Joanna Ludlam, Partner, Baker & McKenzie London
How long have you been working for your current company?
I have been at Bakers for eight years in total. Five years as a junior lawyer and, since May 2009, as a Partner, with a six-year gap in between. I explain why below!
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I trained at Bakers and qualified into the Dispute Resolution team, where I stayed until I was 3 years qualified. I then moved to Clifford Chance where I worked for six years as an Associate. In that time, I had two children and decided it was impossible to have a good work-life balance where I was, so I took a banking litigation role at a regional firm. I really missed the more dynamic environment of the City, as well as the public law and regulatory focus, so I was thrilled to be invited to return to Bakers as a Disputes partner in 2009, working part time.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Without a doubt, becoming a Partner here at Bakers on a part-time basis. I have a wonderfully interesting and challenging role as a public and regulatory lawyer, advising clients such as the BBC Trust, while at the same time being able to play a meaningful role in bringing up my young children. One day I might be accompanying the Chairman and Director General of the BBC to the Leveson Inquiry, and the next day I can be cheering on my daughter's netball team or reading with the children in my son's class at school.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
The economy continues to be a challenge. Clients are increasingly under pressure to justify the amount of money spent on external counsel. My client relationships are more important than ever. I devote time to understanding their businesses and people, so that I can satisfy my clients' objectives cost-effectively and add as much value as possible.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
It's a constant challenge. I have come to understand that the boundaries between work and home are inevitably blurred and sometimes one demands more time and the other takes a temporary back seat. I don’t think that anyone can get it all done without a strong support system of family, friends, and colleagues, and I am lucky to have a husband, extended family and an amazing nanny who support me along the way and upon whom I can rely when I need to. I also invest a lot of my time developing associates, and work with a team of exceptional lawyers who generate top-quality work product, which means I don't have to do it all myself.
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?
Ironically, I would have to say that my role models and mentors have all been men! There have been a number of male lawyers throughout my career who have been extremely generous with their time, teaching me the skills needed to become an effective lawyer. They have taken personal responsibility for me and acted as my champion. I think sponsorship is very powerful in the campaign to promote more women to senior positions within organisations, and I am personally committed to performing this role for the many talented female lawyers coming through the ranks at Bakers.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
The vast majority of organisations are investing significant resources into initiatives to promote more women into senior positions, but my impression is that progress is slow. The key to success is undoubtedly commitment by senior management. It is not enough simply to talk about the importance of diversity. Those at the helm of organisations have to convince others of the need for change, and visibly support women by at the very least ensuring that women are considered for promotion, or even better appointing them into positions of leadership.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
Yes, when I was told by a senior male partner (not one at my current firm, I hasten to add) that I had effectively lost two years' post-qualification experience by going off on maternity leave to have my two children (I took only 6 months' leave each time). It was as though my experience and skills counted for nothing - his view was that I had chosen to come out of the law (albeit temporarily) and was therefore behind my male peers on the partnership track. I strongly suspect that I was paid less than my contemporaries, too.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
Developments in technology and changes in attitudes to flexible working have really helped women progress to positions of seniority in the legal industry. For example, Bakers is an extremely supportive environment for female lawyers and values the contribution we can make to stronger financial and organisational performance.