Career choice: Portfolio career

Nicola Manning

Name: Nicola Manning
Level of PQE: 35 years
Current position and immediate former position: portfolio career; chargé d'affaires (a part-time ambassadorial senior role), Law Society Council and Board member, charity trustee, a founder member of the City of London Guild of Entrepreneurs and CEO of two trading companies in West Africa.
Immediately previously: chief professional officer and COLP (full-time).

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

I spent many school-age years actively resisting a career in the law as my older sister was already a successful London solicitor and I hated the idea of copying her!

But a last minute decision two days before the start of my A level exams, set me on the course of a legal career after all. Years later, I watched the film Philadelphia and completely connected with the character who explained his love of the law as "just occasionally, you get to be a part of justice being done".

What was your first job as a qualified solicitor?

I stayed at the firm I had trained with for a further five years, moving during that time from assistant solicitor to salaried partner and responsible for the firm's property litigation section.

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

It chose me! My first job was assistant solicitor, and then I was headhunted as a professional co-ordinator, an innovative and exciting new role created at a time when law firm management was just developing as a concept.

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

It was an exciting time to become a pioneer of law management as a discrete career path and especially as I was invited to join the working party group formed by the Law Society to set up the Law Management Section in 1999.

How easy or difficult did you find the move?

I had always had good emotional intelligence and a genuine interest in people; and so managing and engaging others came naturally to me.

My many years of varied legal practice experience in a range of locations, size of practices and work types across a variety of diverse client groups, enabled me to see the potential problem areas and identify remedial steps ahead of a complaint or claim, arising. I am a natural self-starter and push myself to be successful and to develop new skills.

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

It has been incredible to have worked at my current practice, McMillan Williams Solicitors Ltd, and to have had so many opportunities to shape this exciting and entrepreneurial firm from a compliance, accreditation and business development perspective and I am so proud to have been a part of their success.

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

I never looked back, although did sometimes miss client liaison and a direct role in creating excellent client service with resulting high levels of client satisfaction.

What do you most enjoy about your current role?

Since 2015 I have taken a part-time role away from the compliance coal-face which gives me more opportunity to be involved in running my companies abroad (I am CEO of two trading companies in West Africa), my involvement with the Law Society Council, and the City Guild of Entrepreneurs.

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

I have had an immensely rewarding career and wouldn't have done anything differently.

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

  • Make sure you research your potential new career. Prepare yourself to impress someone at interview by demonstrating that you have already started to work towards your goals.
  • Be prepared to step back from the traditional 'fee earner' approach to problem-solving and learn to think outside the box.
  • Read as much as you can by your predecessors – there will be useful insights for a fast learning curve.

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