Career choice: Portfolio career

Jennifer Brewer

Name: Jennifer Brewer
Level of PQE: 40 years
Current position:
Portfolio career:

  • Business consultancy
  • Executive mentoring including masterclasses/workshops
  • Speaking and leadership skills training

Immediate former position: I set up my own legal practice in 1980 in south west London. I developed it with my partners until 2012 when I decided to retire from the practice to do something new.

Why did you go into the law in the first place?

I left school in 1965 at the age of 16 and worked for a local solicitor. I loved the work and was keen to progress but I had no qualifications so I didn't think I could go any further.

However, the solicitor I worked for believed in my abilities and encouraged me to go to evening classes to study for my GCEs. I began to believe in myself and soon achieved the qualifications I needed.

What was your first job as a qualified solicitor?

I qualified in 1976 and was immediately offered a partnership by the firm I had been articled to.

What was your reason(s) for choosing your career path?

I was very fortunate to be encouraged and supported by the law firm who could see I had the ability to achieve. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to train for five years in every area of law covered by my employer.

I enjoyed resolving people's legal problems, negotiating with difficult people on behalf of my clients and establishing long-term relationships with clients who continued to instruct me when I decided to set up my own firm.

What steps did you take to make that move a reality (include details of resources that you found particularly helpful)?

Even before I was qualified I knew I wanted to do things differently, so when the opportunity came to set up my own firm I grabbed it. I had a long, happy and successful career which spanned over 30 years developing my own firm.

In 2012 I decided it was time to step down and to leave the future of the firm in my partners' hands. It was a difficult decision as I'd not had time to plan what I would do. I was working full time on legal work and co-managing the firm as senior partner so I knew I would have to take a risk and work on a new career once I left.

How easy or difficult did you find the move?

At times it was very difficult. I wanted a complete change but believed I was only qualified to do legal work. It was only with the help of a career coach that I could see I did have other skills and talents that I could develop further.

What do you consider to have been the key factor in enabling you to make that successful move?

Meeting a career coach who worked with me to see that I had potential, and I am very grateful to her for that.

How did you find the transition after you made the move?

One of the difficult things was to work alone and not have a back office for IT, finance, stationery, etc. All these things I took for granted!

Now I needed to develop systems and procedures so that I could operate on my own. I also had to learn to say 'no' to some suggestions and to continually look for ways I could develop my new portfolio career.

What do you most enjoy about your current role?

I enjoy the freedom of doing projects, working hard and giving each one my best and then having time to wind down before working on something new. I also enjoy the balance of working and learning.

What did you learn about how to make change effectively and what would you have done differently?

With hindsight I would have been better prepared before I left my firm. I could have had some non-executive director training and experience and also developed a consultancy with some of my commercial clients.

For anyone who needs to earn well without too much of a break, it would be very important to make plans to ensure work opportunities are lined up.

What are your three tips for a successful change in career direction?

  • Expect to have to learn from others no matter how senior you are
  • Go with the flow
  • Enjoy the differences, don't fight them

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