A Conversation with Katie Williams
We spoke to Katie Williams, Employment Partner and newly appointed Head of Office at International Law Firm, Pinsent Masons, about her career, accompanying her husband overseas, and how she is able to successfully balance professional and personal commitments.
Q: What do you think have been the key points in your career?
I've had quite a variety of roles and each one has benefited me in a significant way. Working and living in London was a fantastic experience and I don't think there is anything else like it, particularly as a junior lawyer. I also had a two year spell working in industry, representing the interests of UK manufacturing in the development of employment law and policy and that was invaluable. In my late 20s I took a year out to complete a Masters at the European University in Florence - getting that extra qualification and academic experience has helped me in various ways ever since. I spent 3 years in the Netherlands which required me to find new ways to progress my career which I did by working freelance and writing for various legal organisations and websites. That made me start to think about the importance of good networking. On relocating to Aberdeen I gained experience for the first time of a small firm environment which also taught me a lot about being resourceful and building my own practice. I moved to Pinsent Masons, one of the UK’s top 10 legal firms, three years ago and this was another step-change in which I have learned much from having to establish myself in a new and bigger environment.
Q: When you accompanied your husband overseas on his expat assignment, what challenges did this present?
A big challenge I found was the loss of identity. Prior to the move, I had been my own person, a lawyer pursuing her career in London. On leaving my job and moving to The Hague, suddenly I became an expat spouse and everything seemed dependent on my husband's status and not mine. I really struggled with that. My eldest daughter was born in the first year we were there, and I often felt like I was defined only as a mother or a spouse. This might explain why I kept working at the freelance jobs right up to two weeks before my daughter arrived and started again when she was just four months old. Looking back, I think I was fantastically lucky, because I could limit the projects I took on so that I could still spend lots of time with her.
I couldn't work as a lawyer in private practice because I wasn't a member of the Dutch Bar (it wasn't worth trying to requalify in the length of our assignment there) – but that forced me to think laterally and find other ways of continuing to work on anything related to employment law. I constantly had in mind that I didn't want gaps in my CV during this period overseas, and I think the fact that I kept working, really helped me secure a new job as soon as we returned to the UK, and also helped me maintain a certain level of professional confidence.
Q: What do you do to try to balance your professional and personal commitments?
I work an 80% schedule, so in old money that would be four days a week but I am meeting the needs of clients as and when they arise but in a more flexible way than simply being in the office all day every day. Sometimes I'm not in the office until later in the morning or out of the office around 4pm because I'm doing the school run. I often pick up work again from home later in the day. It's an agile way of working and requires some flexibility, but what's key is that I am able to meet the needs of my clients whilst also reserving a bit of extra time for family. I consider the phrase "part-time" to be a bit outdated and inaccurate these days. I might not be present in the office 24/7, but I'd like to think that I undertake the full scope of my role as a lawyer and as a manager within my chosen working schedule. I won't pretend for a second that I achieve the perfect balance at all times - far from it. Sometimes I have to make hard choices and have to say No to things at work or at home that I would really like to do. But I think this level of flexibility is a real benefit to me and to my family.
Q: What advice would you give to others trying to successfully balance professional and personal commitments?
I think you have to be realistic. I do not believe that you can "have it all" in the traditional sense. I've yet to find any one – man or woman - who has had a successful career whilst also taking the major role in child care but I do know individuals who, in one way or another and at varying times, give what they feel they need to as parents and pursue successful careers. In my own personal circumstances, I accept that I am not there 100% of the time for my daughters, but my aim is to be there for all the times we think really matter. You have to strike a bargain with yourself over your priorities and the compromises you are willing to make, and accept that the shape of this bargain can change over time too.
Katie has kindly agreed to answer any further questions you would like to put to her. Please email these to email@example.com by 16th May 2017. We will publish her answers at the start of June.