Name: Erika Federis
Programme of study: LLB Law
Year of graduation: 2015
Place of work: Legal Counsel, Wirex
What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?
I completed my training contract at Foot Anstey in Exeter, during which I found my passion for the wonderful world of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Unfortunately, there were no opportunities for me to explore this passion in the South West, so I made the move to London to pursue a career in the space. I am now in-house legal counsel for a leading digital payments company that has a huge cryptocurrency offering, and pleased to say that I now get to work in an area I absolutely love!
Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?
One of the biggest sells for me when I decided to become a lawyer was the prospect of being intellectually challenged on a daily basis - the law is always changing, and you need to make sure you keep on top of what's going on in order to provide your clients with the best advice possible. In terms of why I chose to specialise in fintech, and specifically blockchain and crypto as an area - I love the fact that the field is incredibly nascent (it's only over a decade old), and that gives you a lot of scope to be involved in shaping regulations, and the legal progression of the space. One of the highlights for me so far was being directly involved and leading discussions in response to a European Commission Cryptocurrency Consultation earlier this year.
What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?
The skills that have been most useful for me would be the ability to communicate well, being able to think in an analytic and logical way, working effectively with others and understanding the basics of how businesses and how the commercial world works. Outside of raw skill sets however, I think it's really important to stay curious, find your passion and continue your learning journey, regardless of where you are in your career. Personally, I think it's dangerous to stay 'knowledge stagnant'. In any event, continuous learning opens your mind up to a lot of different concepts and ideas, and helps to sharpen up your analytical skills.
What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?
I feel like my answer here needs to be two-fold: being a lawyer generally, and being a fintech (blockchain/crypto) lawyer.
In terms of pursuing a general legal career, it's very important to gain legal work experience whilst you're still in education, as it'll put you one step ahead of your peers. So do apply for those vacation schemes and/or mini-pupillages as and when you can. One thing I also want to mention is not to get disheartened if you don't get a vacation scheme or a mini-pupillage - there are lots of law firms out there who may not be advertising for work experience students but who would be happy to take you nonetheless, if you only ask them! Once you've gained the experience, it's also really valuable to keep in touch with the people that you've worked with. Start to build your contacts whilst you are still in education, and you'll notice that this will pay your career some dividends later on.
In terms of becoming a fintech (specifically a blockchain and crypto lawyer): you need to be fully aware that this space is incredibly niche, and finding a job in this area takes more grunt work than broader areas of law such as commercial, real estate, corporate, employment etc. Passion will be one of your main drivers if you are looking to specialise in this area. Similar to the advice I gave above, you should look to building up your contacts in the blockchain/crypto arena to ensure you keep up to date with developments in the space - this is also a great way to get a feel for whether any institutions that delve in this sort of work are looking to hire.
What are your plans for the future?
I intend to stay in the fintech/blockchain/crypto space for the duration of my career and hope to make a name for myself on the legal side of things over the next few years. I feel very fortunate to have found an area that I have a true passion for, and that's not something I will be letting go of anytime soon!