"Having my own firm at 29 was scary"
I had quite a strange upbringing. My step-dad was in the army so we lived abroad a lot. I got a scholarship to attend a boarding school in England when we lived in Germany, which was strange for me because I'm from a working-class family. It was different to go to that type of school.
I didn't have access to anyone who had even done A-levels. Going to boarding school gave me the knowledge about university and becoming a lawyer something I hadn’t thought about before as no one in my family had ever been to university. I first considered a career in law at 16 when I did work experience at a high-street law firm. I really liked the idea of being able to help people and give people a voice.
Advocating for people was what attracted me to the legal profession. I originally did the Bar course, which I absolutely loved. But I found that coming from a very working-class family and not having any contacts in law made a career at the Bar very difficult. I worked three jobs and self-funded all the way through university. I had to get a bank loan to do the Bar course as student loans didn’t cover it and I needed to pay rent and for the course myself.
I got a job in a law firm which gave me the skills needed to be a solicitor. I was working as a paralegal, but I was still able to do advocacy. When the firm offered to help me cross qualify, it was a no-brainer. At the same time, I was offered pupillage but in London the salary was only £12,000, which I knew I couldn’t afford to live off so I decided to become a solicitor. There were no female partners and very few women in senior roles, so I did feel a little bit like a fish out of water when I first started – but I was still enjoying the work.
I considered leaving the profession. I have always battled with anxiety but had been able to manage this. I became quite unwell when I was about four years' PQE. I just couldn’t cope anymore. I call it my breakthrough now, but at the time it was a very much a breakdown. That's what directed me towards setting up my own firm. You could say it was a moment of madness – why would you set a firm up after having a mental breakdown? That's the craziest thing to do!
I realised I love being a solicitor. When I eventually left my old firm, I didn't have that sense of purpose that my job gave me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I thought to myself, actually, what makes me feel good is helping people and doing this job that I trained my whole life to do, so why am I throwing this away? I became a consultant for a little bit and worked for a few firms that made me realise there was a need for the right culture, flexibility and being able to work around having a mental health condition.
Having my own firm at 29 was scary. I had this idea of creating a culture where I could be psychologically safe and where I could thrive, hence the name of my firm: Thrive Law. I also wanted to attract like-minded people to embed that into the advice that we gave to our clients. It was a ripple effect – I could create a safe environment for me, then I could attract other people and they can advise companies to create that culture as well.
I think the biggest challenge for our sector is keeping women in the profession. More women qualify as solicitors than men yet there are still hardly any women at the top. That's really sad. The reality is a lot of women don't want to be equity partners in firms because it's not conducive to having a family and for work-life balance. For example, in my work as an employment lawyer, I’ve advised a lot of women who will leave a firm because they return from maternity leave to find their cases are taken off them and they've been forgotten about for a year. Being better at supporting women to stay in the profession is something that more firms need to do.
Joining the employment law committee was one of the ways I felt I could impact change. We're involved in consultations with the government, we're able to lobby and have some influence on government policy. We're also able to create guidance for the profession. We're at the forefront and we're able to drive positive change. The people on the committee are great. They're such a diverse group of people – not only in terms of the background, but also the industries that they're in and the organisations they work for.
I think there's a lot of imposter syndrome for women. There aren't many role models at the top for women getting into the legal profession. If they don't have someone can look to whose done it before, it can be a real challenge to know where to start. I mentor a few people and I love it. I think it's really great to be able to share my knowledge and personal journey. It’s important that we lift whilst we rise.
Be kinder to yourself and don’t care so much about what other people think. I used to think: “I'm a woman and I'm too young, so I can't do this.” I had that narrative in my head. I believe whatever narrative you create, you become. I had to change that narrative, otherwise it wasn't going to work out. It’s taken a lot of work, and I'm still on the journey, but I definitely care less now and stay in my own lane.
We're celebrating 100 years since the first woman was admitted as a solicitor, all the women who have led the way before us, and those who keep striving for equality in our profession today.
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