Natalie Saunders, Managing Director, Pharos Legal Limited
How long have you been working for your current company?
Since I founded it in February 2011.
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I trained and qualified at Freshfields in 2000, specialising in employment law and benefits. I relocated back up to Leeds to join Cobbetts after a very interesting stint as a reward consultant (specialising in reward and remuneration, share incentives and executive pay benchmarking) with WJB Chiltern (now part of BDO). I subsequently headed up the employment law teams of two firms in Yorkshire before I founded Pharos Legal in 2011.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
A close-run thing between two achievements – one specifically to do with being a lawyer and the other to do with having my own business. The first was a client's comment about me in Chambers & Partners' research that says “You would want her on your side” – which I am very pleased with. The other was being recognised by the Yorkshire Business Insider magazine as one of Yorkshire’s top 42 entrepreneurs under 42.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
Balancing my time between business development, fee earning and compliance/practice management. I am slowly learning to let go of the things that do not, strictly speaking, require my involvement. Compliance, for example, is time-consuming but obviously cannot be overlooked and so we have now identified a very experienced practice manager who will work with us and help keep us on the straight and narrow.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
This is an enduring battle for me. In my first year in business when I was on my own, it was all work and not much life. It is slowly improving now; I have recruited a fabulous team who support me, but it is still a struggle and a work in progress.
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?
I had no one role model as such but I loved my time at Freshfields and felt inspired by the technical legal skills, attention to detail, drive, hard work and ambition of many of the lawyers I came to know there.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
I feel that such initiatives do little to impact individuals’ attitudes and it is attitudes and unspoken prejudices that represent the biggest hurdle in the achievement of equality (whether for women or ethnic or other minority groups). In the grand scheme of human history, women only achieved the vote very recently and as such I suspect it will take some time before we achieve parity with men. I would rather that parity be achieved organically than by initiatives or (even worse) boardroom quotas which I feel will set women back rather than represent progress. I’d rather believe I’d succeeded because I was the best person for the job than have the niggling fear that there was diversity box-ticking involved.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
Not really, though had I started a family earlier, perhaps at a time when I had not already made it to partner level, I might have felt that my career was blighted by taking maternity leave. This sort of career hiatus isn’t one that (typically at least) men need to contend with and some employers treat the pregnancy of their staff as the ultimate betrayal.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
Possibly the shift away from the perception that equity partnership is the only career goal for a lawyer. This has impacted men and women, obviously, but arguably women more so than men because they may feel that they have more options available to them and can remain in the law as well as have a family.