Secretary and general counsel, Civil Aviation Authority, London
My first career choice as a very small girl was to work as a supermarket cashier because I thought I would keep all the money. Clearly I did not follow that path. I was pretty set on the law as a career from my mid-teenage years.
The experiences I gained as a trainee solicitor were very helpful, allowing me to see various areas of law and business. But I am less convinced that the content of the Law Society Finals was that helpful, because the course covered too many areas, some of which I have never needed in my subsequent career.
There have been occasions when I have been daunted by the amount of work to be done within a particular deadline, or the fact that the differences between views on a particular matter have appeared too great to overcome, or by the fact that my point of view has not been understood fully. But, when I was chairing a particularly challenging international meeting, I was advised by a colleague to remember that ‘this too will pass’. The size of the challenge will always reduce at some point and you can then make progress and begin to look back on what has been achieved.
I have been lucky to have worked in both private and public practice, and while there are differences between the two, they are not really extreme ones. It is too easy for practitioners on both sides of the divide to make assumptions about their colleagues on the other side and to forget what we have in common.
The level of administrative support is the most obvious difference between working in private practice and working for a government body, and that can be challenging. The large City firms in which I worked were able to offer great support at all hours of the day or night. That level of support is simply unaffordable for most of the public sector. This means you make the best of what is available and muck in to do whatever is necessary to paginate and photocopy the bundles, change the printer toner cartridge, get papers to counsel or court and generally just make things work.
In the public domain there are bound to be occasions when you cannot arrive at the ‘right’ answer, because there is no right answer to questions that are political or policy-based. But, what you can do is make sure that whatever the answer is it has been arrived at properly and relies on the best evidence available.
I worry the profession may be unduly difficult to enter for those with disadvantaged backgrounds, but there are signs that this is being addressed and that all types of firms and organisations realise talent can be found in many places. The advent of legal apprenticeships is a really good move.