Working mum and privacy and defamation lawyer, Sarah Reynolds, discusses balancing a career with motherhood – and why at Schillings, you don’t have to choose between them.
When describing a life as a privacy and defamation lawyer, my colleague, Juliet Caragianis, couldn’t have put it better. The adrenaline rush of working to a journalist’s deadline to protect and defend our clients’ privacy and reputation is unlike anything I have ever experienced. That feeling, along with having a genuine opportunity to shape the future of this area of law by always striving to come up with creative solutions for our clients, are some of the reasons why I love my job so much.
But with the fast-paced, reactive environment and without having any sense of what might cross your desk each day, some may wonder how the other aspects of life fit in alongside a career in this area of law. For that reason, I wanted to share my perspective as a mum to a toddler – and with another new arrival on the way imminently – and particularly how my Schillings family have enabled and encouraged me to have and support my own family.
I can’t help but notice the headlines in newspapers and the ongoing campaigns relating to flexible working and being a new mum that are flooding my LinkedIn and social media news feeds. They are predominantly negative and many women’s experiences are horrifying to read. Most recently, I noted that a poll found that half of flexible working requests by working mums are denied. I also recall reading a blog once about a lawyer who had asked her boss to return to work four-days a week and her boss responded to say that her request was akin to her being a professional footballer expecting to return to play for the first team with a serious injury: impossible! Fortunately, these women’s accounts just do not resonate with me.
Admittedly, I was nervous about returning to work, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic had shaken the country during my maternity leave and I would not be returning to the same environment that I had left. Having spent most of my maternity leave in lockdown alone with my son, I knew I didn’t want him to go straight into childcare five days a week and I submitted a request to work a four-day week.
Ahead of my (virtual) meeting to discuss my request, I prepared a list of reasons why I wanted to work four days and put together detailed proposals of how I would make it work, together with responses to the various questions I thought I might be asked. To my delight, the conversation went like this: “Sarah, we are so looking forward to welcoming you back. What day would you like to take as your non-working day?” After a brief discussion lasting less than 5 minutes, the changes to my contract were agreed and all the notes I had made were wholly redundant.
Since returning as a “working mum” on a four-day week, I have been involved in some of the most interesting cases that the firm has worked on, including defamation claims, cross-border litigation against social media companies, pro-bono initiatives, and protecting our clients against serious campaigns of harassment to name but a few. For anyone to claim that my career has suffered as a result of having a family would be a complete lie. But I still manage to collect my two-year-old from childcare at the end of the day, spend quality time with him and put him to bed, which is equally as important to me.
None of this could have been possible without the supportive and inspirational individuals that I work with, who have helped to foster an inclusive, caring, and extremely supportive culture. Our legal team of 25+ lawyers is exactly that: a team. If I know something will spill over to a Monday, my day off, people don’t hesitate to offer to cover it for me. If I need to collect my son early to get a PCR test because he has a temperature, there is always a willing volunteer to pick up where I left off. Nothing gets dropped. Nothing gets missed. I owe so much to the individuals that I work with and I have been lucky enough to find a perfect balance between being a mum and being a lawyer.
In typical lawyer fashion, I can and will back up my assertions with evidence, to show that this piece is not mere puffery! It was a Wednesday evening and I was on duty (the week where I am the first point of contact for any new or urgent matters) when a request for an urgent legal notice came in for a high-profile individual. Time is of the essence when it comes to legal notices, and as Schillings’ employees we pride ourselves on our speed of response. Nevertheless, when our Head of Legal phoned me to brief me on the matter, the first thing she said when I picked up the phone was “before I continue, can I check that you’re ok for childcare”. I was, and I was on hand to assist, but I have no doubt that if I had said no, she would have told me not to worry and would have immediately phoned one of my colleagues. That five second exchange spoke volumes, to know that she was still thinking of my personal circumstances despite being under pressure.
I have been shown similar consideration and kindness from people at every level of the firm (with or without children of their own), and every day at Schillings I am reminded that we are all in it together. From Schillings’ continued success, it’s very obvious to any onlooker just how much we care about our clients: but as I hope comes across from this piece, Schillings cares just as much about its employees and this makes it an incredible place to work.
Looking for a flexible, supportive and exciting place to develop your career? Take a look at our open opportunities.