Eleanor is an associate at DAC Beachcroft and a Law Society Back to Law Ambassador.
1. You're talking to a friend of a friend at a party. How do you describe what you do?
I am an Associate at DAC Beachcroft LLP, practising in information, regulatory and commercial law. Alongside this, I am one of five Back to Law Ambassadors for the Law Society. Our role is to assist people who are returning to the law after a career break, whether through providing feedback on CVs, helping people prepare for interviews or more generally in confidence building in readiness for a return. We are also there to challenge stereotypes and misperceptions in respect of people who have had a break from the law through talking to law firms and in-house legal departments.
2. What motivated you to become a Back to Law Ambassador?
I took a four year break from my career having been unable to agree part time hours in my old department. During my time off, I never stopped thinking about a return to work but I had no one to turn to in order to discuss my options. I looked for part time roles which might fit around having three young children but nothing obvious cropped up. I tried the consultant model but as a former commercial litigator, that type of work did not come up much and when it did, it was full time.
Ultimately I got lucky as the Director of HR at my old firm approached me about a return to work and it coincided with me being very much ready to restart my career. I was pleasantly surprised by how flexible she was about me working part time and with some of those days being from home. I thought the conversation would have been fixed on me being full time with maybe one day a week working from home but it wasn’t.
I was offered the opportunity to join the Financial Institutions Group practising in information, regulatory and commercial law on a part time basis and with some of my time working from home. I will admit to a degree of scepticism about becoming an advisory lawyer, having been a litigator, but I felt it would be good experience and I was told the team was particularly supportive of working mothers. After I had returned to work, I contacted the Law Society to see what assistance I could provide to other people returning to work. I was put in touch with their Diversity and Inclusion Officer and was ultimately appointed as a Back to Law Ambassador.
The driver for me was really two-fold: first, I had not felt there was anywhere to turn for advice when I was off work and I wanted to correct that for other people looking to flex or reignite their careers; and second, the support I was given by my team and the firm when I ultimately returned was amazing and I wanted to try to help tackle attitudes to people who have had a break so that others could benefit from a return in the way that I had. I feel passionately about bringing those who want to, back to their careers and giving them the opportunity to rise to the very tops of their firms or in-house teams.
3. What can firms do to make it easier for those looking to return to the profession after a career break?
The key is to offer flexibility in terms of working patterns and locations and to trust your lawyers. Lawyers are typically committed to their roles and will keep an eye on their work emails wherever they are. They should be trusted to pick up anything urgent when it arises and to manage their client relationships effectively. I have had many a call walking to school to collect my children, with one hand on the buggy and the other holding my phone whilst answering urgent questions from clients. Do I mind? No, because I am not stuck in the office full time unable to be a part of my children's lives. I am always able to end the call by the time I get to school so that my children have my attention, but I have also not left my clients in a bind unable to obtain the advice they need. I should add that it is not all the time that this happens!
As for working from home, it should no longer be seen as 'shirking from home' as most people who do it recognise the benefit of being able to, for example, trade their commute for being able to do the school run. Consequently, we repay that flexibility with hard work and loyalty. Law is the very industry where working from home or with flexible hours should not be feared given that, in private practise at least, we have to record our time in six minute increments. You can hardly 'shirk' when you have to account for your day so precisely and with managers having such visibility over what you have done with your time.
4. What advice would you give to a lawyer looking to return to work?
Remember what your strengths were when you were practising previously and be clear in your mind that those strengths have not disappeared because you have had a break. It is so easy to feel as though you have nothing to offer a firm or in-house team just because you have had some years out of work. Be confident. You have much to offer and your experience as a parent, carer or through whatever you have done during your time off will feed into your role as a lawyer and what you can offer clients.
5. Share some great advice you've been given.
I read a great book called She's Back in which the readers are advised not to apologise for having children but also not to use children as an excuse for not doing their work. Prior to taking a career break, I had one child and worked full time after my maternity leave with him. Any time he had an asthma attack, or even when he ended up in hospital overnight, and I could not be in the office temporarily, I felt I had to apologise to the partners I worked for. The fact that I always worked hard for the team and always went over and above for them did not enter my mind at those points. All I could think about was that for those brief moments, I could not be a lawyer and I needed my focus to be on being a mother and for that I felt I needed to apologise.
It is so important as a mother and lawyer to know when your children come first. Going in an hour later than usual because you have attended a sports day or nativity does not require an apology - it might require you to give thanks for being given flexibility to support your child in those moments, but you pay it back by working later that day, or by staying late the day before to ensure your work is done. A truly supportive team and firm understands the pulls that children have on your time and does not make you feel the need to apologise for having become a parent or for wanting to be a part of your children's lives.
6. How do you relax?
I have to admit that this question made me smile a little. I have three children (ages 7, 4 and 2) and a demanding job as a City lawyer. There isn't much time for relaxing after I've fulfilled those roles! However, I do love to exercise and go to early morning fitness classes in my local park (by Great Outdoors Fitness) before work which help me to feel healthy and strong. It isn't exactly relaxing as they are fairly intense sessions, but they make me happy.
I read music at university and although I rarely find time to play my instruments anymore, I very much enjoy listening to music and it always relaxes me. I also really enjoy reading on the train when I commute for my London-based days. I have 40 minutes of uninterrupted time to read which feels luxurious.
7. What book is on your bedside table?
I am currently reading Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout. I read My Name Is Lucy Barton by the same author and loved it and this is proving just as captivating.
8. Do you have a role model or is there someone you admire and why?
I have admired Maya Angelou since I first read her books as a teenager. Her autobiographies and her poetry are some of my favourites and I admire not only her huge talent, but also her ability to overcome the many awful situations she encountered and to rise up as a spokesperson for black people and women. She was a poet, singer and civil rights activist, all of which I have long been passionate about.
9. What is your favourite city?
Either London or Washington DC. I used to work in politics so DC was fascinating to me when I visited. London is unendingly interesting with new places and people to discover all of the time. I moved to London in 2000 for university and although I relocated to Surrey in 2014 so no longer live there, I have not tired of it and still get a buzz as my train rolls into London Bridge in the morning.
10. What is the best thing about working at DAC Beachcroft?
That's easy - the people! It is a very special place to be when you feel you would happily go for a drink with everyone you work with. They are genuine people who are not out to run you down in order to progress their careers. People want you to succeed as that makes the firm succeed as a whole. That mentality creates a pretty unique culture and one which I enjoy being part of.