Why I nearly left law
I was desperate to become a lawyer. For me, it was a second career – my first being in human resources – so I needed to go back to university in my late 20s and study the GDL and LPC. I faced some pretty big obstacles to qualifying as a solicitor:
- At the time I was a single mum and I couldn’t afford to stop working to go back to uni.
- I didn’t have very good A levels and failed to meet the criteria for the majority of training contract applications.
- I trained during the recession and was asked to defer my training contract, which I couldn’t afford to do.
- I had a baby during my training contract.
- When I qualified there were hardly any NQ jobs on the market.
I was fortunate enough to get a training contract which sponsored me during the GDL and LPC, so I managed to scrape together enough money to support me and my daughter for two years. I also managed to avoid having my training contract deferred, took the minimum amount of maternity leave to finish my training contract on time, and secured a decent job on qualification.
So, all in all, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself in September 2011 when I was qualified!
I was a junior lawyer working full-time in some of a big commercial firms with two young children. I did everything I could to impress, throwing myself into every task I was given and trying to learn as much as possible. I was determined to climb the path to partnership as quickly as possible, feeling that I was already a few steps behind my younger counterparts.
I was working my arse off and seeing no benefit in doing so, so I started to question what I was doing.
For a long time I remained oblivious to the attitudes that were holding me back, in denial that there was a problem. I was accused of working part-time because I needed to leave at 5:30pm to pick up my children, despite the fact I was smashing my targets. There was an assumption that if you were working from home you weren't actually working, and any requests for time off to attend school plays were reluctantly agreed. But, over time it became clear that, despite being good at my job, there was no promotion on the horizon and I wasn’t getting any closer to my goal of partnership. I was working my arse off and seeing no benefit in doing so, so I started to question what I was doing.
The absence of a meritocratic system for advancement and the archaic, male dominated practices I was witnessing didn’t sit right with me and, in 2014, I decided to take some time out. I concluded that a career in law was not for me, but I wasn’t sure what else I could do so I decided to work as a consultant solicitor whilst I decided on a plan.
While working as a consultant it occurred to me that I could create a law firm that I wanted to work for. One that enabled me to do the work I enjoyed doing with clients I wanted to work with, where I could wear what I want and manage my workload around my family. And so, in July 2017, Stephenson Law was born! A law firm which embraces individuality and focuses on helping each member of the team achieve their potential. One that I’m extremely proud of.
The sad truth is that the issues I experienced are not anomalies and are forcing experienced, competent women out of the legal industry. This is making it even harder for women to reach positions of leadership and bring about positive change. The issues are so deeply ingrained in the industry that resolving them is going to take time. But I can only hope that new entrants to the market, like Stephenson Law, will make it harder for firms refusing to embrace inclusion to survive and easier for women like me to remain in the industry and continue using the knowledge and skills they’ve worked so hard to acquire.