Long hours do not suit parenthood. Luckily, we’re great multi-taskers

It’s important to me that I support our female solicitors as much as I can to help them balance home life and work commitments.

I came to the law relatively late; at age 26 I began attending law school in the evenings whilst working full-time for the Law Society during the day. I studied the CPE and then the LPC, over four years. I sold my car to pay for the first years fees, and then was lucky enough to get sponsorship. I was with a super bunch of students – all juggling work and studies, some juggling parenthood too. We really supported each other. Whilst studying, I used my annual leave to benefit from work experience placements in firms, to build up experience on my CV.

I began a training contract at Gordon Dadds aged 30. I felt incredibly lucky to be given the opportunity to train as a solicitor. I had always wanted to specialise in Family Law. The competition amongst the trainees to get a seat in family was fierce; I managed to persuade the head of the department of my commitment.

Having spent two years at ‘magic circle’ firms I joined Osbornes in 2006. I was made partner 4 years later, being 6 years qualified.

I’m proud of my achievements, but I experienced some prejudices along the way, not having had a private education and with a Northern accent. The first couple of years in practice were tough – I didn’t feel I fitted the traditional mould. As a junior solicitor there was a lot that could have shook my confidence, but I am resilient and tenacious – I was doing what I loved and it had taken a lot of hard work to get there. Having said that, it’s important that established lawyers support a more diverse intake, to overcome these challenges.

I have been asked whether the work culture is more suited to men. I think that the long hours, the drinks parties, doesn’t suit parenthood. I returned to work 7 months after my son was born but breastfed for a year, so that was a challenging time, but we female family lawyers are super multi-taskers! It’s important to me that I support our female solicitors as much as I can to help them balance home life and work commitments.

Do we have to adapt to male attributes to progress? Whether male or female, you have to be strong. I see my role as absorbing the stress of a high conflict case, sparing my client from it as much as I possibly can. It’s for me to say: “I got this.”

A positive in our profession is age is valued. Having turned 50 last year, I’m quite happy that’s the case! It’s actually much harder when you are a junior solicitor, advising someone 20 years your senior. That’s tough. Some clients find it difficult to accept advice about their children from someone who isn’t a parent themselves.

For my generation, we don’t have it all. My husband does more of the childcare, but I still run the household, book the family holidays, email the teacher…. On a straw poll of our young female solicitors in our office, that is changing, and changes such as shared paternity leave really help that.

My husband went to boarding school, and yet he is the stay at home parent – so my home life challenges traditional assumptions about education and background. Sometimes a male client will ask me why they should instruct me or not a man. As the sole breadwinner, I’m well-placed to understand the pressure of that.

I always felt able to ask for a pay rise and about partnership, as a good friend and colleague said: “you have to push yourself forward.” A challenge for parents is becoming FSEP, because then as one becomes self-employed, eligibility for childcare vouchers is lost. As Caitlin Moran points out – childcare isn’t tax deductible, but golf membership is.

I still think there are prejudices for women who want to progress in their career. Men who want to get on are described as “ambitious,” whereas women exhibiting the same traits are more likely to be described negatively as pushy or not a team player. There is an expectation that women will be more nurturing. All supervisors should be nurturing, and we could do a lot more as a profession to train supervisors before they are let loose on juniors.

I have a Trainee, a 2 years PQE and a 4 years PQE solicitor in my immediate team, all females. My door is always open to all the members of staff; whether they’ve made a mistake, they want to talk about a case, or something more personal. In my experience, senior female lawyers are tougher on junior females than their male counterparts. I want to be a force for change, not make their experience as tough as mine.

I did feel worried that having children would affect my career progression, but it hasn’t. It’s so important that partners support women through things like pregnancy and miscarriage. Women employees are incredibly loyal and hardworking, particularly if given some flexibility, it really pays dividends to support them wanting a family. If you want your employees to be productive, they need to be happy, and for many, that means having children. If junior solicitors see the women above them feeling unsupported, they won’t stick around. That is not a good business model.

It’s still challenging for Trainees and solicitors developing their careers; I can’t make life easy for them, but I can make it easier to overcome barriers and deal with mistakes if they arise. If our younger solicitors can’t come to us when they are worried about a case, we are not looking after our staff, or our clients. I know the Trainees request a seat with me, and want to join me upon qualification, and I’m proud of that.