Law firm bucks trend with strong female leadership

Law firm bucks trend with strong female leadership

Published by The Wessex FM News Team at 8:18am 8th March 2017.

The message from Blanchards Bailey comes on International Women's Day.

Leadership roles in law firms have long been perceived as male orientated environments but on International Women’s Day (IWD), Blanchards Bailey can be seen as bucking the trend – with the firm reporting a balance of men and women as partners.

The annual IWD on March 8 celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women while also campaigning for female gender parity in the world.

With a history dating back over 100 years, some might mistakenly think Blanchards Bailey has a traditional view of gender equality. But numbers of female leaders at the firm has increased annually since 2000, with nearly half now women.

The Legal 500 firm also has around 40 different flexible working provisions in place for staff members with children – highlighting its dedication to family values. Overall, more than 50 per cent of the organisation’s staff are female.

Blanchards Bailey’s approach to female equality is impressive when you consider that just 33 per cent of partners in firms across the UK are women - or 27 per cent in large law firms with 50 or more partners - the Solicitors Regulation Authority states.

According to the Law Society, the gender gap across the UK in 2016 has closed, though, with 51.2 per cent of practising solicitors male, with 48.8 per cent now female. The proportion of female solicitors has also risen from 40.5 per cent 10 years ago – meaning there has been just under a 10 per cent drop of men in the industry compared to a decade ago.

Females in leaderships roles, though, remains a sticking point in the industry but Sarah Heath, Principal at Blanchards Bailey, who leads the firm’s Commercial Services team, said having the right blend of people is important to their success.

“At Blanchards Bailey we believe in equality and think having a good mix of men and women is very important. It’s attractive to clients and brings balance to the workforce by giving us varied opinions which help us deliver better results,” she said.

Speaking of her role as Principal, Sarah added: “Communicating with people so they understand what the business aims are, why they are necessary and how they can be part of the team that achieves them are all vital ingredients in leadership.

“There has to be ‘buy in’ from the whole team as a leader can achieve little if unsupported. Leading by example is paramount to getting the best out of people. I never ask or expect people to do what I wouldn’t be prepared to do myself.”

Sarah has a huge amount of experience having been a Partner at three Legal 500 firms in the UK, one of which she helped set up, before making the move to Blanchards Bailey. Sarah’s vast skillset sees her play a key role as legal adviser to the board of a national property developer – where she is the only woman – while she has also worked in various male orientated environments, including professional football management.

“It’s never concerned me being outnumbered by men and I don’t see why your gender should affect what you can achieve - you just need to make it happen,” Sarah explained, before going on to reveal how she got to the top of her profession.

“As a farmer’s daughter I learnt the value of hard work growing up with both men and women within the rural business community, who continually demonstrated great determination,” she said. “Perseverance and dedication is my advice to the younger generation. Don’t expect success to come easily; you have to work for it. You will get knocked back but pick yourself up, learn from the experience and keep going. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.”

This approach has helped inspire her team to great success with 2016 marking the delivery of one of the biggest property deals in the firm’s history. Sarah’s hard work and self-belief is also recognised by clients who depend on the firm for legal advice, while she is also a respected voice in the industry as shown by interviews with her clients by The Legal 500, the industry barometer. As one client put it simply: “Sarah Heath gets things done.”

Lisa Holden, Principal and Head of Family Law is as ambitious for her clients as she is for Blanchards Bailey.  A long-standing partner at the firm, she played a key role in the decision to merge Blanchards and Bailey and Co in 2009.

Lisa’s path to Partner and leader of the Family Law team began in Lancashire before she moved to Dorset in 1994 and returned to law after taking time to start her family. It was three years after joining Bailey & Co that she was offered her Partnership at the firm.

“It was a huge leap of faith but I grabbed the opportunity,” Lisa explained. “I could not have done it without the support of Managing Director Alan, who agreed for me to work hours around the children.”

A leader in Blanchards Bailey’s business growth and recruitment plans, Lisa aims to make the firm a yardstick for how all law companies measure themselves in terms of family values. “I’d like Blanchards Bailey to be a benchmark by being one of the most attractive firms in the area to work for. Caring for our clients’ best interests by utilising our expertise is at the forefront of everything we do and when the whole team has the same mentality and compassion, it does not go unnoticed by clients, which it is very rewarding,” she said.

Last year, the Family Law team helped hundreds of families and individuals resolve their legal matters. Lisa credits her success to necessity. “It’s a great driving force knowing that I had to make the business work to provide for my children,” she said.

Jane Eldridge, HR Manager and Consultant, is one of the most recent additions to Blanchards Bailey bringing a wealth of experience with more than 30 years spent in training and providing HR case management advice. She works closely with Lisa Holden in developing the Blanchards Bailey team.

“I’ve always pushed myself out of my comfort zone and striven for new challenges in order to develop my breadth of experience,” Jane said, before adding: “Each of my new positions have built on my previous knowledge and skills and extended them in different directions.”

Her view on success is shaped by her belief that family is very important. “I believe work/life balance is critical, which involves placing family as a key priority,” she said. “When the children were younger this meant being realistic about the commitments I could fulfil and, when appropriate, deciding not to apply for particular positions.

“My varied experiences have resulted in me running the internal HR department for Blanchards Bailey and providing an external consultancy service to help the firm’s clients across a broad range of issues. “Overall, the act of balancing home priorities with a desire to secure a fulfilling job and ongoing personal development has at many times proved challenging. However, I believe the approach I took has worked for me and I am, therefore, very proud of my current role and achievements over the years in both spheres of my life.”