At Crafty Counsel, we regularly focus on getting to know more about a member of our in-house legal community. This week we speak to Sam Lester, Director and European Counsel at TD Securities, a Global Canadian investment bank and financial services provider.

Sam is a member of FTSE & Friends, our group for senior legal counsel working for large, listed organisations. The group meets regularly for virtual and in-person events.

Community spotlight with Sam Lester, European Counsel at TD Securities

Background

Sam’s path into law was not a traditional one, graduating from Birmingham University with a Joint Honours degree in English and Theatre Studies. After a short stint as a jobbing actor, including a role “in a cheesy Italian chewing gum advert”, he realised a career in acting probably wasn’t for him. Following a candid discussion at that time with his brother-in-law who worked in Banking about what Sam wanted out of a career, the legal professional beckoned.

“From the outside, it’s this graceful animal in the water, circumnavigating the ocean while peddling hell for leather underneath and you would never know.”

He compares the best lawyers and the multitasking that comes with it, to observing a swan on the river: “from the outside, it’s this graceful animal in the water, circumnavigating the ocean while peddling hell for leather underneath and you would never know.” 

Sam graduated two years before the financial crash of 2008. Although that was a tumultuous time, it did have certain silver linings for Sam, including since that time a constant flow of regulation and guidance that needs careful analysis and translation from legal experts to be able to guide others in his workplace across the front middle and back office.

His in-house career started with a four-year stint as Vice President in Jefferies’ EMEA investment banking legal team. He went on to spend just under two years as a Director and Head of Financial Advisory Legal at Credit Suisse’s EMEA investment banking and capital markets department and has been at TD Securities as European Counsel since August 2020. 

Key learnings from working during the Covid-19 pandemic

Sam shares that his key learnings from working during the Covid-19 pandemic are:

  1. We need to be kinder to ourselves during periods of uncertainty and change – equally, uncertainty can be a great catalyst for positive change!
  2. Be more creative in how we collaborate and connect in remote or hybrid environments.
  3. Be more patient in what we ask of others and ourselves within our workplace.

He says that no matter the circumstance, collaboration is a key driver to success. From what I have observed, “once you stop collaborating, things can go into a more silo-ed territory, and bad outcomes may follow,” he says. 

Sam’s first in-house role, transformed into the highlight of his career

His move into the in-house world, Sam says, was not planned or a destined role at all. Following his qualification as a corporate transactional lawyer at a midsize City firm (then Lawrence Graham), he was offered a secondment at US Investment Bank Jefferies. Within 24 hours of being at the bank, he was convinced the in-house world was for him. He says he loves the “plate-spinning” required in his role, the velocity of the work and providing no-frills, practical commercial advice to those he works with. 

Sam thanks his boss Julia Pearce during his secondment at Jefferies who took a chance on him, and gave him his start in-house: “Julia saw something in me at the time which frankly still, I don’t really see. I was offered the opportunity to go permanent and I bit her hand off and the rest is history”. 

Although Sam is so excited about his future at TD and the experiences to come, Sam thinks very fondly of his time at Jefferies, which for him was no doubt one of the highlights of his career so far, since it allowed him to learn the ropes of an in-house role on the job and under pressure,  “keeping the wheels on the bus”, alongside the “exceptional team” he worked with and learnt from.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your job?

Sam says that the biggest challenge he faces is adapting his lawyer role to the needs of the firm and other stakeholders, and making sure that he is adding value to their work, even when the nature of that value isn’t always quantifiable and changes at a very rapid pace. “These are not challenges that are very specific to in-house legal”, these challenges affect “City professionals and people of all walks of life,” he adds. 

To overcome that challenge, Sam adds that he finds connecting with fellow in-house professionals helpful, together with setting aside time to “count your wins”, being resilient, and embracing mindfulness, including allowing yourself to feel down when things – inevitably – go wrong sometimes. 

“Being a trusted advisor and providing helpful advice is often an art, not a science. There’s no mathematical equation to get it right every time, and striving to perfect that art is the challenge, as well as the opportunity”, Sam says.

What is one of the best pieces of advice you have received and still use?

He keeps a folder of advice he has received and among the essential advice that has come his way, is to admit when you don’t know the answer or don’t know how to go about solving a problem. This is often a key way to diffuse the dreaded “imposter syndrome”, which is something that regularly affects Sam and many of his peers, even in very senior positions.

“More often than not, there are other people who feel that way, and are too embarrassed to say so, and are waiting for you to take the lead. So, I think, leaders should say this more, it can be incredibly liberating for those underneath them and it breaks down barriers”

Similarly, he recommends believing in yourself, being your own cheerleader and reminding yourself that you sometimes know more than you think you do, but that it’s equally important to recognise that you don’t know everything, and know when to “withhold judgement”. 

Community spotlight with Sam Lester, European Counsel at TD Securities