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Aysha Fernandes - Commercial Finance Director at UK Finance

Alumni spotlight

Neil Mohring

General Counsel, Apple Corps and Harrisongs

Neil Mohring joined Eversheds Sutherland in 1998, focusing on media work and representing some legendary names, including The Beatles’ company Apple Corps, where he is now General Counsel.

Being responsible for the contractual arrangements for the biggest band in the world carries great responsibility, but one that Neil relishes. Just don’t mention his guilty pleasure: Kylie Minogue.

Why did you want to become a lawyer?

I’d probably seen lawyers on the TV and just fancied it. I grew up in a village outside Chester and, while at a comprehensive school, did work experience in a local law firm. I decided to study law at university. I went to Oxford because my maths teacher at a parents’ evening said, ‘Have you considered Oxbridge?’ In the car on the way home, I was thinking, ‘where on earth’s Oxbridge?'.

What are your memories of those early days at the firm?

Our trainee group was huge, combining legacy firm Frere Cholmeley Bischoff and Eversheds Sutherland intakes, but it was great fun. We supported one another, we became friends and went out as a group in the evenings and at weekends. I do remember a funny moment in my first month: one afternoon, the controller of the Commercial department came to ask me if I had completed my timesheets. The short answer was “No. What are they then?” Obviously they became a big part of my daily routine for nearly twenty years, but I had no idea such a thing existed! He looked a bit bemused, but we had not received any training on timesheets at all.

Who were your mentors?

My very first seat was in the IP and Media team. I sat with Norman Chapman, a defamation partner. He took me under his wing, involving me as much as he possibly could and it was fascinating work. For my first appraisal, we went out for a long lunch on a Friday to discuss my progress. The following Monday, we couldn’t actually remember what we had agreed, and so we had to do the appraisal all over again!

I have to mention Nick Valner, a litigation partner, who headed up the Media team and led on many of the big-name clients. He was a phenomenal lawyer. When I qualified I did most of my work for Nick and I worked with him on some amazing cases. That led me in a certain direction – and, in reality, to my current role.

What were the major cases you handled with us?

I look back to the mid-2000s with somewhat misty eyes, because we were involved in some high-profile cases. We were a small team in Media, perhaps with three partners and four or five associates, yet we were handling three High Court trials at the same time.

We worked on a case involving Jimi Hendrix’s estate, a Bob Marley copyright infringement case and the Apple v Apple case, involving Apple Corps suing Apple Computer over its use of the name in relation to music content.

All of these cases were real team efforts, including having brilliant Counsel. We won the Hendrix and Marley cases at first instance and, even though the judge found for Apple Computer at first instance, we were confident of overturning the judgment and it eventually paved the way to a very successful settlement.

Nowadays, there is much emphasis on mental health, especially when lawyers are faced with stress. What was it like then?

In all honesty, mental health and wellbeing were not huge considerations. Although it was quite stressful, I didn’t think anything of it because that’s what you did and that was the norm in all law firms. I am really glad to see more open dialogue about it today.

For me, running has always been my way out. If I go for a run, it’s amazing how, if you’ve got a difficult problem, it gets solved by the time you’re back at your desk. The brain is clever and will be subconsciously solving problems while you’re exercising.

What skills did the firm instill in you?

Technical excellence, which is something Nick Valner really pushed. He was a black letter law man.

Aside from that, communication was the most important aspect that was drilled into me. And not just communicating with empathy, but with clarity – right down to being concise and grammatically correct in written and spoken form. This all helps to building good relationships.

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

My advice would be to take your time, learn as much as you can about your clients and take opportunities to learn more.

My other tip, particularly for associates, is work out who your support network might be in the future. Identify potential contacts and line them up in advance of going in-house; ask if every now and then you can run things by them. In-house you won’t have the resources, so you might need to prevail upon someone to help out.

Can you tell us about your current role?

The irony is, my music knowledge is poor and I am the last pick on any music quiz. I have always liked The Beatles’ music but I have learnt so much more since I joined Apple. I confess to having some questionable music tastes, including owning some Kylie Minogue albums.

People assume that working in the music industry must be very glamorous. Don’t get me wrong, it is a huge privilege. But I don’t want to overplay it, because a lot of the work will be familiar to any lawyer working on commercial agreements, contracts, licencing, copyright and so on.

What I have found is that the scope for enjoyment expands all the time. And there is still such continuing interest in The Beatles meaning new projects are always on the go. For example, we have been working on a new film by Peter Jackson, which is based on 60 hours of footage from The Beatles Let it Be/Get Back sessions. It will present interesting challenges for me as a lawyer.

You are a member of our UK Alumni Committee. Why do you think our Alumni Network is a valuable thing for us to have launched?

I made some great friends over the years at Eversheds Sutherland. But it can be difficult to keep in touch after moving on. A network that encourages you to maintain those relationships can be enriching. Added to that, I want to know how the firm is progressing. It’s a framework to keep you involved and I wanted to be part of it.