Women in Law

Obelisk Support consultant Alisha McKerron Heese provides some advice to women returners on coming back to the law after a career break, from her attendance at CMS’s two-week programme for women returning to work – the first programme of this kind to be organised by a UK law firm .

Coming back into the fold after a career break is by no means an easy thing to do. As women returners, often the barriers we face come not from the gap on our CV, but how we approach it in our own minds. The biggest obstacles we encounter in returning to work are, in fact, those that we create for ourselves by not putting ourselves forward correctly.

Putting yourself forward after a career break requires considerable time and effort – more than you might think. It requires careful consideration of paperwork, including your CV, cover letter and online presence, and putting yourself across in the right way when networking and interviewing.  Allocating a mere half hour to the task is unlikely to yield good results.

1. Start With Your CV

Your CV needs to evolve beyond just a list of employers and experience, particularly when you have a career break to incorporate. Begin with a neat profile about what services you offer, and what you are looking for, so that potential clients can identify themselves as potential clients. Your summary lets you speak directly to your potential clients, and should be used to tell them why you’re their best choice. This should not be more than two or three lines.

Next, note down your previous work experience and education. Don’t just list the names of companies you worked for – it’s important to highlight your specific involvement in the companies, as well as the outcome of your work (example sentence: “Acme Corp: involved in X task, helped Y team complete merger Z”). This paints a more complete picture of your skills. Don’t be despondent that your work experience has dated: as a returner, it’s more about demonstrating the skills you have acquired than demonstrating being up to date. Spend some time thinking about the past – be sure to include anything relevant, no matter how many years ago it was.

Don’t try to hide your career break. Do disclose the length of your career break, but ‘sandwich it’ between past experience and what you are doing at the moment, e.g. any unpaid work that demonstrates recent skills acquired. Skills are transferable, which is why it’s so important to highlight them.

2. Consider Your Online Presence

LinkedIn is an ideal place to establish your online presence as a lawyer, as it is where head-hunters will look for candidates. For work use, other social networks such as Twitter or Facebook are not as vital, though you might see a use for them if you wish to establish a blog or a presence as a public commentator. Take the time to research how to use LinkedIn effectively so your profile really stands out from the crowd.

3. Network Effectively

Networking is less about trying to impress people, and more about gathering information in order to maximise the possibility of a win-win collaboration. It’s less about being interesting and more about being interested. It’s an opportunity to ask questions, to listen, to learn and to make a connection with someone.

Treat networking as an adventure and you may find that it is more pleasant than you might think. While you should not steer the conversation towards yourself, be ready with a synopsis of what you have to offer if asked. Don’t stress about having to talk to everyone – forming a closer connection to a few people can be as beneficial as talking to many. If you do want to talk to others, however, don’t be afraid to leave one person to talk to another. As long as you give a reason for doing so, and don’t leave the person on their own, that’s fine.

4. Prepare Your First Impression for Interviews

When preparing for an interview, it’s important to think about what impression you would like to make. Your first impression is perhaps more important than you might think! Even if the rest of the interview goes well, the first impression tends to dominate the interviewer’s overall impression of you (primacy bias). In fact, they will set about gathering information to confirm their initial assessment of you (confirmation bias).

Some of these biases can be harnessed for good, however: if you are able to match their behaviour – or, better still, pick up on something which you both have in common, you will make a better connection with the interviewer (affinity bias)! Give consideration to: your entrance and exit, what you wear, your deportment and volume, and pace of your speech. Turning up late to an interview should be avoided at all costs (an example of the primacy bias working against you).

5. Practice Your Success Stories

It’s also important to find out as much as you can about the interviewer, and to have a clear understanding of the job description. Think about what competencies the interviewer may be looking for. The work experience listed on your CV should help here.

Be ready to give “STAR stories”: examples of Situations you were involved in where you were given a Task that led to an Action you took, and the consequent Result. Prepare answers for likely questions that may arise. Ensure that you have a good organisational understanding of the company at which you are interviewing. Finally, take a moment to check the news on the morning of your interview, to show that you’re up to date with current affairs. 

A well-prepared CV, a good LinkedIn presence, and good networking skills put to regular use will, sooner or later, lead to an interview. Thorough pre-interview research and preparation will help turn that interview into a job offer.

You may think it’s much more complex than that, as I know I did before I attended the CMS programme. The preparation process helped me identify my skill set, which built up my self-esteem, which in turn built up my self-confidence. Hopefully, it will do the same for you.

The Legal Update

At Obelisk Support, we regularly get requests from clients to assist them in Brexit-related matters, whether it’s in the banking industry or regarding general commercial law. As Brexit is still very much a shifting concept, its legal implications are not as clear-cut as businesses would like them to be. That’s why we were very excited when we learned that Helen Tse, lawyer at Clarke Willmott, was working on a book about doing business after Brexit, featuring a range of experts in the most common legal fields affecting professionals in the U.K. Finally, a book that tells you how Brexit could affect your business.

We are very proud that Obelisk Support CEO, Dana Denis-Smith, and her husband, John Denis-Smith, both contributed a chapter in this book, each in their area of expertise. To get the inside scoop, we caught up with Helen Tse on the legal implications of doing business after Brexit.

#1 How did you come to spearhead this project?

In June 2016, before the referendum, nobody envisaged that Brexit would happen and when it did, a slight panic occurred as to what would happen. As a lot of my clients were calling to know what was going to happen for them with Brexit regarding their property or their business, I pitched the idea of this book to Bloomsbury and they were interested.

I started writing at Christmas time in 2016, because there wasn’t much that we could write until we knew a bit more. To get a steer as to what the government would envisage Brexit to be, I contacted the Brexit department (Department for Exiting the European Union) led by David Davis. This book is based on their guidelines.

#2 Who is the book for?

It is for fellow lawyers, anybody in the professional services sphere who has to advise on Brexit issues, as well as companies, SMEs, high net worth individuals, and anybody with an interest in business. It even features a section by Nigel Barratt that talks about the landscape for investor from abroad. We see Brexit as an opportunity to invest in the UK, as it’s 20% cheaper. The sterling has devalued, therefore buying a property in the UK is a great opportunity.

#3 How did you structure this book and why?

Initially, it was going to be purely an academic piece on leading lawyers from different specialist areas on how they think the law will change. But then, I thought that it would be good to have a business section and created a section on thought-leadership. How might business owners envisage that Brexit would impact their business? So the book is two-part, academic on one hand and pragmatic businesslike on the other.

Doing business after Brexit is such a broad topic that you’ll never be able to cover the whole range of topics, but from a business perspective you can address employment, corporate, commercial, property, corporate finance, and all things that you need to make the business flow. What this book won’t say is how individuals who have a property in Spain will be affected. This is a book strictly about business.

#4 Each one of the book’s chapters is written by a different legal expert. What was the biggest challenge about coordinating these contributors?

The book features about 30 contributors. There are a lot of thought leaders in the frame. My main challenge was to get everybody to deliver on time and then edit contributions to get a constant flow about everything. That took all my weekends, as the book is 400 pages long. Given everybody’s busy schedules, there were slight delays so that impacted my schedule too but we got the job done.

#5 Did anything surprise you in the book?

Looking at Brexit is little bit like the ostrich approach. Nobody knows what to do, so you assume that it’s not going to happen. For instance, if repatriation happened, what would happen to the business? If you’re a UK business getting goods abroad, what would happen? On a business level, a lot of businesses still don’t know what to do or what’s going to happen. This book is very timely and will be a great mind map for many companies and professionals.

The book looks at worst-case scenarios. That was surprising to me, but it was necessary to guide business owners. 

#6 Do you deal with similar issues at work?

I specialise in M&A and right before the referendum, we had a few transactions that had come to terms. The price had been agreed. Payment terms had been agreed. It was basically good to go, except that Brexit happened.

After the referendum, did the buyers still want to go ahead with the transactions? Some buyers went ahead but others decided to wait and see, they did not wish to proceed with the acquisition. There was nothing wrong with the company, but the parties were just nervous about what would happen and the economic uncertainty.

I’ll give you a Lloyds bank statistic that appears in the book. On the day of the referendum, they stopped 100% of all mortgage applications. That’s how much uncertainty can impact a business and that’s why it was important to write this book.

#7 How did you guide your authors and where did you draw a line?

From a book standpoint, we had very clear guidelines with the publisher at Bloomsbury regarding drafting style, the number of words or how each contributor should focus on their particular area of law. Legally, though, we instructed that all authors deal with a hard Brexit situation. It makes it much more feasible for a contributor to give their piece.

#8 Did writing the book change your view on Brexit?

Personally, I was not for Brexit but we are where we are. We do the best of the situation that is being given. I remain very pragmatic and as a lawyer, want to make sure that my clients are protected. It really remains to be seen whether Brexit was a good decision or not but as lawyers, we need to be flexible and adapt.

Let’s take the example of a manufacturer who buys his supplies as raw materials coming from Germany. With the post-Brexit currency changes, the supplies might not be affordable anymore. Under a normal contract, you can only terminate for force majeure or frustration. Instead, we’re inserting Brexit clauses into contracts. The book gives you clauses to think about. They haven’t been drafted by anybody yet and we are definitely  leading the way in that respect.  However until Brexit has happened, we cannot have a clear view of what these templates could be.

#9 What online resources would you recommend to lawyers and general counsels to keep up to date with Brexit legal issues?

First, I would say download the kindle version of this book to have it handy. As far as UK resources, I really like Brexit & Law as well as PLC and LexisNexis.

#10 What next?

I get my weekend back! Of course, we’re going to do a presentation of the book on September 20 in Manchester. All the details are here.

About Helen Tse

Helen Tse is the first port of call for SME companies, high net worth individuals and entrepreneurs regarding corporate and commercial law matters. Helen herself is an entrepreneur, a published author and the recipient of the coveted MBE from Her Majesty The Queen in 2014.

A graduate in Law from Cambridge University with a professional career has included Clifford Chance, London & Hong Kong, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Walkers in the Cayman Islands, Helen Tse is highly sought after and an authority in the world of business. Her combination of legal and business acumen stands her heads and shoulders above her peers.

Making Work, Work

The Attic recently caught up with Mark Maurice-Jones, General Counsel at Nestlé UK & Ireland, to discuss legal team management and flexible working. With 15 members working with the company’s United Kingdom and Ireland divisions, Maurice-Jones’ legal team focuses on internal business partnerships to proactively shape and challenge the company’s business agenda. For Maurice-Jones, flexible working is a common sense work arrangement for modern lawyers – here, he tells us why.

Defining Flexible Work

Starting with the basics, we wanted to know how flexible working was defined at Nestlé UK & Ireland. As it is such a recruitment buzzword, it’s important to know what the phrase encompasses.

“At Nestlé,” said Mark Maurice-Jones, “we have a policy that discusses the various elements of flexible work, whether it’s a number of working hours, a reduction of working hours, a reduction of number of days or working from outside the office. All these are part of the flexible working policy, a policy that’s updated regularly (the current policy dates from 2014) and that applies to all employees in the United Kingdom and Ireland.”

Why Flexible Working?

When you factor in that any of the team do not live close to the location of Nestlé UK & Ireland close to Gatwick Airport, work flexibility becomes a powerful employment tool as well as a driver for a better work-life balance. Indeed, the goal of the flexible working policy at Nestle was to address diversity and inclusion, and also to make sure that people enjoyed a good work-life balance.

In the legal department, several people take advantage of it, particularly when it comes to working in different locations. For two members of the legal team (male and female), working a 4-day week helps them achieve a better work-life balance. Commute is also a big incentive to take up remote working: Issues with public transport? Working from home solves the problem. In this particular instance, work flexibility helps reduce levels of stress.

Last but not least, the type of work they do in the legal depart lends itself to flexible working options. Law is about talking to people; it’s a lot of email correspondence and meetings. “You don’t necessarily have to be located in any one place to do these things,” says Maurice-Jones.

Successes and Challenges of the Flexible Working Lawyer

For Maurice-Jones, flexible working makes a positive difference for everybody. “With the train problems from London to Brighton over the last year,” says Maurice-Jones, “The policy has helped my team on the days that there were strikes.” He adds that working from home has also helped in other instances. “Our office has an open plan environment and it can get a bit noisy. If people need to focus and write something, it is more efficient for them to work from home.”

The feedback on flexible working is very positive and people are appreciative of its impact on their work-life balance.

However, flexible working can only work as long as Maurice-Jones and other lawyers on the legal team continue to have cohesivity within the team and with people working remotely. “I come into the office most of the time,” says Maurice-Jones. “If you come on a Tuesday and you don’t connect with your colleagues until Thursday and you’re working on a joint project, then this can be problematic.”

How to Ensure Seamless Communication within the Team

To keep abreast of everybody’s work, it’s important to get everybody around a table in person on a regular basis. Monthly team meetings plus shorter weekly meetings bridge the gap on smaller topics with team members at the office. Some topics tend not be discussed remotely, but rather when the whole team is together during meetings. Indeed, each of the lawyers tends to be working with their business unit and team meetings are a great venue to update the rest of the team, on projects that are vertical or transversal.

Beyond team meetings, the right communication tools are essential to communication channels flowing both ways. Between telephones, email and Skype, keeping in touch on everyday tasks is not difficult. You can find a lot of information from your iPhone without having to be there and you don’t need to visit the library for legal texts either. While we take this access to information for granted nowadays, it was impossible 10 years ago and shows how much the world of in-house legal professionals has evolved.

A Trust-Based Team Organisation

To naysayers who argue that flexible working doesn’t mean equal pay, Maurice-Jones counters that his team lawyers are judged on their work output and not input. He says, “provided that everyone has very clear objectives to achieve, it doesn’t matter where or when the objectives are completed. People should only be judged on their output.”

To young general counsels or team leaders, Maurice-Jones recommends to try flexible working. “Go for it,” he says, “people find it motivating. It allows for work-life balance and it generates trust. It’s a very good thing to do. If you want to attract the best people, you need to offer flexible work options, otherwise you’ll be ruling out a lot of people and miss out on talent.”

On legal team topics, Bjarne Philip Tellman’s Building an Outstanding Legal Team: Battle-Tested Strategies from a General Counsel provides great insights for in-house legal professionals.

Handling Deadlines Within a Flexible Legal Team

Nestlé’s legal team members are expected to hit their deadlines wherever they are based. They are not dictated by how often people are in the office, but by the demands of the business. The deadline doesn’t change just because so-and-so is working from home.

When the press reports that Nestlé leads the way in terms of work flexibility, our interview with Maurice-Jones confirms that this is certainly true in the United Kingdom and Ireland even for one of the most traditional of corporate areas, the sacrosanct legal department. Who says that lawyers resist change?

Mark Maurice-Jones joined Nestlé as General Counsel and Head of Legal Services of Nestlé UK and Ireland in May 2015. Prior to joining Nestle Mark worked for 15 years at the US FMCG multinational Kimberly-Clark where he held a number of leadership positions in the EMEA Legal Department. He originally trained and practised as a competition lawyer with international law firms in London and Brussels.

In his current role, Mark heads up the Legal Department supporting all of Nestlé’s businesses in
the UK and Ireland which have a turnover of £ 2.4 billion and employ 8000 people across 20 sites. He
is passionate about developing legal teams that pro-actively shape and challenge the wider business
agenda and drive a culture of compliance and integrity.