My degree is in economics, but I lack what an economist would understand as a ‘competitive advantage’ in maths to the extent needed to be a professional economist. Law combines understanding how things work and playing with words – playing with language has always been fun. I like to know how the world around me works.
The medium-sized firm I started at gave me a great general training and a lot of client contact early on. Unexpected bits of that general training still come in useful. On the first day of my training contract I was told ‘lady lawyers’ didn’t wear trousers to work – and indeed they did not. I’m glad that particular dress code has gone.
Fifteen years ago, when people found out I was a lawyer they asked me about their tenancies, conveyancing or boundary disputes. Now they tell me they think I work very long hours. Making good lawyers and support staff redundant was awful, but must have been so much worse for the individuals involved.
The worst client is one with no real interest in the deal. That interest can come from an equity stake – skin in the game – or just a pride and interest in their job. Bored, disengaged clients are no fun. I dislike the rule against perpetuities. Ostensibly it was abolished, but in reality it’s still around to bother me for a number of years.
Specialism is a mixed blessing. I’m constantly impressed by colleagues who have real in-depth knowledge of what I consider to be quite obscure areas of law. But the profession needs to balance that specialisation with an ability to see the wider deal and spot issues for clients. Empathy is an important skill for lawyers.
We need to see children as the equal responsibility of both parents, mainly for the children’s sake, but also for the good of the profession. I’d like to see more men both being lawyers and having time with their families. Working mums are going to have a hard time until their colleagues are also faced with difficult choices between a sick child, a parents’ evening and a client need.
Mobiles and BlackBerrys have cut down the time for mature contemplation of a deal or drafting before it’s all been done. On the other hand, that same technology means it’s now possible for me to work from home – or indeed anywhere else – in a way I could never have dreamed of when I qualified.
Suzanne Gill is a partner, Pinsent Masons