house versus private practice?

Probably the main difference relates to the clients and how you deliver advice. In private practice, you’re mostly dealing with in-house counsel so you can talk to them as lawyers. In-house, you’re mostly dealing with commercial teams whose focus can be very different. 

A huge part of my role is being succinct in my advice and ensuring it is appropriately tailored to my audience. This includes explaining the need to spend money on litigation, which of course no one likes to do.

What would you say to younger lawyers considering a move in-house?

Don’t rush it. I would not have felt comfortable making the move in-house had I not gained valuable experience at Eversheds Sutherland as a paralegal, a trainee and then for four years post-qualification – including three in-house secondments.

Also, it’s a myth that in-house is less stressful. I’m still managing a large range of disputes and, as we used to say in the Dubai office, it’s like spinning plates. That requires good time management skills to make sure the plates don’t fall!