Vanessa Friend reflects on two life changes in one year, and provides some tips for other women in similar situations.
In recent years there have been a record number of mergers between law firms. According to the SRA there were 176 mergers in the year ending February 2015. Given the number of female solicitors, I am probably not the only mother to face the dual challenge of a merger and a return from maternity leave. Yet, there are no obvious resources for individuals facing either issue. It is down to each firm and employee to navigate their own path.
I spent a lot of time preparing for the arrival of my second child. I re-read the baby books, attended pregnancy Pilates, and decorated her nursery. I was therefore surprised to face a completely unexpected challenge - the news that my firm was to merge while I was on maternity leave.
The call came as I was putting my newborn daughter down for her afternoon nap. Tiptoeing out of her room, I saw my firm's name flash up on my mobile. The voice of the managing partner greeted me and my immediate thought was one of concern. Was there a problem? I was therefore pleased and relieved to receive the news of my firm's impending merger in six months' time.
The details came later, so for the next couple of months, for me, the merger remained purely theoretical. I was happily preoccupied with the daily demands of an infant. It was not until my daughter developed a sleep routine, that I had the time and energy to contemplate the implications of the merger. I started to focus on the reality of a new firm, in a new office with an entirely new set of colleagues. In fact I would not just be returning to work, but starting a new job in a firm that would be more than three times the size of my previous one.
The remainder of my maternity leave was spent in a state of nervous anticipation. I read as much as I could about the firm and attended two work events to break the ice. Then I just accepted that I could do no more. As with the preparation for my daughter's birth, I realised the next step would be the main event. There was little I could do but wait.
Focus on the positive
I decided to embrace the change. Mergers happen for a reason - to secure the future of both firms as one. As employees we should welcome the prospect of working for a firm which has strengthened its position. There may also be unexpected benefits such as a wider and more interesting client base, nicer offices and more opportunities for promotion. I am still in the early days of my new job, but I already feel energised by the difference.
Advice on returning to a merged firm
1) Make a decision early on to be positive about the merger, rather than view it as an unwelcome imposition.
2) If you are being promoted, give some thought to your new team and how you will structure it, as well as improvements you would like to introduce, such as cost savings or new systems. Think about quick wins for your first month back - perhaps you were tied into an expensive legacy contract that you now have the authority to get rid of?
3) Contact your head of department (if they are different from before) during your maternity leave to introduce yourself.
4) Take any opportunity given to meet your new colleagues and/or see the offices before you start.
5) Try to participate in firm activities, such as internal committees and marketing initiatives. This will help you to develop a sense of the firm's culture and enable you to meet people from other departments.
6) Know your employment rights, especially if you’re still breastfeeding, or have requested flexible working hours.
7) Consider joining the Law Society’s Women Lawyers Division, which provides key regulatory and management information, as well as excellent networking opportunities through a comprehensive program of events, up-to-date opinions from industry experts, latest news articles, interviews, and tailored training.
8) Relax and be yourself, because it is hard enough starting a new job with a baby at home without worrying about your position.
At the start, a merger is always a work in progress. In a sense, it is reassuring for the returning mother to know that she is not the only one who may be feeling her way.
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