updated on 14 December 2021
Vivienne Reeve is a principal associate at Gowling WLG (UK) LLP. She opens up about the two conditions she has been diagnosed with and how she continues to do the job she loves thanks to her supportive team and firm.
"I was encouraged to be aware that life is different for everyone and some people have really difficult obstacles in their way."
Tell us a bit about your role at Gowling
My name is Vivienne Reeve, I am a principal associate in the employment and equalities team. I do a mix of advisory work and litigation, my special interest is equalities, particularly disability. I co-chair our Enable Network with Anna Fletcher.
What influenced your decision to pursue your chosen career?
Growing up, I was encouraged to be aware that life is different for everyone and some people have really difficult obstacles in their way. I was influenced by the health and social care work which my mum did but was also drawn to being part of the legal system and trying to improve things from the inside. Reading about injustice and ignorance in the papers fired me up.
I didn’t really know what job I was looking for and our school career service was pretty useless, but after doing some work experience with different types of law firm (which I was lucky enough to have access to) and volunteering at my university advice centre I decided to apply to Wragge & Co (now Gowling).
What have been the most rewarding experiences so far in your career?
There isn't one thing that I could say has been the most rewarding point of my career, but I’d say there are three things that make me proud and keep me going.
One is getting to the bottom of fraught and gnarly employee disputes with clients who are ready and willing to change what they can; second is winning two big cases last year after three years of navigating all the obstacles thrown at us; and the third is setting up the firm’s Menopause Network.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome these challenges?
The challenges I have faced have been in working out how to carry on doing the job I love, with two changing and debilitating conditions. I was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) when I was a student. It’s a condition in which a change from lying to sitting or sitting to standing (ie, normal moving about) causes an abnormally large (or higher than normal) increase in heart rate. The symptoms are varied but mine are light-headedness, trouble thinking (ie, brain fog), blurred vision, chronic nausea, dizziness and weakness.
The combination of pregnancy and returning to work caused a series of new symptoms – my left arm and leg started zoning out, hanging loose, so I couldn’t use them properly. After months of appointments and tests I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danloss, which affects the connective tissue around the body. It was a lightbulb moment, as lots of different things I'd dealt with since I was a teenager were connected and finally recognised. There is no cure, but after lots of trial and error, I have medication and lots of coping mechanisms to manage the symptoms. The biggest challenge is that my body changes – some days I can walk, work and socialise, other days I can't do much – most days are somewhere in the middle. I could not have got there without the support of my team; they were, and are a huge support.
"Each time I have asked for help, or told someone I'm struggling, they have listened and we've changed things for the better."
What is your top tip for ensuring a truly inclusive workplace?
My top tip for a truly inclusive workplace is each person opening their own horizons, listening and taking notice of other people, thinking and asking how they can help and the leaders in each business making it a real core part of what they do.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
It is an act of generosity to let people in and to let them help you. This changed my mindset from feeling like a burden to feeling 'normal'. Each time I have asked for help, or told someone I'm struggling, they have listened and we've changed things for the better. My team are brilliant. I expect yours are too, or they could be if they had the chance.
What is the worse piece of advice you have ever been given? How did you unlearn this?
Worst piece of advice I've been given: push through the pain. Don't, at least not in the long term and not repeatedly. It never works out well. Listen to your body and ask for help if you need it.
How do you balance work and home life?
As best I can. I work out what my priorities are each day and week, personally and for work. I then do my best to work on those first and do the rest around that.
Some days that's a lot easier than others! I have Wednesdays off to reset, for self-care and to be there for my daughter before and after school. If I'm having an intense physical day (eg, needing to move and travel), or intense mental days (eg, needing hard concentration or intense communication), I try to get some breaks in to recover, or balance them out with easy work to get back on an even keel. It's about giving and taking, listening and being pragmatic.
What advice would you give your younger self, knowing what you know now?
I think the best piece of advice I would give anyone with health issues – mental or physical – is, you don’t have to fix it yourself or have the answers before you ask for help, there's a good network for you at work to help you out.
Vivienne Reeve is a principal associate at Gowling WLG (UK) LLP.
Visit LCN’s Diversity hub, sponsored by Gowling, for more on what the firm is doing to create a diverse and inclusive workplace.