Head of employment, immigration and pensions
When I started studying law aged 18, I was similar to many young people in that I had no clear idea where it would take me. I grew up in Australia. After two years studying a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Queensland, I returned to my home town and commenced a Bachelor of Laws at Queensland University of Technology. The first two years were by correspondence. Then I moved to Brisbane and completed the remainder part-time.
While studying, I undertook my training contract concurrently over five of the six years at two firms: Butler McDermott & Egan and Bridge Brideaux. After all that studying and training, I was still not completely sure that I wanted to be a career lawyer.
But I had a wonderful opportunity, and became associate to the chief commissioner at the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission. This enabled me to see first-hand employee/employer hearings and disputes, attend conciliation conferences, undertake research for decisions, and meet a large number of employer and employee representatives, including trade unions.
When I arrived from Australia in 1996, I secured two locum solicitor roles in employment law at the London boroughs of Newham and Camden. These roles provided an excellent platform to springboard my career into employment law for the next 20-plus years.
Although employers vary enormously in scale, workforce issues are often very similar. We are becoming more involved in investigations where staff have ‘blown the whistle’ or raised concerns around patient safety. And we regularly advise on the contractual frameworks for managing conduct and capability concerns involving doctors and dentists within the NHS. We are also seeing more queries around immigration issues and eligibility of people to live and work here. Larger employers ask for advice on large-scale restructuring and redundancy programmes – and workforce issues involving international work.
One of our first priorities is to raise our efforts to communicate and signpost the benefits and resources we already have available to support staff
I enjoy huge variety in my role as head of employment, pensions and business immigration. I work closely with boards, hospital directors, general counsel, nursing and HR directors, as well as clinicians delivering frontline care.
I am a litigator at heart, but embrace the opportunity and possibility around ‘prevention is better than cure’. I enjoy working with clients to address behaviours and culture, putting in place long-term organisational change and initiatives.
Finding the right legal outcomes can involve traversing complex employment legislation. This is often overlaid with national guidance, regulation, and commercial and investment decisions.
Positive changes in employment include greater recognition of the benefits of flexible and agile working. This means employees can take proactive steps to manage their professional aspirations and personal commitments. Given our own and clients’ demands, and access to emails, mobiles, WhatsApp and video conferencing, whether remotely or in an office, I think we now have an increasing expectation that we are always available.
Almost everyone is aware of a difficult employment issue, or knows someone who has needed legal help where they work. So it is an issue that interests people, and they are keen to chat – perhaps to get my perspective. Performance management and redundancy queries are probably the most common concerns.
I was delighted to be appointed as the board wellbeing lead. I have been thrilled at the level of interest this has generated across the firm, especially in terms of the number of volunteers joining our Wellbeing Working Group. One of our first priorities is to raise our efforts to communicate and signpost the benefits and resources we already have available to support staff as part of a wider effort to increase our employee engagement.