Ex-Herbert Smith lawyer finds cushy head of legal role (and shoes)
This week we speak to Eva Goodelife*, who left Herbert Smith a few months ago and is now the lawyer for Fashion House Limited, the parent company of various high street fashion outlets. She’s young, well-paid, in control of her legal life and only works three days a week. How did she do that?
*Note: our interviewee preferred to remain anonymous, so this is not her real name.
mtl: Hi Eva, let’s start at the beginning – take us through your legal career.
Eva: Well, I studied Law and Italian Law at UCL. Then I went straight through the College of Law to Herbert Smith, though I joined with the March intake – crazy not to take at least a little bit of time out as it’s not so easy later. I’d always wanted to be a lawyer and I’ve never really thought about doing anything else before or since – it’s words not numbers that I like. I qualified into the corporate department at HS, focussing on big ticket corporate transactions. I also went on secondment to Warner Bros – which was a good insight into the life of an in-house lawyer. Overall, I had a great time at HS. The people were a lot of fun. Of course, the hours were a little insane at times.
mtl: So when did you start thinking about trying something different?
Eva: I guess I’ve always had itchy feet. That’s all it was, really. Nothing major had changed – I hadn’t had children or got married or anything. I had always felt that being a City lawyer at a major City firm was not something I wanted to do forever and so I was a bit of a job-websites addict, constantly checking what was out there. At nearly five years qualified, I had a general aim of trying to work less and play more but no concrete ideas about what I wanted to do.
One day I came across a job which was in the fashion industry. I almost passed it by as it said it was part-time and I thought the salary would be too low to pay the mortgage. However, something about it sounded appealing and so I decided there was no harm in finding out more. I went to see Fashion House and really liked the place. They have very cool offices in the West End, on Charlotte Street, and it was a totally different atmosphere from the City. Not everyone was a suit-wearing Oxbridge type and they all left the office at 5.30pm to do other things. It was also all about fashion, and shoes, in particular, and I could certainly relate to that. But at the same time, the work sounded really interesting and the sort of thing with which I was familiar and, as I would be their first in-house lawyer, it was a chance for me to be in control and run my own day-to-day work rather than having constantly to service partners’ needs.
It turned out that the salary they were offering for a three-day week wasn’t anything like as low as I had expected. Once they offered me the job, I negotiated hard and got them to raise the salary further. I’m not going to say exactly what I’m on now but plenty of junior City lawyers would be happy with it on a full-time basis, let alone part-time.
mtl: [After Eva tells us exactly what she gets for three days’ work.] Wow. That is a good deal. Well done you.
Eva: I know. And the great thing is that I really enjoy the work.
mtl: But isn’t it really scary being the only lawyer, having to report to the board and having to be able to answer all their questions?
Eva: I thought it would be but the first thing I realised is what a great training I’ve had with seven years at Herbert Smith. Outside of the City, people just don’t work to the same standards and suddenly you find that you’re actually bloody good and you know what you are talking about. The knowledge I needed was just there and, if I really didn’t know the answer on a crucial point, I could always farm it out to our legal advisers. Often, the queries I get require not much more than common sense, or common sense to someone who has been studying or practising law for over ten years.
People also have a different sense of time and urgency. I still expect to work at the rate I did in the City and I get nervous when I say to someone that I can’t look at their work for three days – but they consider that a quick turn-around. People work hard, don’t get me wrong, but they leave at 5 or 6, at the latest. Most people do get in at 9am on the dot, however, and start working straight away, which for a corporate lawyer who is used to bowling in a bit later, faffing around for a few hours having coffee and looking at the internet, it’s a bit of a shock. I don’t get time during the day to do much other than work – but that means I feel satisfied and on top of things when I leave at a reasonable hour.
mtl: How does the whole part-time thing work?
Eva: I normally work Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, though I swap them around if I need to be in for any reason on a Monday or Friday. It’s great – much more civilised. At the moment I'm busier than I’ve ever been as I’m in the middle of refurbishing two flats and getting married in a few months, so there’s a lot going on.
mtl: Give us an idea of the type of work you would do in an average day.
Eva: It’s extremely varied. I could be advising the parent company board or the board of any of the subsidiary companies on a particular point, which might be something to do with shareholdings or potential acquisitions.
On the other hand I might be looking at distribution arrangements with major department stores. Then there are trade marks, sex discrimination queries, international expansion….I’m learning about the whole operation from a practical point of view. Because I am in charge of my time and because I am working with commercial business people, I spend less time worrying about whether a comma is in the right place and more time getting the job done.
I have to say that one of the most enjoyable aspects of it so far was instructing one of the major City firms in relation to one of our corporate deals – going in for a lengthy meeting, being treated like royalty, and then leaving early evening and telling them to get on with it for the rest of the night! How the tables have turned.
mtl: Do you think you would ever go back to private practice? We’ve heard it’s very difficult to do so once you’ve been in-house – what’s your view?
Eva: From a personal point of view, it seems very unlikely. Some people say it is difficult to switch back and they get nervous about leaving private practice at all. I think that depends very much on what you do in-house. If you go in at a very junior level in a very specialist industry then, yes, it might be difficult to switch back into private practice. On the other hand, if you go in at a senior level, getting relatively general experience, then this might be invaluable from a private practice point of view, and you will be in demand, particularly if you can bring in your previous employer as a client or have good contacts in the industry.
mtl: That makes sense. Any advice on how to go about finding the best in-house roles?
Eva: I think you have to just keep your eye out and get yourself listed with some recruitment consultants. I was very close to passing by what turned out to be a great opportunity for me so you’ve got to get out there and make sure you are exposing yourself to all the options. There’s a lot of inertia among City lawyers who feel locked in by the money and the status, but there’s more out there than they realise.
mtl: Like discounts on shoes, you mean?
Eva: Exactly. I get 40% off everything in our stores. That gives me at least six shops to choose from on the King’s Road alone. You can’t ask for more than that.
mtl: Indeed. Eva Goodelife, thank you very much for talking to us.
Note: Eva was placed by recruitment consultant Laurence Simons. Click here for more information on Laurence Simons.
If you know any other lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives or who have a great work/life balance then please get in touch.
Send this feature to a friend: