Rachael Mann talks to Emma Digby, Commercial Litigation Partner at Ward Hadaway. Emma has been a Litigator for over 20 years, as a massively client focussed and well networked workaholic Emma barely spent an evening at home pre pandemic. She reflects on the changes, challenges and opportunities for the legal sector going forward as a result of the past 12 months.
This is a difficult question as the culture and approach is so different depending on the firm you are employed by. However, I would like to believe that there is now a greater understanding of work life balance and the roles women have to attend to both in and out of “the office”. So many have shown agility, resilience and strength in these trying times. These characteristics are fundamental to the sustainability and growth of any business and should be embraced. We have all got used to being our authentic selves, being caught on zooms in a hoodie, kids shouting they need the toilet whilst you take that call from a client or the dog going berserk as the daily Amazon parcel arrives whilst you are at a virtual partners meeting. All of these events are tolerated, accepted and embraced with a smile – we had to adapt. No longer are we governed by a 9am to 5pm day which dictates physical attendance in the office. I would hope that there will forever be greater empathy and flexibility for all those who work in the law moving forward.
Known for her meticulous preparation, effective negotiation skills and her robust pursuit or defence of claims in court, Emma is proactive, effective and approachable. She has a very loyal following of clients and professional referrers who insist that she is the go to disputes resolution lawyer of choice.
I live alone having moved to Leeds a matter of months before lockdown. I joined Ward Hadaway whilst in the first lockdown and have been physically isolated from my friends, family and new colleagues for a year. Everyone who knows me would describe me as a strong and independent woman but honestly, this has tested my mental resolve to the maximum. I am fortunate to be so supported both professionally and personally and this got me through some really lonely times.
I have learnt so much about myself, my beliefs and my aspirations during this last year. Removing a daily commute and being more flexible will undoubtedly enable me to achieve a more balanced life for myself going forward. As a self-confessed workaholic this hasn’t always been easy. That said, I cannot wait to spend a couple of days a week in the office with my team. The fact we have more choice as to how and when we perform our role will undoubtedly see greater presenteeism and productivity for our business.
You can only control your controllables – don’t engage in events that you have no say over. Oh, and take one day at a time. Trying to look too far ahead was pretty soul destroying on occasion.
This has been a time in our lives when a firm’s culture has had to be strong. No longer were words enough. Integrity, support, openness and strong communication now have to be recognised. As above it is well documented women were disproportionately impacted during the pandemic and I am extremely fortunate to be working in a department supported by a revolutionary Head. Being a disputes lawyer leads to busy and pressured days and we thrive from them, but it is has been so important to ensure we reach out to our people. We must understand their unique circumstances so that we can properly support them. We also talk to our national team monthly to embed a good culture and encourage interaction – vulnerability for all members of a firm cannot and is not a sign of weakness or incapability. I hope with greater understanding women will no longer be held back in the profession. Their contribution will be recognised as equal to their male counterparts. Being nimble in our approach will only benefit the firm and our clients. These changes will hopefully enable women to forge strong careers whilst also not feeling guilty, compromised or second best due to their personal and family commitments. After all they do say not all super heroes wear capes!
This is a long list! The little things mean so much to me now. Hugging my parents, playing football in the park with my nephew, cold beers in the sun and creating memories with all of those I love.