'The days of a one-track path to partnership are over' - BLP's Lisa Mayhew on why women should not rush into career decisions

Lisa Mayhew 2017-Article-201703070456

No one in my family had been a lawyer, but I was attracted to the intellectual stimulation that the profession provides, combined with the human relationships that could be built with clients and colleagues.

Twenty-five years on and I am now the managing partner of BLP – a job that I love. People sometimes ask me how I got to this point in my career. The honest answer is that I did not set out to become a managing partner, but I have always enjoyed my job which, for more than 20 years, was as an employment lawyer advising corporates, professional services organisations and financial institutions.

It has helped my career to say yes to the opportunities that have come my way, and I have never thought about my gender as being either a help or a hindrance in my working life.

In part this is due to the fact that, as an area of law, employment has traditionally attracted a lot of women. This is true both of those choosing to practise this legal discipline in law firms and those working in-house.

As I have always enjoyed my work, it was important to me that I continued to work after I had my two children. I did, however, for a period of four years, work four days a week when my children were very young, and this was something that I really valued at the time.

Whenever I am asked about this by associates or other colleagues contemplating giving up previously held career progression ambitions or even leaving the profession altogether, I tell them that their career can be very long – perhaps 30-40 years.

Viewed in that context, people shouldn’t be too quick to make life-changing decisions about their careers unless they have really thought it through.

A period of change in your personal life, such as having children or caring for others, can be very short in the context of a long career. It is therefore better to keep going, even at a reduced level for a period, in order to keep your longer-term options open. The days of a one-track path to partnership are well and truly over – so working in a different way of itself should not affect your career progression.

Going back to the importance of grabbing opportunities when they arise; in 2011, BLP created two new independent board positions. I was delighted to be elected into one of these positions and it was interesting to be part of a board where I was (at that time) the only female partner member. Once I had joined the board, I gained and enjoyed new experiences, which then gave me the desire and confidence to go for the managing partner role.

In summary, when asked about my own ‘journey’ and what others can learn from it, I tell people: stay focused on doing a good job for clients and enjoying the professional fulfilment this brings and the relationships it builds. Don’t be too quick to make long-term career choices. Be yourself – ‘normal’ is good! – and have confidence in your own abilities. Lastly, grab the right opportunities when they come your way.

We need to keep diversifying the legal profession’s ecosystem, and that will not happen unless we inspire, include and support different people to do well in the profession.

For more, see: ‘I was the only female in an intake of 100 trainees’ – CMS UK’s Penelope Warne on why City culture needs to change.