I’m at my desk by 7am, fortified by porridge and a cuddle with the dog. I start with my bookkeeper hat on – entering items into the software package and credit control.
Then it’s my lawyer hat that goes on – I use the quiet time before the phone starts for the more complex tasks – drafting pleadings for an Employment Tribunal, due diligence exercises (looking for nasties in the woodwork) or composing a challenging letter. Analysing large quantities of information and distilling it down to salient points or key arguments is a key lawyer muscle that is exercised daily.
At 9am the phone usually starts ringing, often with people needing urgent advice on suspending someone. One phone call might mean needing to rearrange my day entirely to go to a crisis meeting and most calls result in people needing documents for the next step we agree they’ll take. At this point the presentation I am in the middle of writing gets carried over till the weekend!
Often I wear my counsellor hat. Maybe an individual I am acting for will be in a panic about some development or just need to talk. Maybe a manager having to make people redundant needs to let off steam. You have to be a good listener, able to cope with people getting emotional and share some perspective to enable them to understand what they really want to do. Sometimes I have to be the brake on someone’s anger or enthusiasm so they don’t act in haste and repent at leisure. Sometimes I tell them I won’t do what they want until they phone me tomorrow and give the same instruction again: usually they change their mind overnight. Over the years you get a ‘feel’ for these things.
By this point in the day I am probably running late: I plan to leave in plenty of time but invariable the phone goes just as I need to leave and I end up flying out of the office. Think ‘swan’ – serene on top, paddling like heck underneath the surface! I love going out to visit my clients. It gives you a feeling for the culture of the organisation just from what I observe. It really helps to get to know organisations as the right approach will only be the one that’s right for that organisation’s culture.
The meeting might involve an employer who’s got ‘stuck’ and just doesn’t know where to go with a situation managing employee performance or absence or perhaps a redundancy exercise or advice on how to make changes to someone’s contract. I have to mix explaining the law in terms people will understand with providing some sensible options and strategies, weighing up the pros and cons of the different options. It’s like baking a cake: the law bit is the butter but there are a lot of other commercial ingredients involved like appetite for risk, political considerations and cost to consider, all whilst making copious notes.
When I emerge from my meeting I find all the messages from clients, often with quick questions about a disciplinary procedure or wanting a second opinion on their strategy for dealing with something. Often the advice is in small bite sized chunks: I have to get up to speed very quickly on what’s happened with something internal to their organisation and remember the details of our last conversation. Good job my memory is like an elephant’s!
Lunch is generally taken ‘on the hoof’ although if I can I’ll meet up with a client or industry colleague for coffee and a chat – if I’m at home the dog and I peer into the fridge and eat an interesting mix of leftovers. I’ll usually read update materials with lunch – getting ideas for blogs and videos (I’m passionate about sharing information in this way) and keeping myself up to date with case law and legislative developments.
At some point during the day I may put on my fairy godmother hat, spending some time giving free advice to someone who clearly cannot afford to instruct me, perhaps someone who is about to lose their single income in the household when they are dismissed. Whilst I could easily tell that person I can’t help them and end the call fairly swiftly, my professional duty, I believe, is to at least give them some pointers and signpost them to other sources of advice like their union or legal expenses insurance. I believe that what goes round comes round and often someone who I’ve helped just a little will refer me on to others.
By now the dog has been in to check on me a number of times. She’s tried pacing around and looking out of the window. She’s tried standing with her head on my knee staring at me. She’s tried chewing a toy really loudly and even squeaking but she knows that we’ll only be going out once I’m off the phone or stop typing. I’ve only got to shift my weight in the chair and she’s bouncing around ready to drag me to the playing fields. Ever the multi-tasker, I use the dog walking time to think about strategy on files, come up with marketing ideas, compile a to-do list (I have lists everywhere – in my diary, in my head, on my PC and on my phone with electronic reminders so that I can’t forget), engage in social media and dictate notes to my PA – she tells me she can often tell how big the hills are by how much I’m puffing.
Once the dog is exercised and my head is clear again I review where I’ve got to today. Often I haven’t even started the one thing I did want to get done, like chase someone for a response on a settlement agreement or getting a proposal out to a potential client, so I try and crack on with that.
Before I log off for the end of the day I make my list of priorities for tomorrow, put my IT hat on and run the software back-up system. I can usually put all my hats back on their pegs at around 7pm unless I’m at a CIPD branch event, networking or at a legal training event in which case it may well be later.
Somewhere in amongst all of those things I fit in keeping myself and my horse fit. Riding is the one time when I truly go into a different place and, with my riding hat on, forget about the work, although I do find that an occasional bolt of inspiration hits me when I’m in that meditative place. If my phone goes when I’m riding I have to keep my fingers crossed that the horses don’t neigh and the cockerel doesn’t crow in the background.