I am a Consultant Solicitor with Family Law in Partnership. I qualified in 1981 and have worked in the Family Law field for 41 years. I became a Salaried and an Equity Partner at about four years qualified but resigned as a Partner at about 17 years qualified due to the combined pressures of work and family life. I have avoided Partnership ever since and have therefore earned considerably less than, say, a male equivalent.
Although I was a Herbert Smith trained litigator and quite aggressive at the beginning, that approach changed overnight when I had children – I realised I could not afford to have constantly confrontational cases. I have developed a practice based on my ability to resolve cases without recourse to the Courts very often which has helped me to control the work demands and make my family life more predictable.
When I became an Equity Partner in what was then a small City Firm, there were no maternity leave provisions in the Partnership Deed and no precedent because I was the first female Equity Partner. It was hard to know how to behave and how demanding to be. Most of my generation were simply grateful to be working whilst raising a family.
The situation has improved dramatically for the current generation, not least because of the availability of e-mail and Zoom which creates much more flexibility and ability to work from home. Working from home in my day involved countless couriers, telex machines, and asking secretaries to read things over the telephone. There was a singular lack of female role models and there was no one to ask for guidance.
While I was always treated extremely fairly (with at least equal pay) by those I worked for, it was a very difficult and pretty rare event for a solicitor to carry on working after the birth of children. In my case the demands of the job (equity partner and head of department) and lack of support and role models ultimately proved impossible to reconcile but I believe the environment has changed dramatically for working mothers today. I am sure none the less that it remains very difficult and is compounded by all the other pressures which are so much worse than they were in my day including long working hours, ambitious billing targets, etc.
If the work-life balance continues to improve for working mother solicitors, it will in many ways be a perfect profession. As women, we bring many skills to Family Law including insight, empathy, sensitivity and an understanding of, amongst other things, work-life balance. We know the cost of nannies and the feasibility of career suggestions being made by husbands.
I am proud to have been able to resolve so many cases (notwithstanding being tough on those that could not be resolved). I am proud to have worked in teams where I have been able to teach such skills as I have to younger solicitors. In Family Law it is always easier workwise if one can work five days a week but work weeks are changing generally and the attitude to flexibility for working mothers has changed dramatically.
Pamela Collis is a Consultant Solicitor with Family Law in Partnership.