Lucy Tarrant, founder of flexible law firm Cognitive Law, shares why she is passionate about supporting women to have a legal career on terms that work for them. Lucy believes a career at Cognitive Law really is 'changing women's lives'.
I guess that might be a bit of a sweeping statement, but it’s not untrue. And it started with my own.
I had become a cliché of the working professional mother. Stressed, tired, guilt-ridden and unfulfilled. Every weekday had been a variation of the same theme since my maternity leave ended six months after my daughter was born.
Up at 6am. Wake, dress & feed my daughter and me. Try to look vaguely respectable as a partner in a law firm and get to nursery for opening time. Drop daughter off, get the bus to work, do a full day’s work, race back to nursery for closing time, go home, make dinner, give my daughter her bath & put her to bed, attempt some basic household chores, collapse into mine. And repeat. On loop. Endlessly.
That evolved from nursery to breakfast club before school, never meeting other mums in the playground or exchanging pleasantries with the teachers. Having to book time off from work to attend parents’ evening (which was never in the evening), open mornings, sports days, or class assemblies. Never attending the 3pm charity cake sale, let alone being able to contemplate contributing any beautiful home-made fayre.
When I was at work I was totally committed to my role. I put in the hours, recorded my chargeable time, attended internal meetings and arranged for my daughter to be looked after so I could go to evening business development events. Going part time wasn’t an option, I had a mortgage to pay. Plus, I’d seen other female solicitors do this and either get side-lined for promotion or wind up working full time for a part time salary.
After doing this for about 10 years I was exhausted. Burnt out. Fed up. Totally disillusioned and ready to break. Something had to give. Would that be my sanity, my career or my relationship with my daughter? None of them were an option.
I always knew there must be another way of practicing. I didn’t understand why being a solicitor meant going into the office every day between prescribed hours, and religiously recording all my non-chargeable time to prove I had been there. Presenteeism didn’t make sense, and it was killing me (ok, slight exaggeration, but you get my point).
Setting up Cognitive Law is another story but leaving traditional private practice and discovering consultancy quite literally changed my life. I could take my daughter to school, go home and work my socks off until pick up time. I could invite my daughter’s friends home for tea. I didn’t have to ask permission for time off to meet the teachers.
Knowing I had fewer working hours in the day made me more productive. I didn’t need to sit at my desk from 9.00 to 5.30 to produce 5 chargeable hours a day. I could do that between 10.00 and 3.00. I could work in the evenings or at the weekends if I liked, if the work needed to be done; but ultimately I could do the work to fit in with my life. It wasn’t about having the luxury of hanging out the washing whilst my tea brewed or being able to cook a meal from scratch; it was about the luxury of choice without compromise.
It wasn’t rocket science. Granted it was a leap of faith; but it was also the use of technology (a good cloud-based Case Management System is key), self-belief, self-respect, hard work and determination.
My daughter is older now, a teenager approaching her GCSEs. But that doesn’t mean she needs me any less. I strongly believe that all children really want is their parent to be there. They will forgive you sending an email whilst you watch their swimming lesson or making a quick call to a client whilst they watch TV with their friends. For me it was the importance of being around, dictating the terms of my own working life; and shedding that ridiculous concept of trying to have it all without feeling any guilt.
I know that there are countless other female solicitors out there who are where I was. I know women who are contemplating leaving the profession because they can’t cope. I know women who are hanging on to their sanity and their careers by their fingertips. And I know that I changed the lives of at least two of them. Our Consultant Solicitors Karen Blakesley and Annabel Cole have told their stories which you can read here:
Karen Blakesley – Becoming a Consultant Solicitor changed my life – for the better!
If this resonates with you, please know that there is another way. Consultancy isn’t a magic wand that will create your perfect working life, but it’s a damn good way to make your life work for you. It means you don’t have to go to the office every day or compromise on the type of work you undertake. It means you can choose when, where and how you practice. It means an improvement in your mental and physical health. It means more time with your children. It means breathing a sigh of relief, taking control and letting a bit of happiness back into some dark corners of your life.