Balancing a legal career and being a mum

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, trainee solicitor at Royds Withy King, 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 at Royds Withy King.

“One year in to the experience 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 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. Royds Withy King fitted the bill.

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, which 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.

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

“Within a couple of weeks of starting, the firm 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 now collect my children from school once a week, which gives me some balance.

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 have spent the last year barely breaking even, but your training contract is an investment for your family’s future, in the same way that the years of studying that preceded it were.

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 training. 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 with a young family is more than possible!”

Katie Shaw is a trainee solicitor at Royds Withy King. Her advice was first published on the firm’s website.

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