Jonathan Gilmour is a partner at Travers Smith. In this Q&A he tells us about his current work and the impact of COVID-19 on his team, clients and firm.
Tell us about your role
I head the Derivatives & Structured Products practice at Travers Smith LLP. In that role, I assist clients to manage their exposure to market risks. Many of the clients I work with are asset managers and pension scheme trustees, so the work I do helps to provide them with greater certainty that they will be able to meet payments to their creditors, investors or members when due, whilst also mitigating the risks associated with entering into the sophisticated financial instruments which provide access to that protection.
I spend time on key industry committees and working groups, ensuring my team and I are up-to-speed with continuously evolving law and market practice and contribute to thought-leadership in our sector. A large part of my role also involves the business management and administrative aspects of leading a team, looking for opportunities to grow the business and nurture prospective talent.
How has COVID-19 impacted on your area of expertise and (on) your clients?
Market volatility has led lots of clients to ramp-up work to protect themselves against key market risks and document the associated legal arrangements. This requires careful drafting, commercial negotiation and regulatory analysis. Some clients have found themselves in distress, seeking to defer payment obligations or restructure arrangements previously put in place.
I've been working with our pension scheme client base, in particular, to refocus their investments on those better placed to withstand market shocks while also documenting structured finance solutions as covenant protection against the weakening creditworthiness of their sponsoring employers. All this and more has resulted in a very busy workload since the lockdown began.
How are you finding working from home?
It does have some advantages! The instantaneous commute from my bedroom to my home office cuts two hours of travelling time out of my day, and I can pop downstairs for freshly made soup for lunch. My IT backup at Travers Smith is outstanding, but in the event that I need IT support in person, my 10 year old son is always ready and willing to help. He knows much more than his ageing dad could ever hope to understand.
There are of course challenges. We have lost the ability to just pop-in on a colleague, for a quick question, or maybe just a friendly chat. I frequently enjoy a coffee and a catch-up with a colleague or a friend in the City – I do miss those opportunities.
How has your team coped with the transition to home working?
Since the start of the lockdown, I have been so impressed by the performance of our legal and business services teams, who have risen to the challenge and ensured that our business operations are performing smoothly and efficiently as we continue to offer a first-class service to our clients.
Just a few months ago, our Technology team rolled out a new document management system and equipped all our people with SurfacePros to facilitate remote working. Little did any of us know how crucial that would be in enabling all of us to work together and deliver our client service with little if any disruption. Similarly, last autumn our Business Development (BD) team launched the new Travers Smith brand.
The associated range of BD materials now available to us are so much more slick and have enabled us to engage with clients across a range of media and platforms, which has proven essential at this time when face-to-face meetings have been impossible. Our Technology and BD teams have really come into their own, with new online training facilities, daily emails with useful tips and continuously evolving initiatives to ensure our offering is as effective and seamless as possible. I am immensely proud of our firm's response to the crisis, and everyone's professionalism and dedication throughout.
Has Travers Smith introduced any new measures to keep everyone in touch?
Every team in the firm has come up with numerous activities to keep everyone in touch. Our Senior and Managing Partners have led from the front on this, sending out a daily firm-wide email of important news interlaced with personal stories and encouragement and often concluding with a humorous meme or useful tip. Each department and sub-team enjoys daily team calls, numerous WhatsApp groups, virtual drinks and other social get-togethers, online quizzes and even virtual karaoke!
One idea that has been particularly enjoyable is "Coffee Roulette", where you are paired-up with someone else from the firm at random to have a virtual coffee, as a chance to get to know each other better and consider how you might work on projects together in future.
Is the wellbeing of your team a key focus at this time?
Our main priorities are to protect the health, wellbeing and job security of our people during these difficult times. Now more than ever, looking after our physical and mental wellbeing is crucial. Loneliness, isolation and feeling disconnected can have tangible impacts on our health. It has been really heartening to read about things people at the firm have been doing to help look after themselves and others – from home workouts to sharing pictures of their pets, plants and other family members!
In the early stages of the lockdown, we launched a campaign called "My Whole Self: Being authentic at work", helping us understand each other better, and to create a platform for people to share aspects of their identities which may not immediately be apparent, including mental health and wellbeing.
A range of people from across the firm have contributed a series of personal, and often moving, stories about authenticity and identity. These short written features are published every week on our intranet and showcase the diverse range of activities our people are doing to help manage their physical and mental health. They have undoubtedly helped to engender a greater sense of community across the firm, and also to share some good practice on self-care.
You’re on the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Board. What are you working on at the moment?
Some D&I activities have been postponed but we have taken the opportunity as a firm to re-emphasise our commitment to D&I and to give people across the firm a chance to engage with our work. As an example, we had a record turnout for a virtual session of our D&I Book Club, where we discussed The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla, an excellent series of essays exploring what it means to be BAME in Britain today.
As chair of our firm's Faith Resources Group (one of a number of active D&I network groups across the firm), I've been working alongside our amazing CSR & Diversity Director, Chris Edwards and his associate Jason to maintain a listing of online resources to ensure that people who observe a faith have access to prayer, classes and spiritual activities while places of worship are shut.
For many, participation in these activities is an essential part of their working day and it is perhaps of even greater importance to spiritual wellbeing during these challenging and often lonely times. Our client dining and hospitality team has embarked on a wonderful initiative called "Kitchen Online", which has included working with our Faith Resources Group to feature recipes and cooking tips associated with religious festivals and dietary laws.
Any tips for separating work and home life while working from home?
Our house is very busy at the moment, with my four little ones all at home. With my younger children, I try and spend a bit of time with them during the day doing an activity they enjoy. They can’t possibly understand why we are all at home, with Daddy upstairs but busy all the time and they naturally find it frustrating – so even a five minute kick of a football in the garden makes everything a bit easier for them, and it’s good for me too!
When lockdown restrictions are lifted, what are you most looking forward to?
Going out for dinner with my wife!