As part of the celebrations we speak with some of our fantastic female Solicitors we now speak with Wendy Mustard Head of Wills Trust and Probate at Richard Reed Limited
What inspired you to pursue a career in law?
Throughout my school years I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence and didn’t believe I was clever enough to go to university or to be a lawyer. I “fell into” a job as a legal secretary a small firm in Sunderland and was inspired by the lawyers at that firm. Over time, as the work I was doing changed, I realised that I was actually clever enough to go to university and in 2003 I started my legal studies.
What was your route from school to head of department?
My route into the law was not the usual academic route and therefore took slightly longer but it did mean that I could work while studying and have no student debt at the end.
I started on the route to qualify as a legal executive but after completing the first stage at college, I decided to switch to law degree and studied at Northumbria University followed by the Legal Practice Course (LPC). Meanwhile, I was gaining the necessary experience to qualify as a legal executive and qualified shortly after completing the LPC. My ambition was always to be a solicitor, so after joining Richard Reed I undertook the short course to convert.
I am so pleased that I took the route I did, have gained so much experience over the years in lots of different areas of the law and in different types of law firms. I think this makes me a more rounded lawyer and I have a far greater appreciation for work that the support staff do.
Now there is a formal apprenticeship route to qualification which, if it had existed formally when I started my studies, I probably would have considered (and it probably would have been quicker!) I think it is so important to have lawyers from a variety of backgrounds, we all bring something different and the apprenticeship opens up a career in law to those who, for whatever reason, think that the traditional university route is not for them.
What advice what you give your 18-year-old self from a career perspective?
I think some careers advice would have been an improvement! There was not a lot of guidance available to someone like me who did not really know what they wanted to do after leaving school. I think I would probably encourage 18-year-old me to have a little more self-belief and confidence and to follow my wishes rather than listening so much to other people’s opinions.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt in your career to date?
I think the most important thing I have learned is probably that I do not always have to know the answer. It is quite scary as a newly qualified lawyer to think that you have to know all of the answers. Obviously, I have to know plenty about my own area of the law, but I have learned that it is quite acceptable to have to refer to a colleague or research a point before advising a client. The law is so vast, it’s simply not possible to know absolutely everything.
Do you think we have now reached a position of equality amongst the sexes in the legal profession?
Overall, I think there are more female law graduates than male and more females in the profession at a lower level but, at higher levels men make up the majority. I think this disparity has partner/director level can lead to a lack of understanding of the issues that predominantly affect women (like having to take time out of their careers to care for family). Perhaps this leads to female lawyers never reaching the higher levels or leaving the profession altogether. Richard Reed, on the other hand, is mostly made up of female lawyers so perhaps trends are changing.
What excites you about your job?
I love meeting people and finding out about their lives. Fortunately, in my area of law I see lots of people face-to-face and I always try to take time to talk to them about their lives generally instead of just focusing on the legal issue at hand. I find I can give far better advice if I get to know the client better.
There are some sad aspects of my role; I help families following a death and I see a lot of clients who are approaching the end of their life, but it is rewarding to be able to help them and make things easier for them.
Who inspires you?
I know it is a cliche, but on a personal level, I suppose my mum has a lot to answer for! She worked exceptionally hard when my sister and I were small children, changing careers once we were in secondary school and spending years at night school retraining. I think I have her to blame for my work ethic, my love of reading and my attitude towards lifelong learning.
On a professional level, I have worked with some fabulous people. As it happens, I’ve worked closely with a lot of women who I would consider role models – I sometimes have moments when I’m unsure about something and I think about how they would approach the issue. Perhaps it is reflective of the type of work I do; maybe private client law attracts more women. The women I have worked with inspired me to keep going when I was studying and to continue training and stretching myself after qualification.
A study conducted by the SRA in August 2017 found that women make up 48% of all lawyers in law firms, however, within larger law firms (with 50 plus partners) women make up only 29% of partners. What can be done to change this?
Recognising that equality does not mean that we ignore the differences between the sexes – men and women are very different and that can’t be ignored. All employees must feel valued regardless of gender and perhaps an emphasis on flexible working and good parental leave packages are part of the answer. It is a complicated issue that does not have an easy solution.
Would you say there has been an attitude change in terms of equality since you started your career?
I have worked in some quite progressive law firms, perhaps only one of those truly fulfils the stereotype of ageing men in grey suits. I suppose have been quite lucky to have a lot of exposure to some wonderful women working in high levels in the profession.
I think attitudes have changed a lot in recent years with some great talent coming up through the profession. I think young people today have a different view of what a great career means – they want more of a healthy work-life balance and this needs to be factored into the solution so that talented young people continue to become lawyers.