fivehundred magazine > > Interview with Ayse Yazir- Global Head of Origination, Bench Walk Advisors LLC

Interview with Ayse Yazir- Global Head of Origination, Bench Walk Advisors LLC

You were awarded the Turkish National State Scholarship to study Turkish Law at Başkent University and studied English Law at Nottingham Law School, England. Tell us about your experiences studying in two separate countries and what made you decide to become a lawyer.

I initially thought studying law would give me more opportunities in a career choice. I wanted to be a diplomat and thought studying law was the best choice. But when I was doing my Master’s in International Relations in the United Kingdom, I didn’t enjoy the subject, and I found it very vague. I then decided to convert my Turkish Law degree to English and work as a lawyer at an international law firm.

You have an outstanding reputation in the litigation funding industry, working for reputable firms like Burford Capital and now bench Walk Advisors. What were your motivations for taking this particular journey as a senior underwriter?

While working at a law firm as a paralegal, I was headhunted by an insurance company which did litigation insurance. I enjoyed assessing risk, calculating premiums and the variety of work. I also undertook my Advanced Diploma in Insurance exams and became a Chartered Insurer. Burford Capital bought my insurance company and found me in the litigation funding world, which I realised I enjoyed.

I decided to stay in funding because it complements my strengths. I am good with people; I like to make decisions and have an eye for risks and how to overcome them.

You have been at Bench Walk Advisors for over four years. What are your highlights of how the firm has developed locally and internationally?

When I joined Bench Walk Advisors as a Vice President, it was just a start-up. We were in a tiny office with only three people in London. We were against massive competitors. But I decided to take a considerable risk to start something new. In just four years, Bench Walk has become a global player. We are ranked no.1 in Chambers & Partners, funded 155 cases, and one of our competitors defined us as a magic circle of funders’!

I grew up with Bench Walk. Only in two years I become Global Head of Origination. The small team enabled me to show my strengths, and people globally know me very well. I have been ranked Chambers & Partners, LawDragon, chosen as a Thought Leader by Who is Who Legal three years in a row, and the funder of the year by Finance Monthly and Lawyer Monthly.

What is the size and scope of your current Global Head of Origination role?

I manage origination roles globally on behalf of Bench Walk Advisors. We now have a new staff member in New York, and I oversee his work and all the UK, Europe and Asia businesses.

Because our team is small (only ten people globally), we must do everything. I pitch for new cases, review cases, and decide whether to fund or not to fund and monitor them. And I train new employees and obtain insurance.

I have recently started attending leading universities as a guest lecturer, such as Stockholm University, Paris Bar and Koc University and speaking at many leading conferences on funding. I am now on the board of Istanbul Arbitration Week, and we are organising one of the biggest arbitration weeks in the world.

How would you define the culture of Bench Walk Advisors?

We work and play hard. We are a very friendly office; we do not have any hierarchy and are very open to new ideas. We love to give every staff member the opportunity and support them. I think we are unique in many ways.

Besides your firm’s recruitment drive with diverse lawyers, do Bench Walk Advisors get involved in other diversity-related activities?

We are a diverse company. We are the only funder with 20% of its employees Turkish! We like to reward talent regardless of gender and background.

Can you talk to us about Istanbul Arbitration Week and your current work with them?

I am very proud of my background. I think Istanbul has great legal brains and incredible potential. We have been working for nine months non-stop to obtain the most prominent names in Istanbul. This included getting a logo, title, and website, finding a venue, raising funds, contacting speakers, organising networking events, panels, and so many details! I will probably spend more time organising this event than at my wedding! But we are adamant about showing the legal world why Istanbul is fabulous! You can find more details from:

#ISTAW – Istanbul Arbitration Week

With clients valuing diversity in their external law firms, how do we get more women into leadership roles in law firms?

If you are a woman, the problem and discrimination start after you have a child. You suddenly became a mum and had to juggle work and life. Many women then took a step back to become mums or part-time workers. To ensure women won’t quit their jobs, employers should support this sudden change in their lives with flexible working opportunities or mentorship.

Can you talk about any positive trends or changes in the diversity landscape you are seeing emerge within the Turkish legal market?

Each time I come to Turkey, I see more and more women in top roles. Many women GCs, law firms’ managing partners, CEOs, and CFOs. Also, the new generation of Turkish women is becoming very driven, innovative, and incredibly intelligent! I am so proud of them!

Can you name a woman who’s inspired you the most during your career?

It is my grandmother who inspired me during my career. She immigrated from Macedonia to Izmir with her family, and they had to start their life from nothing in Izmir. She worked six days a week in a factory and spent every penny on her kids and their education. Even when my granddad and uncle passed away on the same day, she kept everyone together and asked them to look ahead rather than behind. She was a powerful and impressive woman.

How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?

Success motivates me. I never did any work, thinking, “I just wanted to do ok in this role”. To fund my education, I worked as a sales advisor and waitress. I became a national retail star and employee of the month twice for selling the most clothes for my concession! Then I decided to join a humorous speech contest, and I became the UK and Ireland Champion. I am now working as a litigation funder and have been recognised globally. In summary, I am an all-or-nothing person.

What has been your most outstanding achievement in a professional and personal capacity?

My most outstanding professional achievement has been staying in the United Kingdom without family, connections and money and building a life for myself out of nothing.

I had to take a year off after my master’s degree and worked in two different jobs (sales advisor at House of Fraser for five days and worked as a waitress for two days). I did law school at Nottingham Law School from the money I saved and borrowed from a bank. Some family and friends probably thought it would be tough for me, and to be honest, it was. But achieving something in a foreign country without any assistance, contacts, or someone else’s money is my most significant personal and professional success.

How do you manage your current work/life balance?

It isn’t easy to maintain a work/life balance but having a child enables me to give a break and concentrate on him. When I have my son with me, I leave work reasonably early and do lots of activities with him. He is my priority.

 When you look back at your career and the knowledge you’ve gained, what advice would you give to young female students who are about to embark on a law career in Turkey?

Be resilient and take risks. Nothing comes easy, and you usually fight for it. I applied to hundreds of law firms, nearly all turning me down, but I didn’t give up. I had lots of friends who threw the towel halfway. If you want something, go, get it and don’t let anything or anyone stop you, even yourself!

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