Become a high-flying partner whilst working part-time? It’s possible!

Joanna Ludlam is a Partner in Dispute Resolution at Baker & McKenzie’s London office. In a recent interview, she tells us about her career to date and why becoming a Partner while working on a part-time basis is one of her proudest achievements.

Rise to the top
I have been at Bakers for eight years in total: five years as a junior lawyer and since May 2009 as a Partner, with a six-year gap in between, which I explain below! I trained at Bakers and qualified into the Dispute Resolution team, where I stayed until I was 3 years qualified.  I then moved to Clifford Chance where I worked for six years as an Associate.  In that time I had two children, and decided it was impossible to have a good work-life balance where I was, so I took a banking litigation role in a regional firm.  I really missed the more dynamic environment of the City, as well as the public law and regulatory focus, so I was thrilled to be invited to return to Bakers as a Disputes partner in 2009, working part time.

Proudest achievement
Without a doubt, becoming a Partner here at Bakers on a part-time basis.  I have a wonderfully interesting and challenging role as a public and regulatory lawyer, advising clients such as the BBC Trust, while at the same time being able to play a meaningful role in bringing up my young children.  One day I might be accompanying the Chairman and Director General of the BBC to the Leveson Inquiry, and the next day I can be cheering on my daughter’s netball team or reading with the children in my son’s class at school.      

Greatest professional challenges
The economy continues to be a challenge.  Clients are increasingly under pressure to justify the amount of money spent on external counsel.  My client relationships are more important than ever.  I devote time to understanding their businesses and people, so that I can satisfy my clients’ objectives cost-effectively and add as much value as possible. 

Attaining a work-life balance
It’s a constant challenge.  I have come to understand that the boundaries between work and home are inevitably blurred and sometimes one demands more time and the other takes a temporary back seat.  I don’t think that anyone can get it all done without a strong support system of family, friends, and colleagues, and am lucky to have a husband, extended family and an amazing nanny who support me along the way and upon whom I can rely when I need to.  I also invest a lot of my time developing associates, and work with a team of exceptional lawyers who generate top-quality work product, which means I don’t have to do it all myself.

Role models and inspiration
Ironically, I would have to say that my role models and mentors have all been men!  There have been a number of male lawyers throughout my career who have been extremely generous with their time teaching me the skills needed to become an effective lawyer.  They have taken personal responsibility for me and acted as my champion.  I think sponsorship is very powerful in the campaign to promote more women to senior positions within organisations, and I am personally committed to performing this role for the many talented female lawyers coming through the ranks at Bakers.

Effectiveness of corporate diversity initiatives
The vast majority of organisations are investing significant resources into initiatives to promote more women into senior positions, but my impression is that progress is slow.  The key to success is undoubtedly commitment by senior management.  It is not enough simply to talk about the importance of diversity.  Those at the helm of organisations have to convince others of the need for change, and visibly support women by at the very least ensuring that women are considered for promotion, or even better appointing them into positions of leadership.

When I was told by a senior male partner (not one at my current firm, I hasten to add) that I had effectively lost two years’ post-qualification experience by going off on maternity leave to have my two children (I took only 6 months’ leave each time), it was as though my experience and skills counted for nothing. His view was that I had chosen to come out of the law (albeit temporarily) and was therefore behind my male peers on the partnership track.  I strongly suspect that I was paid less than my contemporaries, too.

Developments in technology and changes in attitudes to flexible working have really helped women progress to positions of seniority in the legal industry.  As an example, Bakers is an extremely supportive environment for female lawyers and values the contribution we can make to stronger financial and organisational performance.