While working from home has been the new norm for many, the challenges of balancing a family with the demands of the legal profession remain largely the same. The US firm-led increase of NQ solicitor salaries has forced UK firms to increase both hours and fees to record levels in order to keep up. This rise has naturally caused a negative impact on work/life balance, making it extremely difficult for those with family ambitions to progress in their career.
In this article, we have interviewed three lawyers on their perspective of this issue, and how change could be made.
Emma Reeve is Intellectual Property Counsel at Centrica. Emma leads on the protection of innovation and creativity to meet Centrica’s commitment to creating a cleaner and greener future. Emma is a Board Member of the Intellectual Property Regulation Board (“IPReg”) contributing to the overall strategic direction of IPReg’s work.
Why did you choose to take the Trade Mark Attorney route?
For me, I was excited to work by protecting consumers whilst having a deep love of brands. It was a role that I had not heard of when studying for my law degree and became aware of it when working for a barrister post-graduation. At this time, I realised that if original creations were protected, the reputation built in the brand, should be protected for consumers. The public deserve to trust that if they purchase or consume goods and services from a brand that their expectations are met.
Whilst training I worked closely with Marshall Amplification – this is when I truly appreciated the fandom of a brand, and how brand values are interpreted by consumers through the quality of the product and service. By protecting the original creations of Marshall, like all brands, you can ensure that quality is maintained. This benefits the fan base as well as the business encouraging further innovation and development.
Toddlers and trade marks … how do you balance the two?
Whilst on maternity leave with my first child, I read this quote by Bryan Dyson, who said as President and CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises:
“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same.”
For me, I have interpreted it in a way that suits me and my family. Work will often be a glass ball, sometimes I will have to attend to a deadline, and I can drop the other balls and actually those balls, in that moment, are rubber and they will bounce. By putting the balance in perspective and to truly understand that I can only juggle some balls at a time, not all five, it gives me the control and coping mechanism to reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed.
It is hard to find the balance between all the five balls, and I reflect a lot that I could do better with my closest friends. I adore them and their relentless cheerleading.
How would you compare the work-life balance in specialist intellectual property firms compared to in-house?
My experience of balancing work and life in private practice and in-house is very similar. I have a relentless commitment to work. This has been throughout my entire life. I have worked regularly since I was 14 years old, even during both maternity leaves, I continued to sit as a Board Member of IPReg and contributed to strategic and policy discussion. I love what I do at work. This isn’t by luck, but by design. When I heard Moment 68 – Do This If You Don’t Like Your Job: Marcus Buckingham, The Diary of A CEO with Steven Bartlett, I was able to completely relate. I recommend listening to this, particularly as the example, is a lawyer working in a glass box. Several years ago, I was a lawyer working in a glass box.
Adeline Weber Bain
Adeline Weber Bain is a Trade Mark Attorney at Stobbs, who entered the world of Intellectual Property in 2014. She really enjoys her work and advises clients on trade marks, copyright, designs & disputes. Aside from that, she is also the mum of an adorable, energetic and cheeky little 4 year old, who keeps her very busy.
Balancing work and family is not always easy. How do you get through the more difficult days?
Balancing work and family is certainly a challenge and something there is no way to get prepared for. It obviously depends on the type of work you do, but mainly depends on your family and children. Each child is different, so you really have to adapt. It is something that you learn as you go along.
When a day becomes very difficult, the most important thing is to not suffer in silence! If you really are not sure how you will get through that day, I would advise you take a step back, take a big breath, have a 5/10 minutes with a cuppa to have a think. This usually helps put things in order. If not, I mostly reach out to my supervisor at work (who is my rock!) and we try to figure out a solution and make sure we prioritise right or sometimes just a little pep talk is enough. My other work colleagues are also always here to help, and I know I can count on them if needed – even if it is just a 5 min call on Teams to remind me what a good job I am doing. I would also have a chat with my husband who would just listen if that’s all I need or would give me a hand if I need help with something to do at home, or dropping off/collecting our son or have him entertained. We always help each other out. Last resort, I reach out to my family (who are in France, but are always there if I need a chat), or neighbours and friends who are always happy to help if they can.
What is one lesson that having children has taught you that you have incorporated into your career?
My child taught me resilience. Things can change very fast or become very difficult, and you have to quickly adapt. I used to hate changes and get very upset about things for quite a while. I am not saying that I don’t get upset anymore about things as work can be challenging and we can all have bad days, but I try not to dwell too much on it and instead, try to find a solution to overcome that difficulty. If I can’t work it out on my own, I reach out to my supervisor and/or colleagues for advice. I learn from it and depending on what it is, I try not to repeat it (for instance, if I made a mistake) or make it better the next time (for instance, when delivering a piece of work to a client).
What advice do you have for legal professionals who are considering starting a family?
Firstly, there is never a perfect time to have a child. Don’t try to wait for a perfect moment because there never is one. It will happen when it happens, and when it comes, just embrace it. It can be stressful, challenging, very hard at times but it is also so much rewarding and brings so much joy.
Secondly, work shouldn’t be a block. If you have an understanding boss/company you work for, then all should work out. There are so many firms out there, who support parents and I am sure you can have a chat with them about what would work for you and equally would work for them. This can be from working from home, working part-time, working only during school terms, or considering a job share. Having a conversation about what you need in terms of support with your manager/boss is key. But always remember that you also need to consider how you can still deliver your work and make sure it gets done on time.
Lastly, build yourself a network (at work but also in your private life). At work, make sure you always keep in touch with your manager and colleagues, and ask for help if needed (equally you should offer help if you have the capacity). Outside of work, hopefully, you will have a fantastic partner who helps you manage the house, the children and other tasks. However, if not, or this isn’t enough (as your partner can be busy too), don’t be afraid to ask for help from your family and/or make sure to have a reliable network of friends, neighbours or other parents (and again you have to make sure you can return the favour to make this work).
Will is an IA Manager at Stobbs IAM (Intangible Asset Management). He specialises in commercial contracts and contractual disputes with an IP focus. He has two daughters under the age of three.
From your experience, what has been the biggest challenge of balancing work and family?
Switching off when I’m spending time with my family, particularly in the evening after a hectic day at work– there’s no point being physically present if your mind is still on that pending deadline or project.
We don’t often hear the male perspective when it comes to work and family life. How could firms (or the legal profession as a whole) support fathers more?
I think there is still an unspoken expectation in much of the profession that mothers will shoulder the majority of childcare responsibilities and fathers should do what they can, as long as it doesn’t impact their work. Ultimately, systemic change is needed so that fathers are seen and properly supported as equal partners in parenting.
To what extent does firm culture impact work-life balance? Can you give a personal example?
A culture which expects long hours/presenteeism can be hugely damaging to work-life balance. The shift in working patterns brought about by the pandemic has certainly improved this, but I am lucky to have an employer who recognises the importance of leaving the office on time and getting home to see my children, and supported me in that even pre-Covid. If I need to log in once they are in bed (which does happen from time to time), that’s part of the job, but it’s dependent on workload, and not an expectation that everyone stays late.