Maria Ross, Partner, Norton Rose 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 studied law at Oxford, and whilst there got a training contract with Norton Rose LLP. I then spent a year at Guildford Law School, did my training contract at Norton Rose LLP and have been here ever since. I became a partner in 2000.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Winning Legal Business Insurance Team of the Year in 2011, for 3 deals I had led. It was a proud moment as when I started at Norton Rose LLP, the insurance team was just me and James Bateson (see below). To have built the practice from scratch to being the best amongst our peers was a very proud moment.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
The advent of the blackberry and mobile phone have led clients to expect 24/7 availability. This isn’t a gender-specific issue - it’s a difficult challenge for men and women alike. The main coping technique simply comes from experience. Over time, you get better perspective and understand how to differentiate between the truly urgent from the (in fact) non-urgent.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
Appropriate and effective delegation is an important skill to master when it comes to attaining a work-life balance, especially as you become more senior. I also think attitudes have changed in recent years, and everyone (colleagues and clients) are more accepting that people have obligations outside of work. One thing I always do is to put family commitments in my diary as if they were proper meetings, and am quite ruthless at leaving for them - you have to be, as there is always a reason to stay in the office and miss the school play/parents evening etc.
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?
Many people have helped me but two stand out: Chris Robinson, for faultless drafting, unfailing courtesy, meticulous time keeping and being the consummate professional. James Bateson, for marketing wizardry, business acumen, encouragement and inspirational pep talks. For both, always doing the right thing, even if it isn’t the easiest path to take.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
Their effectiveness depends entirely on the people who implement them. For example in our firm we have flexible working: in teams where there is strong support from team members, it works very well. It only works because of that support though. If managers weren’t bought into the concept, or colleagues resented it, it would fall down.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
There’s no doubt it can still be a disadvantage. Some clients still prefer working with men, and male oriented client events (such as a day at the rugby or cricket) can be a struggle. On the plus side, declining to drink copious amounts of alcohol at these events is no doubt easier if you are a woman! The rise of female-friendly corporate events has helped balance things a little.
There are advantages as well. In the early days I was often the only female in a meeting and so people remember you more easily.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
I think the rate of change has been longer than 5 years - you’d really need to go back 15 years to see the big differences.
The prevalence (and acceptability) of flexible working is perhaps the biggest shift in the last 5 years, though this should not be a gender-specific initiative.