The Art of Career Choices

Legal Posted 25/02/21
Joanne Gallagher has made it up many ladders in her profession as a corporate lawyer, but if she had listened to her younger self she might have ended up in a very different place.

“I really wanted to be an artist, but my older brother told me I would never make money that way and I should become a lawyer,” she tells me via a video call. So was she being encouraged to follow in his footsteps? “No, he started out as an architect and now he’s a teacher,” she says with a laugh.

Joanne, a partner with Thomson Snell & Passmore in Tunbridge Wells, took a business law degree at London Guildhall University, followed by professional solicitor’s exams at the College of Law in Chancery Lane, qualifying in 1994. Her first job was with Clarkson Wright and Jakes in Orpington, then Wellers of Bromley and finally she joined her present employers in 2003, when her son was just a year old. She has, in her words “worked her way up” since then, becoming an equity partner in 2008 and a board member in June last year – a challenging time to take on new responsibilities. I ask how the pandemic and first lockdown affected the firm and in particular her team of 13.

Communication is vital and she is proud of how everyone has come through the pandemic so far
“We had already encouraged a flexible approach to home working, so we quickly rolled out the additional technology to allow everyone to do so, leaving a skeleton staff in the office to accept original documents and so on. It’s worked pretty well, although some people miss the social side of team working. However, we hold regular online meetings, so everyone is kept up to date with what’s happening.”

I ask the obvious question about Joanne’s management style and she pauses to consider her answer, choosing to split it between two perspectives.

“I hope if you asked my team they would agree I’m friendly and open, happy to support them in training and mentoring. I love to bring people on, to allow them to achieve their potential and be the best lawyers they can be. We are all very driven and ambitious and set high standards.

“I hope clients would regard me as extremely pragmatic and commercially focused. When I am working on a deal, I want to get it done, but not to score points, or be aggressive. This is still a male-dominated profession and I think a female perspective can sometimes be very useful and effective.”

Whichever way she is facing – towards her team, or out into the world – Joanne says communication is vital and she is proud of how everyone has come through the pandemic so far.

“It has been hard. My son is now in the sixth form and I’ve had to juggle home schooling with my daily routine,” she admits.

So how does she escape the pressures of such a busy existence? She still dabbles in art – “sketching and watercolour mostly”, loves food and cooking and then there’s the demands of the family’s 18-month cockapoo to factor in. It’s clear Joanne is very focused on her career but maintains a healthy work-life balance.

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