Q&A with David Patient

David Patient is a corporate partner at Travers Smith and was the firm’s managing partner from January 2015 until June 2021. He was recently elected to the Major Corporate seat on the Law Society Council.

David is a white man with greying hair. He wears a black suit with a white shirt and blue tie, and he smiles at the camera. 1. You’re talking to a friend of a friend at a party. How do you describe what you do?

Whilst I'm incredibly proud of my job of course, unless this friend of a friend is also from the legal world, or at least knows a bit about it, then I have often found the “I'm a lawyer” answer can be a bit of a conversation stopper!

So I would probably say, “I'm a lawyer up in London during the week, and a dog walker and taxi driver for my children at weekends”, and hope they then ask me about my children (or my dog) rather than my day job.

2. To date, what has been the highlight of your time at Travers Smith?

Obviously being the firm's managing partner was a huge privilege so, if I have to pick one highlight, that would be it.

Narrowing it down a little, however, I am also incredibly proud of how the firm looked after all of its people during the pandemic.

Whilst I wouldn’t want to go through that period again, I also wouldn’t have missed it for the world in terms of the management experience it gave me.

3. What motivated you to become a Law Society Council member?

Having recently stepped away from my management responsibilities at Travers Smith, and also retiring from the Law Society's International Issues Committee, on which I served two terms, I was eager for a new challenge.

Encouraged by a number of people who I respect greatly, with my considerable management experience running a large UK corporate law firm – as well as my international experience and insight – I thought I was well-placed to represent the UK's major corporate firms, and the profession as a whole, through the newly created Major Corporate seat on the Council.

4. The Major Corporate seat is a new addition to the Law Society’s Council. Why do you consider this an important seat for the City?

It goes without saying that the voices of the UK's major corporate law firms need to be heard.

As we emerge from the pandemic into a changed world, there will obviously be significant challenges and opportunities for the profession, and the major corporate law firms I represent.

I am convinced that the coming years offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to effect change for the better, and I wanted to be able to be in a position to help influence that conversation and ensure the City's views are clearly made.

5. Give us one piece of great advice you have received

I have received plenty of good advice over the years but, for the purposes of this Q&A, I'm going to give you two which relate to my career, and which particularly stand out for me.

The first was a subtle reminder from my wife, just after we got married, that it was important “not to be so busy making a living that you forget to make a life”.

She gave me a little wooden plaque with this message on, and it sits on a shelf in my office as a perpetual reminder! 

And the second was from a good friend, the former managing partner of a Swedish law firm who, when he heard that I had been appointed as Travers Smith's next managing partner, gave me some very wise advice: “Whatever anyone throws at you, don't take it personally.”

6. What book is on your bedside table?

I'm a history graduate, so I tend to mix my reading between historical fact and fiction.

I have just finished Agent Sonya by Ben Macintyre, a fascinating story of a Russian spy who spied around the world with three children in tow, fooled MI5, and passed atomic secrets to the USSR.

Before that, I read Trio by William Boyd, whose books I love.

They are still on my bedside table, along with Empires of the Sea – The Final Battle for the Mediterranean, 1521-1580 by Roger Crowley, which was recently recommended to me by our head of disputes, Rob Fell, and is a cracking good read from what I have seen so far. The clue as to what it is about is in the title!

7. Favourite city apart from London?

Paris, where I lived for the best part of 15 years, and where my children were born.

I will never tire of walking along the banks of the Seine, watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night or enjoying a glass of wine on a Parisian street terrace.

8. Any pet peeves?

Being late for anything!

9. Do you have a role model, or is there someone you admire, and why?

I have been very fortunate to have had some fantastic role models at my firm over the years.

In particular, Chris Hale, our former senior partner, who I sat with as a trainee and as an associate, and who I am sharing an office with again now that we are both no longer in our senior management roles at Travers Smith. Our current senior partner, Kathleen Russ, is also a fantastic role model.

I have also been very fortunate to meet some inspiring foreign lawyers during my career.  Too many to mention, but three women who particularly stand out are Zia Mody at AZB, Maria-Pia Hope at Vinge, and Nadège Nguyen at Gide.

Outside of the law, I have met many inspirational people, but none who I admire more than my sister who is a consultant obstetrician at Addenbrookes hospital in Cambridge.

10. What is your biggest hope for the legal profession?

In order to be able to continue to attract and retain the most talented people, from diverse backgrounds, we need to ensure that the profession is offering the best possible career opportunities, embracing the inevitable changes in the way which legal services will be delivered in the future, and recognising our corporate social responsibilities in the post-pandemic world.

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