Partner, Mayer Brown, London
When I was 12, my father (who was a history teacher) advised me that with my skill set I could either be a teacher or a lawyer. I decided to do a law degree, but did not have the opportunity to do any legal study before going to Leicester University and Guildford College of Law. So this meant diving in at the deep end. But I found I really enjoyed learning about the consequences of putting a snail in a ginger beer bottle. I always wanted to know what happened after that case was decided and whether Mrs Donoghue ever drank another bottle of ginger beer.
My legal training was good preparation, partly because I was given a fair amount of freedom to learn by trial and error without being left completely alone to sink without trace. It is important to get the balance right and allow junior lawyers to take decisions, because this makes them comfortable with the responsibilities that come with a more senior role.
As you go through a legal career, the skills you need change. What is needed from a trainee, or a junior lawyer, is not what is needed when you are a partner or head of a department. Each step up, from trainee to qualified lawyer and to partner and head of department, creates uncertainty. There is usually a point where you face a challenge in that new role. It is only when you overcome that challenge that you can start to feel you might, possibly, make a go of the next phase of your career. It is one of the things we discuss with our junior lawyers. We have all been through ‘the wobble’, and it helps to know others who have come through it too.
Thinking about memorable career highlights, it is hard to beat the time when we were acting for the FA in the Faria Alam tribunal case, when the case was the lead item on the evening news.
Another highlight would be in 2012 when I had the confidence to persuade Mayer Brown that I should record a fortnightly employment law podcast (The View from Mayer Brown) and put it out on iTunes, YouTube, Twitter etc free to all. It seemed that no one else had an employment podcast. Since then, we have passed our 100th episode.
I do not think anything has been lost in the changes I have seen in the profession. We are simply continuing to develop. I do not subscribe to any theory of a lost golden era of employment law.
What is noteworthy is the continuity in the role rather than the changes. The best work we can do is to provide practical advice as part of a team with our client, to come to the best solution. For that to be effective, you have to know the client (and if you are acting for a corporate entity, you also need to know those individuals). As long as I have been working in a law firm, it has been that way, and I cannot see that changing.