Women in Law. Knowing When to Leap

Women in the city

“knowing when to leap – life is precious, if things aren’t working say no to complacency and scare yourself with new opportunities”

Rosie Burbidge is a Partner at Gunnercooke LLP, London UK

I recently went to a talk by Lady Hale, the President of the Supreme Court. She highlighted how much has changed since her career in law began in 1969. We certainly live in more enlightened times where any woman theoretically has the ability to do anything and many women do just that.

When I started my legal career in 2007, it looked like we were living in equal times. Whilst being a trainee and later a junior lawyer was not always smooth sailing, the issues I encountered didn’t feel gendered, they were just the result of the same stresses everyone of my generation was going through – rising rents, the economic downturn, the distant prospect of home ownership etc.

That changed in my 30s as I slowly saw increasing numbers of my female peers being ‘gently’ encouraged out of the profession, usually when they had their first child. Comments about the impact of female lawyers having more than one child were common from both male and female senior lawyers. I have never heard a similar remark about male lawyers who are typically (rightfully) celebrated when they take paternity leave.

Children are not the only impact on female careers and the issues do not solely reside within law firms. There are many examples, some a little creepy, but as this is a family friendly publication, I’ll focus on the more business aspects! In some cases this was recruiter oriented: I got calls about PSL jobs or junior associate roles when my male peers were called about senior associate or partner roles. All of the women I know have had to fight for and “prove themselves” over many years and watch as male counterparts are simply given the same opportunity as a right of passage. Inevitably this is frustrating but there are certainly greater injustices in the world. Without condoning this behaviour, I think it’s important to appreciate what we have achieved and identify positive opportunities for the legal profession.

The things we deal with today are nothing compared to past generations and overall I see a very positive trend which only gets better with each generation. Millennials are often criticised but what I see is a generation of open minded and accepting people who are largely focused on making the world a better place. They have grown up in a world where there are still gender divides but there is acceptance that women can do anything regardless of their background, politics, ethnicity, marital status or sexual orientation. I don’t want complacency because there are definitely still issues to be addressed but the world is steadily improving and, together with social change, technology is going to be a key force in improving working lives and opportunities for women.

In October 2018, I opted to ‘take back control’ of my career and joined the incredibly forward thinking challenger law firm – gunnercooke. The gunnercooke model means that I have the support of a law firm but the independence of an entrepreneur. I can apportion my time as I desire and build a practice that works for me and my clients without worrying about the whims of internal management changes or law firm mergers. I cannot emphasise enough the impact that this has had on my mental and physical well being. I start each day with a minimum 20 minutes of yoga, have eliminated travel at rush hour and have the time and mental space to deliver the creative legal solutions for my clients that they need and I love to deliver. It is no coincidence that the percentage of female gunnercooke partners is around 50% – this is precisely the balance that many women have been craving in their personal lives.

I hope that gender divides will eventually blur to the point of irrelevance. With that in mind, the big lessons I have learned are (i) the importance of developing your own network; (ii) the value of your personal brand; (iii) knowing when to leap – life is precious, if things aren’t working say no to complacency and scare yourself with new opportunities; and (iv) remember that technology gives many more options. Find the career that works best for you and then work out how you can make it happen.

In more practical terms, attend meetups, arrange coffees, nurture like minded people, go to parties, get on social media, write blogs! If you’re positive and generous with your time and connections, you can build an excellent network within a surprisingly short period of time. Ultimately, your success and long term fulfilment is all about these people.

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Find out more about Rosie Burbidge: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosieburbidge/

Rosie’s book on European Fashion Law: A Practical Guide from Start-up to Global Success is available here: https://www.e-elgar.com/shop/european-fashion-law

Rosie is on Twitter (@rosieburbidge), Instagram (@europeanfashionlaw) and has a dedicated website for her book here: https://www.europeanfashionlaw.com/

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