Let's Talk Progression - Linda Urquhart
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.
Linda Urquhart OBE WS, Chairman at Morton Fraser LLP, shared her career story with us.
Tell us about your current role
My career has not followed a traditional path of practising law throughout. I became involved in management early on and spent nearly twelve years as the CEO or managing partner at Morton Fraser. I am now their non-executive Chairman and spend the rest of my time on a portfolio of non-executive roles with other organisations. I'd like to encourage young lawyers to understand that law is a great training for many other things and there are opportunities to diversify at all stages of your career.
Length of post qualifying experience?
33 years although I've not practised law for the last 17 years, as I've been involved in the management of the business.
What was your route to qualifying as a solicitor?
I studied law straight from school, although I intended to become an accountant (I was good at maths at school) but enjoyed law so much that I decided to stay with it. I was among the first year to study the Diploma, then I trained at Steedman Ramage which later merged into Biggart Baillie, now DWF. I moved to Morton Fraser on qualifying and was made a partner at the age of 26.
Best piece of advice and/ or support you received during your career?
I had some great role models in the partners I worked with and for, and whilst I don't think they spelled it out to me, I think the key thing they all shared, and from which I learnt, was the ability to build relationships, with clients and with the people you work with. Understanding your clients, how they work and want to work with you, gives you a head start in offering the best advice and getting the best results for them. Likewise, understanding your colleagues’ strengths and weaknesses and investing time to get to know them helps you work as a team and deliver better results.
What advice would you give to someone starting out on their path to qualifying as solicitor?
Be willing to take any opportunity which is offered, whether it's a secondment, a piece of work or a job which is challenging or a role which is additional to your day job. These opportunities are the way to learn - more about yourself, clients and people you work with and more skills, whether technical or more general. They're also what take you in unexpected directions. I do understand that some people set out with a clear plan of what they want to achieve but, to be honest, my career has taken me in directions I could never have anticipated when I was starting out and much of that has been as a result of embracing unlikely opportunities. Also, don't have fixed ideas of what you might like to do - I hated conveyancing at University and ended up a commercial property lawyer (which I enjoyed).
What was the greatest challenge in your career and how did you overcome it?
When I was asked to take on the role of CEO at Morton Fraser, I didn't think I had sufficient experience, particularly in the finances of a firm. What I learnt to do was to surround myself with people who are better at things than I am. So you don't need to be good at everything, provided you have someone who does know their stuff who you can ask and who can advise you.
Have you faced any particular challenges as a woman in the profession, if so how did you overcome them?
For me, being a woman had advantages as I was often a 'first woman' to do things - first female partner in my firm, first female managing partner of a major firm in Scotland, first female Chair of CBI Scotland. I was lucky to be able to navigate being a working mother, which I fully acknowledge has its challenges, by having a supportive firm (and Morton Fraser is still a very supportive workplace), good back up and an understanding family. I recognise it takes a lot of effort to make it work and I would like to see firms being more creative in how they support flexible working. I've not worked full time or regular office hours for over 25 years. I'm disappointed that we still see such a drop off in women reaching the upper levels of the profession and there's more work to be done to try to keep that talent, particularly in light of the demographics of those entering the profession.
What was the greatest success in your career?
When you're a managing partner it's often difficult to take credit for particular things. Your job is to create an environment in which others succeed but I look back and see I played a part in the journey which Morton Fraser has gone on to become the successful, modern business that it is today. I also helped the business be more outward looking, knowing that you need to understand your clients and their markets to be able to advise them effectively.
What do you think will be the greatest challenge to the legal profession in the next 10 years?
I think there is a real challenge around the diversity and demographics of the profession and our ability to make the most of the talent pool available. The work the Law Society is doing in schools is great, because that's where it has to start, to encourage people who might not otherwise think of law, then we need to make sure there are a variety of flexible routes in and that we keep people who would like to stay.
What do you think will provide the best opportunities for the legal profession in the next 10 years?
The workplace of the future is going to be very different. When I started working, the only computer was a huge machine which took up a whole room in the cash room and we didn't have email or mobile phones. That pace of change will continue but I do think that, despite a reputation to the contrary, solicitors are good at adapting and innovating and it's those who are willing to look at ways to do things differently and change who will flourish.
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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