Gordon Brown Law Firm’s managing partner Kathryn Taylor has proved that breaking the glass ceiling in the legal profession is possible. She reveals what it’s like leading a gender diverse team of people in the North East.
At just 44, Kathryn Taylor knows she is in the minority as the female managing partner of a law firm. In a sector where the idea of gender equality and social mobility is hypothetical, her journey to the top is to be commended.
Far from the powerful stereotypes that dominate the corporate boardrooms of well-known TV dramas, Kathryn’s route into law was not a privileged one.
Born and bred in Blyth, Northumberland, she attended a state school and had no connections in the legal world before embarking on her career.
“I didn’t get a training contract when I graduated, so I just had to believe that somehow I could do it. It’s a difficult profession to get into and that’s why I am so committed to helping others.”
Kathryn admits that the further up the career ladder she went, the fewer women she saw at networking events.
“In my role, it’s not unusual to walk into an event and discover I’m one of only a handful of women holding senior positions there. It is getting better, but there is still work to be done,” she added.
Kathryn is a change-seeker with a likeable personality and a manifesto that really resonates with a new generation of young lawyers making their mark in the North East. It’s evident that being in a position of power has not gone to her head.
She said: “The most important thing for me as a managing partner is to listen to people across our business to get a feel from them about what they want out of their career.
“We have a great team to take the firm forward and I want to continue to popularise law and encourage both young men and women to join us.
“We have a strong culture of respect for our support managers who we see as integral to our business. Sometimes in law firms they can be forgotten.”
Recruitment and retention are among the challenges facing the professional services sector, but Kathryn has succeeded in attracting solicitors to the firm from much bigger law firms. What’s her secret?
“At GBLF we have equal numbers of female and male Heads of Department. We have a gender diverse senior team that has grown organically over the past six years and we know solicitors have come to us because of the firm’s culture and our ability to offer career progression.
“I’m not hung up on high grades or which university a potential recruit has gone to. What matters most is that the person is the right fit for our culture and can add real value.”
Kathryn admits that the firm is almost unrecognisable to the one which existed when she took over as managing partner in 2013.
“The firm is now at a really exciting point in its journey. The days of us being seen as a small high street outfit with an estate agency branch are gone. Financially we are much stronger in both turnover and profitability.
“We now have a team of 77 people offering a full range of legal services to both private client and business owners.”
Kathryn has a practical and realistic approach to the subject of cross-selling too.
“We have built trust by adopting a firm-wide approach to customer service to ensure clients have a good experience with us, no matter what their legal need is.”
While some women in the legal sector have become disillusioned with the hidden barriers that exist, Kathryn has stood firm and continues to encourage others within her team to follow in her footsteps.
“Our Head of Employment and HR, Deb Tweedy joined GBLF seven years ago after time served at another North East law firm. Since then, she has completed her master’s degree in Employment Law, gained a promotion to associate level and now plays a critical role in managing HR and the Employment Department within the firm.
“Deb works with me strategically on the firm’s culture and benefits, whilst also leading a team supporting SMEs with their HR and employment needs. She is a huge asset to our firm.”
Kathryn also spoke of her relationship with partner Rebecca Harbron Gray, the firm’s Head of Wills, Trusts and Probate.
“Rebecca has completely transformed how her team works. She has created a stronger, bigger and more process-driven department.
“She is not only STEP qualified, but also the first lawyer in the North East to qualify in Cross Border Estates which adds a new dimension to the services we can now offer our clients.
“It sees her dealing with the complex issues of estate administration and the different issues that arise when dealing with cross-border estate planning and succession.
Rebecca’s new qualification is an example of the firm’s commitment to assisting staff with their further education training needs. At any given time over the last five years, 20% of the workforce have been in assisted further education.
Head of Family and Matrimonial law, partner Simon Dakers mentors the firm’s trainee solicitors.
Kathryn said: “Simon’s work with our young trainees cannot be underestimated because they are able to learn from someone with 21 years’ of experience and also has a thorough knowledge of family law including divorce, domestic abuse and child law.
“He is also a Resolution Accredited Specialist in advanced financial provision, private children law and domestic abuse making him a specialist when it comes to a wide range of issues which arise from family breakdowns.
“Our family team is now a focussed, streamlined department thanks to Simon. He has assembled a large team who can offer quality private and publicly funded assistance.”
Kathryn explains that the appointment of corporate partner Anna McGill was essential to enhance the firm’s commercial offering.
“Being able to offer business owners corporate legal advice has been a long-term goal for us. Anna has impressed me with her legal knowledge in areas such as fund raising, mergers and acquisitions and joint ventures.
“She has also shown that she can look at matters practically from the business owner’s perspective. The hard work she spent on business development when she joined our team has now started to pay dividends for us.”
Another team that has expanded its service offering is our Litigation team. Kathryn explains that this is largely down to the hard work of Litigation partner Guy Barr.
“Guy is an extremely talented litigator who has enabled us to add professional negligence and contentious probate as a service offering. He also assists me with our day-to-day risk and compliance matters and I value his input massively.”
John Morgan was brought in to head up the firm’s long-standing and respected commercial property team which was set up by Gordon Brown himself and who still works as a consultant with the firm.
No day is ever the same for him as he deals with landlord and tenant legal issues, SIPP and SSAS investment property transactions and the real estate aspects of corporate and individual insolvency issues.
“John has not only capitalised on the firm’s existing commercial client base, but has sought to build on it. He has also shown exceptional leadership qualities since joining the firm 18 months ago.”
Kathryn’s husband Geoff Hall is the longest serving member of the senior team at GBLF, having originally started with the firm in 1987. Returning to the firm in 2006, Geoff was given the brief to grow the conveyancing department.
“Geoff has grown the residential conveyancing department from a team of two to 45 people in just over 12 years and the team now ranks in the Top 50 nationally based on land registry figures. Geoff is also a director of the national body, the Conveyancing Association. The success of our residential team has funded the firm’s growth into other legal areas.”
So what does future success look like for Kathryn?
“We are proud that GBLF maintains the title as the North East’s largest residential property team and we are now focussed on growing the other areas of our business to match its success.
“We are acutely aware, however, that rapid expansion could compromise our culture. So for now, we will concentrate on what we do well, which is looking after our clients and our people, with real personality.”
Kizzi Nkwocha is the editor of Business Game Changer Magazine and publisher of The UK Newspaper, Money and Finance Magazine, the net’s fastest growing wealth creation publication. Kizzi Nkwocha is chair of The Ethical Publishers Association and co-chair of The Logistics Association. Kizzi made his mark in the UK as a publicist, journalist and social media pioneer. As a widely respected and successful media consultant he has represented a diverse range of clients including the King of Uganda, and Amnesty International. Nkwocha has also become a well-known personality on both radio and television. He has been the focus of a Channel 4 documentary on publicity and has hosted his own talk show, London Line, on Sky TV. He has also produced and presented both radio and TV shows in Cyprus and Spain.