Anna Rentoul, Partner, Simmons & Simmons LLP
How long have you been working for your current company?
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I am a Simmons & Simmons lawyer through and through. I came here on work experience many years ago and loved it. I came back as a trainee, and have never left; I’ve since worked my way up to partner.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
The moments that stand out for me are when I have taken on challenges where I have felt stretched, and I have completed them successfully. The best examples are when I’ve been set a tricky project by a client and they have been happy with the outcome. One memorable one was getting instructions in from a major organisation (for which I hadn’t acted before) to exit its CEO the same day. The negotiations took until 2am, but we made it. Cue a satisfied client...
I am actively engaged in the firm's programme to promote good gender balance at all levels. There’s a strong business case for doing so, and it is yielding results. I am also co-head of The Number One Club (the Simmons & Simmons' women's network), which seeks to support, develop and retain talented women across the firm. We run sessions for our women internally to help them develop key skills, and to promote engagement and inclusiveness. And externally The Number One Club gives us another way to engage with our female clients.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
As a partner in a leading international firm, there are so many good projects to get involved in. The challenge is working out what is the best use of one’s time. Maintaining my internal network and seeking guidance from more experienced colleagues helps – but some of it comes down to gut feeling.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
The perfect balance doesn’t exist. I found it much easier to achieve a work-life balance once I accepted that it’s all about compromise. I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to combine an interesting and challenging career with motherhood. Having a great team around at home and at work helps a lot.
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
When I was more junior, I didn’t; and I think I made life harder for myself by not actively seeking out a mentor or identifying role models. Now I do have mentors and role models and they have really helped me step up in my career.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
It depends a lot on the initiative and the organisation. The most effective methods are ones which are led by senior management: only if people in the organisation sense that change is being led from the top, and led with conviction, will they change their own attitudes and behaviour. In terms of what has an impact, it’s a combination of ensuring you have the right policies in place, and a culture which supports them.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
No. I believe that looking at one’s personal experiences in gender terms isn’t helpful: it’s too easy to stereotype things on gender grounds (positive or negative) when the reality is usually more subtle than that.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
I think the improvement in IT, and the flexibility it is giving lawyers in terms of when and where they deliver client services, has had a considerable and positive effect on how we work. It makes remote working and flexible working much more of a norm across the profession (for men as well as women). The other increasing trend is that a greater and greater proportion of entrants to the legal profession are female: our challenge in the legal industry for the next decade is translating that into equivalent numbers at a senior level. The indications from other industries is that those firms that meet that challenge will enjoy the greatest success going forwards.