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Making the move from London to Cardiff – a female Partner’s experience

I was recently invited to an agency briefing with a law firm client, not something out of the ordinary, but this particular meeting really struck a chord with me, and had me literally buzzing about the firm after!  The briefing was held by Capital Law in Cardiff.  It was organised to be a pretty standard agency meeting from the outside – you spend a few hours listening to each of the Partners from the different departments telling us about their work, how they’ve performed recently, their future plans and of course, their recruitment needs.  However, this one was different.  When I turned up, it was great (albeit somewhat unusual) to see that every agency in the room was represented by a female, and every Partner who came in to discuss their team was a ridiculously impressive woman! 

Each and every Partner had worked elsewhere before moving home to South Wales, and finding their career at Capital Law.  With all of the competition in South Wales among the firms, it was really interesting to hear why they had chosen Capital over some of the longer established firms and larger firms in the area.  Capital seems to offer flexibility, an adult atmosphere where there is no need for presenteeism (working from home, working different hours, etc.), and this together with top quality work made it an easy choice—especially for women who had moved back to bring up their young families.

After hearing from these wonderfully impressive women, I was really keen to sit down with one of them to further explore how she has found progressing her career in this still male-dominated industry, how she has found balancing her career and young family, and the transition between working in London and moving to Cardiff.  Luckily, Nicola Mead-Batten (Partner – Commercial Disputes) kindly agreed to answer my questions…

Please tell us a little about your career:

I spent the formative decade of my career in the Commercial Disputes/ Public Law team at Baker McKenzie in London. I was fortunate enough to move about a bit during my time at BM. I undertook three client secondments: at global management consultancy and professional services firm, Accenture; healthcare regulator, the Professional Standards Authority; and at one of the largest multi-employer defined benefit pension schemes in the UK – the Merchant Navy Officers Pension Fund.

I was also seconded to Baker McKenzie’s office in Melbourne, Australia, which was an incredible experience – personally and professionally. I picked up a bit of bit of a penchant for agricultural law there – one of the cases I worked on revolved around the habitat of a rare possum!

What was your reason for moving to Cardiff?

My husband made the trip ‘down under’ with me in 2013. We were quite tempted to make the move permanent. But, half way through my secondment, I fell pregnant with my children (now – 4-year-old twins, Sonny and Eden), and that’s when the hankering for home really began. I’d had an amazing start to my career with Baker McKenzie in London and Australia and everywhere in between (!), but it felt like the right time to come “home”.

My husband and I are both originally from South Wales – a lot of family and friends are based here. And, in the past 20 years, Cardiff has gone from strength to strength, economically and culturally. It’s a diverse city with lots to offer young professionals and young families. I can’t think of a better place to raise my children.

How did you find the transition moving between a major London/US firm to a smaller firm in Cardiff?

It wasn’t easy – change never is – but it doesn’t take long for most people to find their groove.

Bakers was all I knew professionally: when I joined the firm, I was a fresh-faced, early-20s, just-out-of-law-school-type. A lot of City law firms get a bad rep for being so gargantuan that they lack oxygen for individuality and community. Granted, there were plenty of faces at Bakers that I didn’t know (there are around 800 lawyers in London alone, I believe) but the sense of community and room for individuality was rife.

I think that prepared me well for change. I could develop my own style but was tooled up with an incredible legal education. Being in an office where I’m confident I do know most people’s names (don’t test me!), was a welcome but slightly weird adjustment. But the tools for success are still the same: be a blooming good lawyer and a team-player and you’ll find your way.

What was it about Capital that made you join?

It had (still has!) a growing reputation in the market. A stellar client list which, a few years ago, surprised me, given how young the firm was. But, most importantly, there was an interest in me and what I could bring to the table. I was told that I would be responsible for an area of the business; an important part of the firm’s future. That was too good an opportunity to pass up.

What do you like about Cardiff, what would you say to someone considering a move here?

Cardiff has everything. It’s big enough to satisfy city slickers but small enough that everything is in close proximity, whether you’re looking for a great place to eat, or listen to music; or have a want for the arts, beautiful architecture or history; not to mention sport (to name a few of my loves!). My advice would be: check out what the inner suburbs have to offer. Being from a small town a decent distance from Cardiff, I only got to the know the City Centre when I was growing up. Now, I find the best gems outside of it, including great green spaces and parks for kids.

But before you make the move, research, research, research. Understand the market, the firms, the people. It isn’t like for like. You need to make sure it’s right for you; and if it gets to that point, explain in interviews why you’re right for it.

What are your plans for the Capital Commercial Litigation team in the next 5 years?

Consolidation and continued growth—we’ve practically doubled in size since I joined the firm 3 ½ years ago and want to build off of that. We don’t take the great clients and great work we have at the moment for granted, but we want to bring more people along and build on our growing reputation nationally. We’re looking for lawyers who possess our values: approachability, integrity, boldness, excellence and clarity.

Do you have any advice for NQs?

You’re not expected to know everything straight away. We’re all learning every day. I blame TV legal dramas for making you think that every answer is on the tip of a lawyer’s tongue! Honesty is always the best policy. The best answers always land after a wee bit of thought, debate and procrastination… But, don’t be afraid to be bold in what you do; and look for solutions, not problems.

Who has been your biggest inspiration in your career?

I’d have to say my family. I’ve had great mentors and inspirational colleagues at Baker McKenzie and Capital, but having a family and wanting to succeed for them as much as myself is an incredible driving force.

What sort of challenges have you faced in this traditionally male-dominated industry?

That’s a tough one. Well, until recently, I have been a sole-breadwinner, with my husband at home with the children. That’s raised a few eyebrows from time to time.

I’m fortunate in that I haven’t experienced any overt sexism in my career, but I think everyone feels undertones of unconscious bias (and is guilty of it) from time to time. I’ve always believed that, if you’re good enough, you’ll get to where you belong no matter what your gender, ethnicity, class, etc – but I know statistics don’t necessarily support me in that view.

How have you seen the industry change in the wake of the #MeToo movement?

I think it’s getting people talking and that’s the spark for any movement for change. There’s always room for change: more transparency and openness across the legal profession. We need to keep the conversation going and support colleagues when they raise their heads above the parapet.

What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the generation of female lawyers behind you?

Well, I’m just about still a millennial (by a few months), and so I feel as though I’m speaking for my generation!

I think the main challenge is in adapting their mindset so that they believe they deserve to progress in their careers (if they want to), and that they can have a life outside of work in doing so. You need to believe it to garner advocates around you who support you and will help you on your mission! I think self-doubt is prevalent among young women in the profession.

Thank you Nicola for your time, advice and insight into the move from London to Cardiff and what it means to be a female lawyer today!

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