Life after losing your legal job: an ex-head of legal sets up her own business

After 13 years as an in-house lawyer, last year Kareen Cranston lost her job as head of legal for an insurance company.  She initially took a couple of months off and then set up her own business as a personal, legal and executive coach at Cranston Cognition, something that she had been interested in doing for a few years. We spoke to her about her career change and why she is enjoying her new role so much.  


mtl: Hi Kareen, please can you start by telling us about your various legal roles. 


Kareen:  I trained at what is now Clyde & Co. in London but, although I enjoyed my training contract, there were no suitable positions there on qualification.  I was also very keen to go in-house, rather than staying in private practice, so that I could work somewhere more commercial where the focus was on team working. 


On qualification I went to UCB Home Loans, which was a subsidiary of Nationwide.  I stayed for a year and then moved to a more supportive environment at Ford Credit, where I stayed for a few years.  I moved to Pinnacle Insurance after I’d had my son, so that I had a shorter commute and became Head of legal and Company Secretary there.  It was fairly early in my career to make that leap (5yrs PQE) but I was in the right place at the right time. 


After 6 years at Pinnacle, I moved to Allianz Cornhill as Head of Legal, where I stayed for two more years.  However I had a 2+hour commute along the M25 which became too much, so I moved to Canada Life as General Counsel and Company Secretary for a year.   This turned out to be my last legal job. 


Through the course of my career I had been involved in the management of various teams, attending board meetings and advising boards, firefighting legal issues needing immediate attention, instructing foreign lawyers and travelling to see them, doing presentations, managing budgets, running large deals with external solicitors and managing directors’ expectations. I worked pretty long days, a few long nights and often had long commutes.


mtl: When you lost your job at Canada Life, what made you decide to change career rather than get another legal role?  


Kareen:  While I was working at Allianz Cornhill I had some coaching, which prompted me to realise that I wanted to start my own business some day.  It also sparked my interest in coaching as a job for myself.  My values and beliefs were not being met by a legal role and although I enjoyed certain parts of the job, I hated the politics which got in the way of work. 


The aspect of my legal jobs that I enjoyed the most had always been developing staff and I wanted to do something that drew upon that full-time.  Coaching seemed like the obvious answer as it ticked all the boxes of what was important to me and I really enjoy sales and networking too, which is another side of the work.



Career timeline



Training contract, Beaumont & Son, Solicitors (Now Clyde & Co)



In-house lawyer, UCB Home Loans plc



In-house lawyer, Ford Credit



In-house lawyer, Head of Legal and Company Secretary, Pinnacle Insurance



Head of Legal Services, Allianz Cornhill Insurance



Head of Legal and Company Secretary, Canada Life Limited



Executive, Legal and Personal coach, Cranston Cognition



I was therefore quietly pleased when my job at Canada Life came to an end as I wouldn’t willingly have jumped off the professional ladder without a reason – it would have been too hard to give up such a role and all that came with it.  I haven’t looked back since.   


mtl: Tell us about the business…


Kareen:  After taking a couple of months off to spend time with my son, redecorate my house, and generally slow my life down, I used the coach I’d had myself as a mentor.  She recommended that I do the Diploma in Executive Coaching at The Academy of Executive Coaches and the NLP Practitioner Course with PPD Learning.  While I trained I did pro bono coaching for ex-colleagues and friends to get some coaching hours under my belt.


I wouldn’t have been able to re-train so easily without a redundancy payment because I would have had to work while I trained and couldn’t then have done the pro bono coaching on top of that.  Also, sales don’t happen automatically, so in that interim period of starting out, I needed some money behind me.  Losing my job therefore actually gave me some security in my new career.   I also have a lot of focus as I know when the money will run out and how much I need to turn over by when. 


My company is called Cranston Cognition and it is about recognising potential.  Sessions are normally face to face in London and the south east over a number of months.  I work with employees and individuals and recently have done outplacement work for companies making redundancies.  I invariably offer a free first session, which I call a “Compatability Session” which allows the person being coached to decide if I am the right coach for them without having to invest any money.  Coaching involves an indirect approach of asking questions and listening so that clients can work out their goals and next steps for themselves.  I get great satisfaction from working with  people who make changes in their work or personal lives and end up being happier all round.  


mtl: Do you have any advice for our readers?


Kareen:  I recommend taking some time out after leaving a job as it gives you thinking space.  However I always made sure I got up early and got on with the day, even though I wasn’t working.  If you have any doubts about your current position then it is a really good idea to consider your beliefs and values and whether they are being met in a legal role so that you don’t go into another job that you aren’t fundamentally happy in.  It may simply be that the culture of the organisation you are working in doesn’t fit with your core beliefs.  Part of my business involves coaching solicitors and it helps that I understand what they are going through.  I don’t miss anything about law other than working in an office environment as part of a team, which I enjoyed. I now get a great deal of pleasure seeing people make the next steps in their own careers and lives.


mtl: Thank you for your time Kareen.


If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.


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