Maintaining focus on personal priorities made me a better lawyer, says Terry Miller OBE
“My mom is a lawyer. When she gets home every night she says ‘Boy I’m so glad to be home’.”
In conversation with Dana Denis-Smith at an event in support of the First 100 Years Project, she told the audience how she kept that note in her office in every role she has had. Looking back over her own prestigious working life, Miller emphasised the importance of being authentic and true to yourself, and not to be afraid to take on new challenges. Making time to nurture outside interests and family life will maintain your drive and avoid burnout.
Miller’s legal career was borne out of realising what mattered to her most. She had previously worked as a journalist and increasingly found she wanted to be at the centre of change, rather than just reporting on it. That drive took her on a path that led to becoming the most senior legal counsel for Goldman Sachs in London. However, like any of us, she experienced momentsof uncertainty and self-doubt. While acknowledging that luck and circumstance play a big part in shaping a career, she also emphasised that one of the biggest elements is overcoming fear. Taking on new challenges builds confidence that you can take into other areas of work, she said. “Every time you can rise above a challenge and turn that energy of anxiety into adrenaline to learn and expand your knowledge; that is an opportunity.” She calls this “trepidation and stimulation” – and we can probably all relate to moments where we’ve felt that trepidation, but haven’t always seized the opportunity!
Miller also sees time devoted to outside activities such as hobbies and family life as not an afterthought or hindrance, but the key to wellbeing and continued success. She said remaining focused on her personal priorities in many ways helped her to be excellent in all of her legal counsel roles. It is therefore just as important to build a schedule to protect time for other activities; to have something that takes us away from it all and allows us to learn and excel in a another sphere With all these elements combined, we can live fuller lives that we and our loved ones can be proud of. Turning to how this can be applied in the legal profession, Miller said that one of the major changes she had observed was the increase in people doing things in a less traditionally linear way, and instead building a portfolio career. On flexible and remote approaches to work, Miller stated that she believes the legal profession can adapt and that changes should be embraced quickly and can be achieved, if it is understood what needs to be done and there is trust in people. She also discussed how careers are on a much longer cycle for women, and it is important for us to think about where we want to put emphasis. It is vital at every phase in life to work out our priorities. We need to be smart and realistic about what’s important at different life stages, whether it be professional or personal. When we’re able to know the distinction and prioritise accordingly, we’re better able to manage our expectations of ourselves and those around us.
In other words, it’s about recognising we can have it all, but that doesn’t mean doing it all at once. We need to continually be honest with ourselves about what matters and sticking to the ethos of authenticity- and it certainly helps to keep a little note or a picture somewhere to remind us.