Heidi Yildiz, Senior Associate, Dittmar & Indrenius
How long have you been working for your current company?
I have been working at Dittmar & Indrenius since October 2011.
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I studied law in England and qualified there as a solicitor in January 2009. Both prior to and after my qualification, I worked in the London office of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, where I also trained as a solicitor. I qualified into the firm's International Arbitration department. Previously, from 2004 to 2005, I also worked in the International Arbitration department at Herbert Smith LLP in London. Last year I decided to return back to my home country, Finland, and started working as a Senior Associate in the Dispute Resolution Practice at Dittmar & Indrenius in October 2011. My current practice focuses on international arbitration and I have experience in working on many international disputes, both of a private and public law nature, including complex arbitration disputes under the ICC, LCIA, DIS and the Arbitration Institute of the Finland Chamber of Commerce Rules.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
I hope my proudest professional achievement is yet to come. However, I am very proud to have worked as part of a team that successfully represented the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in a ground-breaking Abyei International Arbitration dispute under the auspices of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague, against the Government of Sudan, arising out of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Parties and concerning the definition and delimitation of the Abyei area. Despite the on-going current problems in the area, the tribunal's decision nevertheless affirmed the right of the Ngok Dinka people to their historic homeland in the Abyei area and represented a significant victory for our client and the people of Southern Sudan. Working on this dispute has brought many moments of immense pride because our team's work was unprecedented in many respects and had a real impact on the lives of the people of Southern Sudan.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
My greatest challenge in my current role is to maintain an appropriate work-life balance; doing my work as well as I can whilst also trying to be the best possible mother for my young son. I consider that self-discipline and the prioritising of both work and personal matters is the key to a successful work-life balance.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
Trying to be a good mother and at the same time trying to be a good lawyer is sometimes challenging. Being a perfectionist does not help either. Luckily, my firm has a very supportive culture that enables flexible working hours and working from home. I am also very lucky to have a very supportive and understanding family, particularly my husband.
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?
Over the years I have had many great mentors, both female and male, and I have learnt from them that becoming an excellent lawyer requires more than the acquisition of excellent legal skills; you cannot become an excellent lawyer if you compromise your principles and fail to maintain a balance in personal matters.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
I think corporate diversity initiatives are only effective if they are genuine and involve real role models and concrete examples. Mere philosophical corporate policies on diversity or box ticking exercises in connection with job applications alone will not work in my view. However, I do think that "every little helps".
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
There have been many moments in my career when I have felt a bit of both. The birth of my son, for example, made me rearrange my life so that I could maintain a better work-life balance and avoid having to compromise my principles. Moving to my current firm in Finland was part of that reorganisation. However, I think that becoming a mother has made me a better lawyer; I have certainly improved my multi-tasking skills and become more efficient at work. Conversely, I think that having an interesting, exciting and challenging career has made me a better mother and a wife than I would be without having one.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
The advancement of technology that allows working from home, greater acceptance of flexible working hours, increased promotion of female lawyers as partners in law firms as well as legislative initiatives that, for instance, make it possible for fathers to take time off work to look after young children have in my view been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry.