Equality and diversity - meet our guest bloggers
A common theme emanating from our equality and diversity work is how important role models, and learning from other’s experiences are for our members, law students and others thinking of a career in law. Jennifer Young, a partner specialising in construction law (contentious and non-contentious) and, since 2012, chairman of Ledingham Chalmers, shared her career story with us.
Length of post qualifying experience?
What was your route to qualifying as a solicitor?
Fairly traditional: from school to LLB (Hons) & Diploma at University of Aberdeen to traineeship with Dundas & Wilson in Edinburgh. I remained with Dundas & Wilson in Glasgow post qualifying before returning to my home town of Aberdeen.
Best piece of advice and/ or support you received during your career?
There was a conversation between a supervising partner and NQ (me) which went along these lines: “This draft opinion letter shows that you know the law, but, so what? Have you actually told the client what they need to know or do?”
This is a rule I now apply to most things. By all means do the ground work, but, apply the “so what?” test to review what you produce from the perspective of a client.
What advice would you give to someone starting out on their path to qualifying as solicitor?
Keep an open mind. Studying the law and practising the law are very different. You may be surprised that areas of law which were of no interest to you while studying take on an entirely different complexion in practice. As an example, I started off my traineeship with the view that I would never want to do court work, but that’s what I ended up enjoying the most and doing post qualifying.
What was the greatest challenge in your career and how did you overcome it?
Work/life balance is and remains the biggest challenge. I am not sure that is one I will ever overcome, but I have learned to be more flexible and adaptable over the years. The biggest lesson for me as a partner came from taking time out for maternity leave. While I was absent from the business for a relatively short time, it did prove to me that I was quite dispensable and that relying on others to deliver was not a weakness. Indeed, some may say it was a good way of learning to relax my control freakery.
Have you faced any particular challenges as a woman in the profession, if so how did you overcome them?
I can’t say that I have faced any particular challenges as a woman in the profession – whether as a construction law specialist, a partner or as chairman. I have been lucky to spend most of my professional career in an environment where individuals are encouraged to identify opportunities and follow through on them.
What was the greatest success in your career?
The greatest honour in my career was being entrusted with the role of chairman at Ledingham Chalmers. 2016 marks 25 years since Ledingham Chalmers came into being, following the merger of Aberdeen heavyweights C&PH Chalmers and Edmonds and Ledingham. The firm has benefitted from strong leadership during a time when both the market landscape and the firm itself saw significant changes. I take very seriously the responsibility of partners as the custodians of a business with a strong legacy to ensure the long term sustainability of the business and those who support it. This is what I would like to be the measure of success in my career – which hopefully will continue for a good many years to come.
What do you think will be the greatest challenge to the legal profession in the next 10 years?
The legal market place in the next 10 years is going to be very different. It is not going to be enough for lawyers to continue delivering services in the way they always have done. Knowing the law and relevant processes to produce an end result will be taken as a given. Lawyers will have to work much harder to demonstrate to clients where the real value of their service lies.
What do you think will provide the best opportunities for the legal profession in the next 10 years?
Retaining good people is, and will remain, a challenge - but it is also an opportunity. It is more challenging now than it has ever been to become a partner in a law firm. It is often still the perception that unless you become a partner you haven’t “made it”. That needs to change, and is an opportunity for the legal profession to engage, retain and attract back folks who may have left the profession to pursue other things (which may be business or personal).
We are talking to our members about career progression and the gender pay gap. To help shape what the Society can do please join the conversation and let us know your views.
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