What does your role involve and what attracted you to it?
Prior to working for Herbert Smith Freehills I trained and worked as a criminal barrister. When I decided to change tack Herbert Smith Freehills was the stand out firm to work for in the field of dispute resolution, and I was fortunate enough to be offered a job with the firm in 2002. I am now a Partner and my role involves managing staff, advising and liaising with colleagues and clients and occasionally sitting on the interviewing panel during our recruitment process. A key aspect of my role is to provide advice both to clients and to other members of staff.
What professional/personal experiences have you drawn on to help you in your role?
I draw on all of the professional experience I have acquired throughout my career as a lawyer. In addition, my personal experience of disability has led to me becoming a sponsor of our Ability network and helping to raise awareness of disability amongst all members of staff.
If you have a disability, how do you manage your disability at work?
When I first started working at Herbert Smith Freehills I did not have a disability. In April 2011 I was involved in an accident cycling home from work. In fact, the accident happened the week after I learned I was going to be made a Partner of the firm. A long recovery followed, with months spent in hospital and rehab. The support I received from Herbert Smith Freehills was second to none including the firm putting my parents up in a flat close to my home and hiring a nanny for our baby daughter in order to help my partner. Whilst in hospital my spirits were kept up by daily visits from colleagues.
On my return to work 9 months later I was still using a mobility scooter and progressed to crutches before getting rid of my one remaining walking stick in Sept 2014.
To manage my disability at work I try to allow myself more time to do things. I have to work hard to maintain concentration and therefore it is important for me to take regular breaks. I also try not to stay working too late in the office. At Herbert Smith Freehills we have a flexible working policy whereby most staff are able and encouraged to work from home for some of the time in consultation with their managers. This has been hugely beneficial to me especially when I am recovering from ongoing medical procedures. I also have an excellent PA who is a great support.
What advice or top tips would you offer to disabled students/ graduates?
When deciding which company to apply to it is important to look for an employer that you feel you would be able to work with well. In my view, it is essential that you feel comfortable being open with your employer about any disability from the very start; employers need to know about your disability or health condition in order for you both to identify what needs to be done in order to help you to maximise your potential.
How did you get involved in your firm’s disability network and what does this entail?
I got involved with our firm’s Ability Network due to my personal experience of disability and a desire to help to raise awareness of disability issues throughout the firm. I am a member of the committee that runs the network and attend all its events.
We aim to promote disability awareness amongst all staff through hosting talks on disabilities/topics such as Sensory Impairments, Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. We have also run sessions such as a joint session with our Family Network on Children with Special Educational Needs and sessions on Disclosure of Disabilities in the Workplace.
The Ability Network facilitates open discussion of disability issues and encourages openness amongst staff. As a service provider, the firm is conscious of the benefits of having a diverse workforce that resembles our client base. This enables us to better understand and accommodate the needs of our clients.
The Ability Network hosts a number of internal and external disability events; for example we sponsor the University of Oxford Law Faculty’s Disability Mooting Championship, which we help to organise and run in partnership with the University. In January, we ran our first event for graduates with disabilities which we will be running again on 7th December 2015.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your role?
Working with people and clients and finding solutions to problems/issues that clients have – whether for a company as a whole or for the individuals with whom I interact. I also value establishing mutually supportive relationships with my colleagues; this is so important particularly considering most lawyers spend more time at work than at home!