Name: Deborah Ross
Level of PQE: N/A (qualified 2002)
Current position and immediate former position: Senior account manager, Myddleton Communications. Formerly PR manager, Clyde & Co.
Why did you go into the law in the first place?
After working as a journalist in Nairobi, Kenya, I soon realised that progressing in journalism in Africa brought its own challenges. Before freedom of the press in the 2000s, writing for The Economic Review, we frequently had copies impounded and death threats made against us when we uncovered major corruption scandals. Worst still, a renowned photojournalist friend of mine, Dan Eldon, who had cover spreads in Time and Newsweek, was killed in Somalia in 1993, at the age of 22. Consequently, I decided to pursue a legal career, even though I eventually returned to journalism and then made the transition to PR some years later.
What was your first job as a qualified solicitor?
An asset finance lawyer at Clifford Chance. I enjoyed my time as a trainee there very much, despite often working until 2am every morning for months in a row and once doing three all-nighters back-to-back. I also particularly enjoyed my six months in Hong Kong, partying in Lan Kwai Fong and Wanchai, on the firm’s junk, and travelling around Asia. However, I found asset finance really boring, but stressful at the same time, and I found it difficult to focus.
What was your reason(s) for choosing your career path?
I actually wanted to practise libel or defamation law at a media law firm, having been a journalist, but I got a training contract and qualified at Clifford Chance. However, the media bug bites deep, so after a stint in Hong Kong and at Baker & McKenzie in Sydney, I returned to London and wrote for the legal press. Some years later, I followed the tried-and-tested route, from legal journalism into legal PR, which I have really enjoyed for the last 10 years.
What steps did you take to make that move a reality (include details of resources that you found particularly helpful)?
I met editors and specialist PR agencies and worked in an agency - Wriglesworth - before going in-house to as PR manager in a few law and accounting firms - Dentons, Bristows, RSM and Clyde & Co. I then returned to an agency, Myddleton Communications, as senior account manager. Recruitment agencies were particularly helpful.
How easy or difficult did you find the move?
It wasn't particularly difficult to obtain work doing PR for lawyers, having been a journalist and a lawyer, but I had to get used to the pay cut! I was so used to working until 3am or working all night that leaving at a sensible hour was a bit of a shock to me for a long time.
What do you consider to have been the key factor in enabling you to make that successful move?
An understanding of the legal profession, recognising the sorts of topics lawyers can offer expert comment on to the media, and a grasp of the media and issues of interest to journalists. Having trained as a lawyer, I knew how lawyers worked and the sorts of things they were particular about, from paying attention to detail to clarifying instructions. Also, having worked as a lawyer and a journalist, I was acutely aware of the pressures of deadlines, and was used to working very long hours - all night when I needed to. But the reason I have been successful is because I genuinely enjoy my work and derive enormous satisfaction from it. I was once told in an appraisal that my greatest strength was my focus - something which I struggled with as a lawyer.
How did you find the transition after you made the move?
I have loved all my PR jobs, particularly my current role at Myddleton. In both my in-house roles, I dramatically increased broadsheet and broadcast coverage, and therefore profile for those firms. I think the key ingredient to my success was my tenacity.
What do you most enjoy about your current role?
I enjoy the variety of professional services clients we work for, the people I work with, working with other PR professionals, and being able to share ideas and debate political issues in the office. I also love the business trips to see our global law firm clients in Dubai.
What did you learn about how to make change effectively and what would you have done differently?
Explore all avenues and ask people for advice who have used law as a stepping stone to pursue an alternative career. Don’t expect each job to be the same or each boss or team to work the same way. Industries and even cultures in firms are different, so you have to be adaptable and flexible to get on with people and get ahead.
What are your three tips for a successful change in career direction?
- Have the confidence and self-belief to take the plunge. You can usually return to your previous career if things don’t work out.
- Make sure you research the type of career you want to have and will enjoy.
- It sounds hackneyed, but don’t chase the money; chase your vision of what will make you happy at work. When you enjoy what you do, you will be successful, and the money will follow.