I joined Davies Arnold Cooper LLP as a trainee in 2008, having previously worked in the Houses of Parliament as a senior parliamentary researcher to various MPs.
I had studied the GDPL part time in the evenings whilst working in Parliament and used my annual leave to gain work experience at various firms, ultimately ending up at Davies Arnold Cooper LLP on a two-week vacation scheme. I really liked the firm so I applied for a training contract and was successful.
I qualified into the firm's commercial litigation department in September 2010 and found out I was pregnant with my first child only a few months after qualifying, leaving me with the nerve-wracking experience of having to tell my head of department my news. To his credit, he was very supportive of me.
I worked until I was about 38 weeks pregnant, trying to maximise my time in the office before taking maternity leave and also to save the time I could take off to spend with my baby.
After a year of maternity leave, I returned to my old role in 2011 to the newly merged DAC Beachcroft LLP and was full time.
I struggled to balance my professional desires with my maternal instincts. I felt my son spent too much time in nursery and I was unable to give him the attention and time he needed and which I wanted to provide.
I often found myself checking my work emails whilst walking back from nursery instead of engaging with my son, or having one eye on emails whilst feeding him his supper.
When I got pregnant with my second child, around two years after returning to work, I asked to reduce my hours so that I could see more of my son. I agreed to have alternate Fridays off so I was barely part time, working nine days out of 10 in a two-week cycle.
My mother kindly offered to come and look after my son on the Fridays I had to work and this pattern continued for around six months until I went on maternity leave in summer 2014.
Although the small reduction in hours had helped, it was not enough to make me feel I was fulfilling my role as a mother.
I also had a rather profound conversation with my then-three year old son who, after a month of me being off work on maternity leave, asked whether I had bought him from nursery.
I asked what he meant and he explained that he used to spend all his time at nursery and was then spending all his time with me, so had I bought him from them.
I was fairly heartbroken by the thought he felt he belonged at nursery and not with me and my husband. Consequently, when I came towards the end of my second maternity leave, I was clear I wanted to try to negotiate properly part time hours of around three days a week.
This was not possible in my old team so I ultimately took the very difficult decision to resign. I did not want my children to feel abandoned in the way I can only assume my son had felt.
I loved being a lawyer and, much as I love being a mother too, I had wanted to be able to fulfil both roles but felt it was not possible at that time.
Life moved on despite my initial upset at resigning and I welcomed my third child in November 2016 and enjoyed life as a mother of three young children.
However, I never stopped thinking about returning to work and kept looking for roles that might allow me to resume my life as a lawyer but nothing came up. I tried the legal consultant model but there was very little part time work for commercial litigators.
Ultimately, in summer 2017, I was approached by DAC Beachcroft's director of HR to discuss a return to work. Again, I was clear that I only wanted to work part-time and with some of my time spent working from home and, to my surprise, she was entirely receptive to this.
I had naively thought I would be offered a role at the firm within a week or two of the discussion with our director of HR but it took time to find the right department given the restrictions I had imposed on my availability.
In around April 2018, I was offered the opportunity to join the firm's Corporate, Commercial & Regulatory team on a fixed-term basis undertaking GDPR contract remediation work in the run up to the passing of the GDPR.
At the time, I was unsure that the change in direction from commercial litigation to transactional/advisory work was what I wanted as I had always seen myself as a die-hard litigator. I had also wanted a permanent position.
However, the team was happy to take me on working 3.5 days per week with 1.5 of those from home and I felt it would be a good step back into the law, even if it was not permanent.
As it turns out, I really enjoy my new role to the extent I asked if I could be kept on after my fixed term contract expired. Happily, this was supported by my team and the firm so I am now a permanent member of the department.
I never feel like I am made to choose between prioritising my career or my children. I am simply able to progress as a lawyer whilst being a mother to three young children.
Ellie's top tip: For me, the key to my return to work was keeping in touch with people at my old firm. I would recommend to all people considering a return to work that they either maintain or seek to resume contacts at their old firm or company. It is far easier to return to work after a career break, especially when seeking flexible working, where you are a known quantity rather than to seek to resume your career after a perhaps significant break with an organisation you have no track record with. I would also recommend keeping an open mind as to what direction your career might take you. I would never have seen myself as a data protection lawyer but I thoroughly enjoy it, even if I do have to endure a bit of ribbing from my lawyer husband for being in a 'dorky' area of law!
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