Partner, Barlow Robbins
At school, I was the only girl studying maths, chemistry and physics at A-level. My head of sixth form persuaded me to do an engineering degree and so I went to the University of Bristol to study civil engineering. Two days into my lectures, it became clear that engineering was not for me and I decided to pursue a career in law instead. I swapped to chemistry (as the law course was full and I would have had to defer for a year) before completing the CPE and LPC in London.
The hardest challenge was trying to establish a legal career. I struggled to get sponsorship as many firms thought that scientists would not make good lawyers. Fortunately, Cameron Markby Hewitt thought differently – and I like to think I repaid that faith by coming top of my year at law school. I went on to enjoy eight years with CMH.
I was a trainee at a good time as partners and senior lawyers generally had the time to invest in training and developing their junior lawyers. These days, particularly in big City firms, there is a lot of pressure across all the levels to work harder and harder – and I particularly worry about the pressure on junior lawyers and trainees.
I worked on a really interesting transaction selling a cross-channel ferry operator. As we neared completion, the team working on the deal stayed up for two nights back-to-back and then got on a little propeller plane to fly to Guernsey to sign the deal. Just after take-off, one of my friends noticed that the propeller on our side of the plane was not working. We circled, dumped the fuel, and landed with fire engines screeching along the runway beside us. We were so tired and focused on getting the deal done, this was just annoying. It was only afterwards that I starting thinking about what could have happened.
Before the Companies Act 2006 changed things, my least favourite law was the prohibition on the giving of financial assistance by private companies (which was an example of the UK unnecessarily gold-plating European legislation). So much time and money must have been wasted because of this, for no real reason.
When I started work as a lawyer the older partners led trips to the pub on a Friday and encouraged long lunches when work was not overtly busy. When they retired that approach went with them. The new generation of partners had to work harder and it became apparent to me that, if I wanted to have children and spend quality time with them, that was not compatible with being a partner in the City. So I became a corporate professional support lawyer at Clifford Chance before moving to Barlow Robbins.
Achieving a work/life balance is a challenge. Flexibility to balance home and work commitments is important. Ten out of 18 partners at Barlow Robbins are female and this balance makes a real difference to the firm’s culture. There seems to be more awareness that family (and other considerations) need to be factored into a partner’s working life. This creates a positive working dynamic.