Legal director, employment and social media, Bircham Dyson Bell
My father is a retired engineer and steered me away from following in his footsteps. My family were not acquainted with any lawyers – professionally or personally – but for some reason I was set on a legal career. My schools were not especially academic. One teacher stood out for having told my parents they should dissuade me from a legal career. After that, determination and stubbornness got me through.
At 14, I convinced a small law firm in Doncaster to provide me with two weeks’ work experience. I spent at least part of every school and university holiday that followed at the firm: photocopying, serving tea, filing and shadowing the solicitors. This gave me both practical and life training skills to sit alongside the LPC.
I have always been involved in supporting other lawyers, locally and nationally. I became involved with the Trainee Solicitors Group through my training in Yorkshire and later the Young Solicitors Group, sitting on its national committee, editing the magazine and meeting with a number of lawyers from all specialisms and backgrounds. Through this, I have built friendships that have been professionally and personally rewarding.
I recently appeared as the legal expert on two series of The Alan Titchmarsh Show, providing general advice and guidance on a variety of consumer matters, from parking fines to consumer credit issues. I’m not sure how my legal training helped me cope with sitting between Joan Collins and Leo Sayer while serving tea to Nicholas Parsons on live TV, but I coped.
Most employment lawyers are eminently sensible and work with one another to arrive at a sensible solution for clients. You can usually tell when you are dealing with someone who might only be dabbling in employment law or who is, at heart, a litigator. Those are often the most challenging to work with.
As the legal sector becomes more competitive, it is important to stand out (for the right reasons). One way to do this is to specialise and become known for a particular skill or in a specific sector. I was lucky to have been steered towards Twitter when it was relatively new.
I have now developed a practice in the growing social media, digital and tech sector, not only advising on employment issues, but providing training, advising on policies, and giving guidance on the implementation of digital strategies generally. It’s as much a passion as it is a career choice, but often the two go hand in hand.
I hope that the significance of the solicitor label does not get lost or diminished as the legal market becomes more jumbled and confusing for clients. Increasing commoditisation means that the ‘trusted adviser’ role is becoming rare.