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Blanchards Bailey bucks the trend with strong female leadership

Jane, Lisa and Sarah (shown in the front centre) with the rest of the Blanchards Bailey team
Jane, Lisa and Sarah (shown in the front centre) with the rest of the Blanchards Bailey team

Ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, we invited some key team members at Blanchards Bailey to share their personal views on what helped them become industry experts and leaders of a successful Legal 500 law firm.

With a history dating back over 100 years, some might wrongly perceive Blanchards Bailey as having a traditional view to gender equality. However, numbers of female leaders at the firm have increased annually since 2000 and have risen to 40 per cent in the last year. The organisation also has around 40 different flexible working provisions in place for staff members with children – highlighting its dedication to family values.

This approach has been vital in attracting experts, which has helped the firm achieve impressive growth over the last year.

According to the Law Society, the gender gap across the UK in 2016 continued to close with 51.2 per cent of practising solicitors male, while 48.8 per cent are now female. The proportion of female solicitors has also risen from 40.5 per cent 10 years ago – meaning there has been just under a 10 per cent drop of men in the industry compared to a decade ago.

Differences emerge, though, when looking at seniority with women making up just 33 per cent of partners, according to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Blanchards Bailey reinforces this national trend of growing females in the industry while debunking the perception that law is a male orientated profession. However, the Dorset organisation goes further than most with more than half its staff female, as well as having a strong presence of women as partners and in leadership roles.

In reality, of course, the gender of an individual should not matter in today’s society but Blanchards Bailey has long been ahead of the curve in making the business an inclusive place to work for both men and women, which has supported the firm’s success by providing a wide range of skills and outlooks.

Sarah Heath, Principal at Blanchards Bailey, leads the firm’s Commercial Services team

Sarah specialises in commercial property and development work, acting for various property investors and developers throughout England and Wales. She has a huge amount of experience having been a Partner at three Legal 500 firms in the UK, one of which she helped set up, before making the move to Blanchards Bailey.

Sarah’s vast skillset sees her play a key role as legal adviser to the board of a national property developer – where she is the only woman – while she has also worked in various male orientated environments, including professional football management.

“It’s never concerned me being outnumbered by men and I don’t see why your gender should affect what you can achieve - you just need to make it happen,” Sarah explained, before going on to reveal how she got to the top of her profession.

“As a farmer’s daughter I learnt the value of hard work growing up with both men and women within the rural business community, who continually demonstrated great determination,” she said. “Perseverance and dedication is my advice to the younger generation. Don’t expect success to come easily; you have to work for it. You will get knocked back but pick yourself up, learn from the experience and keep going. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.”

This approach has helped inspire her team to great success with 2016 marking the delivery of one of the biggest property deals in the firm’s history. Sarah’s hard work and self-belief is also recognised by clients who depend on the firm for legal advice, while she is also a respected voice in the industry as shown by interviews with her clients by The Legal 500, the industry barometer. As one client put it simply: “Sarah Heath gets things done.”

Sarah says good leadership is about getting people to buy into your ideas but also taking on board feedback while remaining clear on what is important to the business.  

“Communicating with people so they understand what the business aims are, why they are necessary and how they can be part of the team that achieves them are all vital ingredients in leadership,” she said.

“There has to be ‘buy in’ from the whole team as a leader can achieve little if unsupported and untrusted. Leading by example is paramount to getting the best out of people. I never ask or expect people to do what I wouldn’t be prepared to do myself.”

Lisa Holden, Principal and Head of Family Law is as ambitious for her clients as she is for Blanchards Bailey

A long-standing partner at the firm, she played a key role in the decision to merge Blanchards and Bailey and Co in 2009.

Lisa’s path to Partner and leader of the Family Law team began in Lancashire before she moved to Dorset in 1994 and returned to law after taking time to start her family. It was three years after joining Bailey & Co that Managing Partner, Alan Horne and his Partners at the time offered her Partnership at the firm.

“It was a huge leap of faith but I grabbed the opportunity,” Lisa explained. “I could not have done it without the support of Alan, who agreed for me to work hours around the children.”

A leader in Blanchards Bailey’s business growth and recruitment plans, Lisa aims to make the firm a yardstick for how all law companies measure themselves in terms of family values.

“I’d like Blanchards Bailey to be a benchmark by being one of the most attractive firms in the area to work for. Caring for our clients’ best interests by utilising our expertise is at the forefront of everything we do and when the whole team has the same mentality and compassion, it does not go unnoticed by clients, which it is very rewarding,” she said.

Last year, the Family Law team helped hundreds of families and individuals resolve their legal matters. Lisa credits her success to necessity. “It’s a great driving force knowing that I had to make the business work to provide for my children,” she said.

Lisa takes strength from people who have overcome challenges, such as business leader Nicola Horlick. “Running a major company while having six children shows succeeding in business and having a family can be done,” she explained before going on to add another inspiration. “I also admire Michelle Obama with her grace, intelligence, compassion and ability to connect with people, as well as her family values.”

With vast experience in family law, Lisa is also an accredited specialist regarding child matters and complex financial remedies, as well as a trusted member of the Law Society.

“Specialising in family issues I help clients by actively listening to what they tell me and acting upon it,” she continued. “As a team we always try to bring a compassionate, sensitive and pro-active approach to resolving family problems and work hard to bring an efficient resolution to what is often one of the most difficult times in a client’s life.”

Jane Eldridge, HR Manager and Consultant, is one of the most recent additions to Blanchards Bailey

Jane brings a wealth of experience with more than 30 years spent in training and providing HR case management advice. She works closely with Lisa Holden in developing the Blanchards Bailey team.

“I’ve always pushed myself out of my comfort zone and striven for new challenges in order to develop my breadth of experience,” Jane said, before adding: “Each of my new positions have built on my previous knowledge and skills and extended them in different directions.”

After leaving university Jane joined Marks and Spencer on its management training programme; choosing to specialise in HR after just a few months. She then practised HR at Officer level for a further six years before teaching HR and employment law to undergraduate, postgraduate and professional students. She returned to practise HR at a senior level after 15 years of lecturing – applying her in-depth knowledge and understanding to new environments.

Jane works with Sarah Heath and Litigation and Employment Solicitor Edward O’Brien in the development of the HR Consultancy service. This allows the team to work with client businesses providing ongoing support in order to minimise a range of potential pitfalls, such as avoiding discrimination claims from expectant mothers.  

Her view on success is shaped by her belief that family is very important. “I believe work/life balance is critical, which involves placing family as a key priority,” she said. “When the children were younger this meant being realistic about the commitments I could fulfil and, when appropriate, deciding not to apply for particular positions.

“My varied experiences have resulted in me running the internal HR department for Blanchards Bailey and providing an external consultancy service to help the firm’s clients across a broad range of issues.

“Overall, the act of balancing home priorities with a desire to secure a fulfilling job and ongoing personal development has at many times proved challenging. However, I believe the approach I took has worked for me and I am, therefore, very proud of my current role and achievements over the years in both spheres of my life.”

So, what about men?

After all, there is an International Men's Day too. It takes place on November 19 every year and is celebrated in 60 countries around the world.

“Having a good mix of men and women is very important to us,” Sarah said. “It’s attractive to clients and brings balance to the workforce by giving us varied opinions which help us deliver better results.”

If you would like to meet Blanchards Bailey’s “Iron Man of Law” you might like this fun feature on Partner Paul Dunlop.

For more information visit www.blanchardsbailey.co.uk

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