Ex-City lawyer finds Comic Relief
This week we speak to Colleen May, previously a corporate lawyer at Slaughter and May, now an events manager at Comic Relief. We ask how she got here and how it compares to life in the City….
mtl: Hi Colleen. Take us through your legal career.
Colleen: I studied law at Hertford College, Oxford. I did a vacation placement at Slaughter and May and I really liked the people. So much so, in fact, that I didn’t apply to any other firms for a training contract, just Slaughters. I joined in the March intake so I could have a bit of time out and eventually qualified into corporate, my first choice.
The quality of the work was excellent. The deals I worked on were well-known – for example the takeover of Abbey National, work for Cadbury Schweppes and the Post Office – and I was getting a lot of responsibility. The hours were sometimes long, but that didn’t bother me. I was less keen on the uncertainty of the hours. I didn’t like the fact that you never know quite when you are going to be able to leave; you are often asked to do something at the last minute, which means cancelling plans.
I do think that big City law firms could do more to manage clients’ expectations and to organise deals more efficiently so that late nights and weekends do not come as standard with a corporate law job.
However, I had a positive experience at Slaughters overall. Long hours were not the reason why I decided to move away from the law.
mtl: So what did make you leave?
Colleen: While I enjoyed it and found it interesting, I didn’t find it truly satisfying. I was often left feeling a little empty. You are helping wealthy people get wealthier and there is only so far that can go in terms of personal satisfaction.
As a trainee, I had become involved with a charity called UK Ice cats (www.ukicecats.org). This is an organisation which aims to break the cycle of social exclusion by providing disadvantaged kids with training, mentoring and goals. The coaches involved are all great role models from a variety of backgrounds and it helps teach the children that you can do something ‘cool’ like play ice hockey and still try hard at school and aim to have a good career.
Graduated Oxford (Law)
LPC at College of Law
Joined Slaughter and May
Qualified into Corporate
Joined Comic Relief
I helped them become a registered charity, and later a charitable company. I found myself on the board of directors and then, when the Chairman accepted a place at Harvard Business School, I was asked to become the CEO.
My involvement in the charity increased. I was visiting schools, giving talks in assemblies and applying for grants. It was hard-work and late-night socialising with my friends had to stop!
However, I found it so much more satisfying than my day-job as a lawyer. After about fifteen months of qualified life I realised that my heart wasn’t in it and that I should look for something else. I decided to leave Slaughters, before I actually had another job, as it didn’t seem fair to them to stay on when I wasn’t fully focused.
Ideally, I wanted to apply the successful UK Ice Cats model to other disadvantaged areas, and get paid to do this as CEO of the charitable company. However, funding for paid positions is very difficult to access. This is a shame because I really believe that people with a business background taking business models and principles and applying them to solve social problems is the best way to make a real difference. I had applied for Sport Relief funding as part of my work at UK Ice Cats and I had read what Comic Relief were trying to do with the Sport Relief grants program. I saw a job advertised working on the Sport Relief campaign as an events co-ordinator. It was the first job I applied for and here I am!
mtl: So how does it compare?
Colleen: It is totally different. I work in the West End rather than the City. I don’t have to wear a suit, unless I have an outside meeting – so it is much more relaxed and progressive in that way. The hours are much better, though it is more than nine to five and people work hard. Everyone is very passionate about what they do – they are here because they really want to be here. The culture was not particularly healthy in the City.
What I find to be the biggest change is the way that everybody respects each other no matter what position they hold here.
The job itself is not as intellectually demanding, and I sometimes miss that, but it is still a challenge and I have a lot to learn. Co-ordinating events and making sure they run smoothly is a serious task. I have been very busy ensuring that the 250+ Sport Relief Mile events went well on July 15th. Great fun, but a lot of work!
I get less money, of course. I’ve gone from a flat in the Barbican to a room in Vauxhall. However, I do feel as though I am really achieving something here, really making a difference to other people’s lives, and that is worth a lot.
mtl: Indeed. It’s very admirable. Any advice to other lawyers inspired by your change of direction?
Colleen: Make sure you have enough time to research the charities you are interested in fully. You’ve got to find the right one for you. You’ve got to be passionate about it – that makes it all worthwhile.
If you are tempted to give it try then just go for it, don’t be scared! Charities often take people on for 6 or 12 month contracts, so you can give it a go and then return to law if you don’t like it.
mtl: Colleen, thank you very much for speaking to us and good luck with the Sport Relief campaign.
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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