How to shape the future as a tech lawyer

Derek Tong, M&A attorney and head of technology at Linklaters in the UK, talks about his experience in helping tech companies realize their groundbreaking visions for the future

Derek Tong, M&A attorney and head of technology at Linklaters in the UK

Having studied law and software engineering at university in Australia, Derek Tong has long been fascinated by technology and its potential to transform the world around us. The University of Melbourne graduate joined Linklaters in 2007 as an intern, qualifying on the corporate team and becoming a partner in 2019 at a point where the Magic Circle company was making technology one of its strategic priorities.

“In view of the partnership, I wanted to focus my practice on an area that interested me both personally and professionally, and I was lucky enough to be able to do so through the technology sector,” he explains. With Derek at the helm as Linklaters’ UK technology manager, the past few years have seen tremendous growth in technology mergers and acquisitions and technology investments in the UK. With recent geopolitical tensions, macroeconomic turmoil and regulatory changes, however, Derek believes we could be at a tipping point, with global technology investment so far in 2022 down 25% from the same period last year.

This, according to the M&A lawyer, has changed the way some UK companies have approached their funding cycles, in some cases by postponing more typical equity funding rounds and looking for alternative funding options, such as convertible instruments and debt. risk. That said, investments remain strong in some subsectors, for example ESG (environmental, social and governance) and investments in climate technologies, where companies are under pressure to find innovative ways to meet their zero net commitments.

Applications for the Linklaters 2022 Winter Vacation Program will close on 6 October

There’s also a lot of regulatory work for technology-centric lawyers, with more legislation and scrutiny over the role big tech plays in society. This includes everything from data protection fines and antitrust regulation to increased foreign investment controls and online damages legislation.

While that inevitably involved “a lot of stressful encounters,” Derek says it’s hard to beat the feeling of being part of a start-up success story. “It’s really fun to work with a start-up founder you really believe in or help funds who are all looking for the next big thing to see their hopes come true,” he explains.
To do this well, Derek points out that lawyers need to be practical and able to come up with creative business solutions. In the technology sector, in particular, “you need to take an interest in what’s happening in technology so you can find out what the legal implications behind the latest buzzwords like NFT and metaverse might be and how new business models are evolving. “.

Derek stresses the importance of knowing customers in the tech industry to be at the forefront of the latest developments. This marketing is something that goes hand in hand with being a Linklaters attorney. “Thanks to the firm’s large client base and excellent training program, trainees and young lawyers can be at the heart of the technology sector, working alongside our firm’s legal experts,” he says.

“We really want trainees to take responsibility and allow them to be involved in whatever they are interested in,” he adds, fostering trainees’ ability to forge a legal career that aligns with their interests. As for climbing, Derek notes that “it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Make sure you do what you really want to do and set goals as you advance in your career. “

So what qualities are Linklaters looking for in aspiring City attorneys? “I always want to know why you want to be here and what your motivation is,” says Derek. He adds that “it takes a willingness to learn”, but don’t underestimate the importance of building a relationship in an interview: “I often wonder ‘would this person be someone I want on my team?'” With many high-pressure situations arising from the working with some of the biggest tech companies, being a team player, and having good customer management skills are clearly highly valued attributes.

Applications for the Linklaters 2022 Winter Vacation Program will close on 6 October

Derek Tong will speak at “Global trends in technology – with Linklaters”, a virtual student event to be held on Thursday 29 September. Apply now.

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