Tell me about your career path, and how you got to be a dispute resolution lawyer.
I used to 'put on' court room dramas as a child and place myself as the Judge, so I clearly had an interest in justice from an early age. I ended up having a slightly unconventional path to qualifying as a solicitor. My mum decided to relocate to Australia from London when I was 15 and in year 11 at school. I was furious about that decision, and decided in an act of defiance that I would leave school and work so that I could be 'independent'.
Between the ages of 16 – 19, I worked as a receptionist, an office junior at a telesales company, a waitress, and a sandwich maker for busy city workers. These jobs gave me a broad and useful insight into the way businesses operated. On one fateful day in 2001, the COO of the Listening Company, Gaynor Davenport Syed, asked me whether I wanted to work for her personally, and in that moment I realised I was more interested in doing what she was doing (i.e. being the boss), so I called my mum that day and asked her to enrol me at college in Australia. Once there, I did an accelerated course in one year and finished with 4 As in my A-level equivalent.
From there I studied Law at Sussex University where I romanticised the notion of being a human rights lawyer. However, as I had borrowed a lot of money to complete my degree and LPC, I realised I would need a more generously paid job. I am still passionate about access to justice, and am a board member and trustee for the legal charity JUSTICE, and I undertake pro-bono work with LawWorks and Toynbee Hall Legal Advice Clinic. I started at Howard Kennedy as an associate in the commercial litigation team in 2015 and was promoted to senior associate in 2017. My 5 year plan includes making partner, and one day I hope to go on to manage a law firm.
The only thing I would have done differently is borrowed less to study! Although paying off that debt taught me the value of money and gave me a sense of pride in my achievements.
Has being a woman ever had an impact (either positively or negatively) on your job and if so, how?
I think it can be more challenging to progress in any career as a woman, but men have their own challenges too. I am pleased to see that the landscape is definitely improving with flexible working options, equal parental leave rights, and more women in charge. I think equality and diversity are necessary for society to prosper, and in the legal industry I think ensuring that we have equal and diverse representation, and decision makers, at all levels will hopefully create an inclusive and fairer future for all.
In your opinion, what character traits do you need to succeed in the legal profession?
It depends on how you define success; but the lawyers that I admire the most are kind and courteous to others (and themselves), responsive, humble and seem to be constantly learning (and admit when they don't know the answer).
What has been your proudest achievement personally and/or professionally?
Personally, and this might seem odd, but it was overcoming (or learning to live with) my heart-breaking grief after my father died in 2016. I have had to go through many dark days since then (and during his illness) but with the ongoing support of friends and family; being open and honest about how I felt; and being fortunate enough to have access to the NHS and private therapy, I have managed to thrive - which is what I know my dad wanted the most for his daughters. That makes me feel proud of myself.
Professionally, it was winning a "Top 35 under 35 lawyer" award. To date, it is my only glass plaque and even though my mum mistakenly tells people I am a "top 35 lawyer in the world", I was nevertheless honoured to receive the recognition for my work on a big case for a private client, and to be part of a well-established and friendly network of other winners (including our very own Naomi O'Higgins and Antonia Torr).
What do you think good leadership looks like?
Good leaders demonstrate rather than demand – they listen, treat people fairly, show humility and compassion in their dealings & seek to identify and utilise people's individual skills. We all lead in some ways at work, but for me, the best leaders I ever had have taken risks, and involved people in the decision making process.
Who would be your female inspiration, either within or outside the legal industry?
My film idol is Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in from Gone With The Wind, but she is completely self-centred, so not the best idol!
I would have to say Dolly Parton, a true veteran and pioneer of the music industry, and a great example of tenacity and courage. She has been very savvy in her career - starting her own publishing company at the age of 20, and negotiating hard on her song rights at a time when men were definitely in charge. Although she has the benefit of an incredible talent, she has used her position and wealth to help those less fortunate, and strikes the perfect balance between being entrepreneurial and not taking herself too seriously. And more than anything, she seems to have brought a lot of joy to the world – surely one of the highest virtues a person can achieve during their time on earth.