Q&A with Laura Uberoi
1. Tell us about your role
During the day, I'm a real estate finance solicitor. As part of this, I advise both lenders, borrowers, investors, developers, corporates and funds on investment and development property transactions; including PRS/build-to-rent, student accommodation and hotel financing.
Although, I am currently on maternity leave so my role is using my negotiation skills on an eight month old baby who has just learnt to crawl!
I am also a Council member at the Law Society, elected to represent 70,000 solicitors with zero-to-five years' PQE and the immediate past president of Westminster and Holborn Law Society.
2. What’s the best thing about working at Macfarlanes?
I consider myself extremely lucky to love going to work each day - enjoying the variety of work and clients; colleagues who are at the top of their field; and a firm that is supportive of extra-curricular interests as well as professional progression.
I joined Macfarlanes when I was four months pregnant and I was (and continue to be) overwhelmed by the support offered to me and my colleagues. Just by way of example, my firm offers an external parental coach, who works to your agenda before, during and after parental leave.
Encouraged by many in the firm, we started by creating a communications plan - a note to my team about all updates I want to receive during my time away, such as client events and training sessions. Often those on parental leave can feel left out, whist employers are rightfully wary of contacting team members that are away, so a communications plan resolves these concerns.
3. As a Council member, what are you most excited to be working on for 2020?
On Monday 6 January, the Creating a Healthy Alcohol Culture in the Legal Profession guide was launched by the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society and it has already received coverage in nearly all of the national newspapers and many radio stations.
As the author of the guide, I have been overwhelmed by solicitors (and others) from across the country who have been in touch to give their story as to why they are embracing improvements to drinking culture. For years this has been one of my biggest projects and I am really excited to promote the campaign further this year.
4. Why is this important?
There are four key benefits resulting from a healthier drinking culture:
- improved mental and physical health
- greater diversity and inclusion
- reduced instances of bullying and harassment
- increased productivity
5. What are your three top tips for firms wanting to improve their drinking culture?
The guide has lots of examples of ways organisations are improving their drinking culture, my top three are:
Consider alternatives to drinks events. By way of example, just recently we have run painting and Christmas decoration workshops, historical walking tours and we have clients asking us to run more chocolate making sessions for them!
Stop asking colleagues or guests why they are not drinking alcohol or do not want another drink.
Ensure that all events have non-alcoholic options served alongside alcoholic options in the same glass.
6. What needs to happen to get more women into senior leadership roles in the City?
As they say, the early bird catches the worm, and organisations need to make sure that they start working with their employees very early in their careers to create a framework that ensures everyone reaches their potential. Trainees should be educated on the various career trajectories open to them.
Newly qualified solicitors should be asked to start their own business/career plan and supervisors should make time to discuss and develop these at regular intervals throughout the year - we call them 'career conversations' at Macfarlanes.
In 2019, we ran a 'Female Lawyers Forum' for every female associate in the firm - a series of workshops throughout the year led by external business coaches to provide support and training in areas that we felt would assist with career progression.
The culture of the firm is such that everyone already knows everyone, however the forum also created additional networks of female lawyers throughout the firm to discuss topics arising and support one another as careers progress.
This January, the firm is running a 'career focus month', with an extra push for everyone to consider and sign up to the development resources already available at the firm and encourage more career conversations.
These are all things that happen already, however putting the spotlight on them sends the message to already very busy team members that ongoing strategies for career progression are important to the organisation and must be a priority for everyone.
7. What is everyone talking about in the profession at the moment?
As always, there is an enormous amount occupying the legal profession at the moment - Brexit, a legal aid crisis and international conflicts, to name a few.
However, we must all start the new year in a hopeful manner and my 'favourite' water cooler conversation at the moment is the enormous amount of work being done around environmental, social and governance criteria (ESG).
For some time, many lawyers and firms have been running serious corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes, with volunteering days for all team members and comprehensive pro bono schemes.
However, a culture shift in the past few years means that ESG, initially a concept from financial services to measure the sustainability of an organisation, is now front and centre of everyone's minds - partners, employees, clients and stakeholders.
Even little changes can make a big difference to sustainability - we do not have desk bins (just recycling and waste bins in communal areas), no plastic cutlery and vegan Mondays for Veganuary, just by way of example. It is really exciting to empower everyone in an organisation to take responsibility for the sustainability of their work.