October 3, 2018
“What’s your attitude to babies?” It’s not a question that you would normally expect a solicitor to ask you in an interview but unfortunately this was not a unique experience for me.
I was later told that I could not be a partner because of “the baby problem”.
I had became a solicitor for the challenge. From my working class background, I was the first of my family to go to university.
After a law degree from Durham, I qualified as a solicitor in 1991.
Despite more women than men qualifying as solicitors in the past 30 years, generally speaking, it is still men who own the firms and dictate the culture of them.
At the end of 2000, I became a mum and decided, like a lot of women before me, to walk away from the 60-hour week that being a commercial property solicitor entailed. The firm I was a partner with would not allow me to work four days a week and they expected me to go out and win new clients while my junior assistant did the work from my existing clients.
I decided that if I was going to have to win new clients, I would do it for myself and so I set up my own solicitor firm, shortly after my daughter was born.
Following a relocation to the North East in 2005, I had to close my firm. When I did return to working for other solicitors again, the only opportunities that I could find for part-time work were firms who only paid a bonus, or a very small basic salary and a bonus. In one case, they did not pay me the bonus.
I believe that there is a better way to provide legal services and that is why I have since formed Toomey Legal Limited. Each member of my team is there on merit and every member of the team is equally important. I work with a pool of talented, motivated people, some of whom cannot commit to full-time work because of family commitments.
Not only is there tremendous talent there, they also appreciate the opportunity given to them and this is repaid in their energy and commitment, which helps us to out-perform many other traditional solicitors.
The ethos behind Toomey Legal Limited is to be fair and open. We operate a fair, fixed price system, based on time, skill and risk level (not what we can get away with) and we have a staff ownership scheme so that our success is shared with those who have helped achieve it.
My message to employers is simple: ‘If you want to have the best committed staff, who outperform your targets and expectations, don’t have strict, non-flexible rules. Accommodate, whenever you can, the wishes of your employees. They will pay you back with loyalty and commitment. Instead of fear, let opportunities rule your business and you will discover your staff have talents you never knew.’
Photo © Gavin Forster