Natalie Rodgers is a non-practising solicitor, Chartered Marketer and Director of Scala, a business development consultancy specialising in the legal sector. She launched the company in 2009, drawing on her experiences as a lawyer at DLA Piper and as one of the UK’s first Marketing Directors of a barristers Chambers.
“…It remains the sad fact that Lady Hale is one of only 12 Justices of the Supreme Court and less than 25% of the partnership at your average commercial law firm in the UK is female – this being despite the fact that more women are entering the profession than men…”
If you don’t ask, you don’t get
My legal journey began nearly 20 years ago when I joined a small high street firm as a trainee solicitor. Having a trainee solicitor was a bit of a luxury for the firm, but I remember being persistent and knocking on solicitors’ doors with my CV – not quite begging for a job, but near enough! Whether the senior partner felt sorry for me, I’m not sure, but to this day I’m grateful. This taught me a valuable lesson that in your career, for the most part, if you don’t ask for something, you won’t get it, so never be afraid of asking for what you want.
I was thrown in at the deep end immediately, even seeing a client for an initial instruction meeting on the morning of my first day. I think it’s this willingness to get stuck in and be practical that has stayed with me throughout my career. I’m very much a people person who likes to solve problems.
Minscule fish in an ocean
Shortly before qualification I joined the legal corporate beast that is DLA Piper. It was a bit of a culture shock as I went from being a big fish in a little pond, to a miniscule fish in an ocean! I had to develop the skills needed to deal with the cut and thrust of the corporate legal world and handle the office politics that comes with a large firm.
At that time my department was packed with women of child bearing age, which upon reflection must have been a tricky one for management (mostly male) to handle. I vividly recall informing my male boss that I was pregnant with my first child in 2002 and him rolling his eyes, putting his head in his hands and sighing! I didn’t complain though, I just recognised that it might not have been the most nurturing and supportive of workplaces at that time. I’m sure it’s very different today.
Instead, some 18 months after giving birth I decided to leave practising the law altogether. A combination of factors lead to this decision, including a job advert which – to quote colleagues at the time “might as well have your name on it” was featured in the Law Society Gazette… WANTED: Solicitor sought to be Marketing Director at Barristers’ Chambers.
On seeing the advert I had an overwhelming feeling that this was something I would love, and it turns out my feelings were right. I didn’t want to leave the legal world altogether, just use my legal knowledge and skills in a different way and I’ve never regretted my decision to stop practising.
Looking back, whilst practising, I didn’t have access to the support of a female role model or mentor, and I know that this is now very different. Even in the relatively short space of a few years, I believe that great progress has been made with most mid to large size law firms now having set up their own women’s networks and leadership schemes, but there is still much more to do. There is also no doubt that social media has made it easier to identify inspiring women working in the legal sector – those willing to share their successes and achievements – and there are many! A professional looking LinkedIn profile and Twitter account will get you a long way here.
I’ve always found the female members of the profession to be incredibly supportive of new entrants and there will be a women’s network somewhere near you, so do your research, get dressed up smartly and get out there networking.
More to be done
However, I feel that more can be done to retain and encourage women in the law. It remains the sad fact that Lady Hale is one of only 12 Justices of the Supreme Court and less than 25% of the partnership at your average commercial law firm in the UK is female – this being despite the fact that more women are entering the profession than men.
I’m fortunate that my dual qualification as a non-practising solicitor and Chartered Marketer puts me in a unique positon: an understanding of legal terminology, legal processes, and the legal market. Every day I draw on my knowledge and experience of being a solicitor as part of advising and working with law firms, barristers’ chambers, and other companies working in the legal arena.
Building my own ladder
I’m proud to have set up my own company and although it might sound like a cliché, every single day is different. One day I’ll be meeting clients, or delivering training on using social media, and the next I’ll be liaising with the media for a high profile case, and the next I might be down at the Houses of Parliament or the House of Lords as part of a campaign to ensure that clients of the firms I work with get the access to justice they deserve.
I chose the name ‘Scala’ for my company, which means ‘ladder’ in latin, to reflect the way I help my clients strive to climb higher, but I think it’s equally relevant in the context of women in the law too. Don’t let anyone hold you back on your career ladder, and if you’re stuck, then why not build your own?