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The Oracle

Balancing a legal career and being a parent

updated on 10 March 2020

Dear Oracle

I would love to train as a solicitor but I’m concerned that firms would overlook me because of my family commitments. Is it possible to balance a successful legal career with being a mum?

The Oracle replies

It absolutely is possible, and we encourage you to pursue your ambition! For this question, we asked Katie Shaw, solicitor at Freeths, for her expert advice.

Katie says: “I have lived my life back to front and my three babies were born before my career in the law began. My eldest child was born while I was still at university studying for my LLB. After spending some time working in our family business, in 2017 I decided it was ‘now or never’ and took the decision to begin my career in law with a training contract.

“Now that I’m approaching one year since qualifying and joining Freeths, I want to share some of the most important things that I have learnt.

Choose the right firm

“I did a lot of research into where I wanted to train and ultimately qualify. I had a checklist of qualities I was looking for: a regional firm with a top-100 ranking and a good standard of employee satisfaction, not too far away from home. I knew that I certainly couldn’t commit to City hours and still get home to put my children to bed.

Be frank

“Make a point of talking about your children. I made my family life a part of the discussion from the very first interview for both my training contract and my newly qualified role, this gave me the confidence to believe that it wouldn’t hold me back when I was offered the job. I have continued the conversation ever since. If colleagues and supervisors don’t know what is going on, they can’t support you. Try to avoid getting into an overly apologetic cycle as you can end up undermining your own confidence. Be brief and factual when things inevitably go wrong at home and do your best to ensure that no one is left in the lurch at work. This is all anyone can ask of you.

Flexibility is not a sign of weakness

“Within a couple of weeks of starting my training, the firm I was working at approached me to ask if I needed adjusted working hours. I thought long and hard about it. I was anxious not to appear like I couldn’t manage as well as other trainees who did not have children. Luckily, the training principal and my colleagues were encouraging and I was able to agree flexible working so that I could collect my children from school once a week.

In negotiating hours for my newly qualified role, I built on the confidence that my first firm gave to me in being so open to the conversation around flexibile working. I brought it up at interview and successfully negotiated my hours to allow me to collect my children every day. Being honest about what is possible for you, is my best advice. The recruitment process and terms of any job offer should be a two way conversation.

Don’t scrimp on childcare

“If your family has two working parents, you must choose the absolute best quality childcare and book in the most hours that you can possibly afford - it’s worth it. I spent my training contract barely breaking even, but your training is an investment for your family’s future, in the same way that the years of studying that preceded it were. If you are in this position, rest assured that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and now that I am qualified, I do feel that it paid off (excuse the pun!).

It takes a village

“Accept all offers of help with all the grace you can muster. The help and support of my partner, my family, my in-laws, friends and parents of my children’s friends have all been vital in making this work. Even if sometimes I would rather it had been me at my children’s brass band assembly or going to the harvest festival, there will be somebody to watch my children do their thing and report back. I always say thank you and ask for photographs.

Recognise what you bring to the table

“You may not be able to work long hours, but having a family means you bring a different perspective to your work. You will also likely have learnt what it is to work hard and manage your time highly effectively!

“All in all, remember many of your colleagues will be parents too. In my experience there is a lot of empathy. If you are honest about your situation and work hard, completing a training contract and forging a legal career with a young family is more than possible!”

Katie Shaw is a solicitor in the specialist clinical negligence team at Freeths..