The legal industry can be tough to break into – as we are all aware, training contracts are notoriously difficult to obtain, and the standard for business services roles, including sectors such as finance and marketing, is impeccably high. Of course, it is hard work and often high pressure, but the rewards and satisfaction that can come with a legal career are vast.
We spoke to three senior women at Lawrence Stephens to find out how they established successful legal careers and heard their advice for young women aspiring to make it big in law. Here is what these leaders had to say.
Nisha Saigal, Director
Nisha Saigal currently sits on the board at Lawrence Stephens, having joined the firm in 2015 and working her way up from Solicitor to her current position in the space of just 6 years. In 2021, she became the firm’s youngest Director and balances her high-pressure role alongside being a mum to two girls aged 4 and 5. We asked Nisha about her experience of breaking into and rising up the legal ranks as a fee earner, and what advice she would give to young women looking to develop a career as a solicitor.
Where did you study and learn your craft?
I did my law degree at Northumbria University, which was a four-year course that had the LPC integrated – this was really beneficial as I was able to learn legal theory while also putting it into practice. From there I got a training contract at a small high-street firm in Newcastle, before moving to London 11 years ago.
What does your role as a Director involve?
I work across a range of real estate and real estate finance matters and my role typically involves managing transactions, acting for banks and lenders on development, term and bridging loans as well as acting for borrowers on similar transactions. I am responsible for managing relationships with some of our key lending clients.
The training programme at Lawrence Stephens offers the right balance of independent thinking and support. I also supervise and help to train younger members of the team, a role that I feel privileged to offer and find incredibly rewarding.
What advice would you give to younger women aspiring to become solicitors?
My advice is to apply for every role you want, even if you don’t meet all the criteria. It has been reported that women won’t apply for a job unless they fulfil 100% of the criteria, while men will apply if they only meet 60%. Be bold and confident if you can show that you have transferable skills and a passion for the role, this will set you at a significant advantage.
Also, don’t be disheartened by the process of applying for training contracts. As a graduate, I too had to apply for many, many TCs and received numerous rejections before I got my foot in the door. It is competitive – there is no doubt – but don’t give up if it’s really something you want to pursue!
Theresa Bailey, Head of Business Development & Marketing
Theresa Bailey is Lawrence Stephens’ Head of Business Development & Marketing; she joined the firm in 2018 to head up this department and extend the firm’s offering after having worked at leading international law firms such as Clyde & Co and Fieldfisher. Theresa outlines her experience of working in the legal sector and explains how she got to her senior position in Lawrence Stephens.
What areas do you cover at Lawrence Stephens.
I manage all things business development-related (this includes client relationship management, marketing, PR, strategy and soft skills training) to ensure effective client management and to drive profitability. There are three main components that form the basis of business development: looking at routes to markets, clients and relationships. In order to see growth, I believe that it is imperative that we focus on these areas and I aim to provide the team with the right tools and know-how so that we can become a high-performing and truly client-centred firm.
Tell us about your education and career background
I studied computing at university and moved into quite a different path. After graduating, I got a job working in a buying department in Harrods and then obtained a role in magazine publishing at Time Inc. However, I soon realised that my skillset was better suited to professional services and I had a keen interest in the law, which led me to study for a Graduate Diploma in Law.
After attaining my GDL, I moved into the legal industry. Getting a role at Fieldfisher was a defining moment during my legal career, where I worked in a team of industry leaders in marketing and business development who achieved some of the greatest track records that I have seen in the industry in the last 8 years; this had a huge effect on my training and the approach I took to my work going forward.
What made you want to work in the legal industry? How does it differ from other businesses?
As I have lots of transferable skills and I consider myself to be commercial, I enjoy working in the legal sector because I like the fact that no two days are the same. There is also scope to revolutionise how business is conducted within a firm; as an industry, the legal sector generally has an old-fashioned approach to business but, I love that I have a unique opportunity to drive change and enhance performance and profits at Lawrence Stephens.
Would you encourage aspiring marketing and business development professionals to work in the legal sector? Why?
The legal industry is a challenging, exciting and enormously rewarding sector to work in. If you want to challenge yourself both academically and professionally; work on a range of projects; learn from great minds; aspire to effect change; and encourage, coach and inspire your colleagues, then this is the industry for you and you will undoubtedly reap great rewards and success from it.
Tanya Berberova, Financial Controller
Originally from Bulgaria, Lawrence Stephens’ Financial Controller, Tanya Berberova, moved to London in 2000, working multiple jobs and gaining several degrees simultaneously to achieve her ambition of becoming a successful finance executive. Hailing from Kirkland and Ellis 11 years ago, she joined Lawrence Stephens in her current role and has helped take the company from strength to strength and has seen the firm go from approx. 50 members of staff pre COVID-19 to 84 people to date. Here, Tanya tells us how hard graft can pay off and why she enjoys working in finance in the legal industry.
What do you on a day-to-day basis?
My role involves managing our accounts team, ensuring that clients’ transactions run smoothly, handling compliance responsibilities, budgets and our management accounts, as well as working toward achieving the goals in our firm-wide strategy.
Tell us about your career background.
I did my university studies in Bulgaria, where I attained 4 separate degrees (Bachelors and Masters) in Finance and Accounts. Alongside my studies, I was also working in marketing for Beiersdorf. After graduating with my Masters degrees I came to the UK and worked every job I could to pay the rent and get as much valuable experience as possible.
I happened upon the legal industry by accident; I started off as Accounts Assistant at a West End law firm but, I was determined to reach the top of my field so I worked relentlessly and eventually managed to secure a senior financial role at international law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, within only a few years of entering the industry.
What are the differences between working in finance in a law firm and working in other businesses?
Managing finances in a law firm is very different from working in any other sort of business because you have many more regulations to follow. We have strict rules from the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority that we need to comply with to ensure that we are protecting our clients and their finances. In that sense, there is a lot more responsibility and accountability in terms of compliance. At the same time, we have to manage the firm as a business and ensure that we can continue to be profitable.
Would you recommend working in the legal sector to younger finance professionals?
I would certainly recommend it to younger finance professionals. In some ways, it is more straight-forward to work in because you have important rules that you can rely on and guide you in your work.
Working in the legal sector is challenging and it can be demanding, but with those challenges you will learn new skills, acquire new knowledge, and grow as a professional. While the work can be tough, the rewards can be very high.
In our firm, we are very lucky; Lawrence Stephens understands the importance of family commitments and will always be accommodating to parents. It is the firm’s strong staff and family-focused ethos which has kept me working here for more than a decade.
In general, these functions have to work together closely to make the firm profitable, all of their functions are connected via various initiatives internally. Tanya sets the budgets while Theresa builds a pathway focusing on how we they will reach the targets set. She also challenges the fee-earners and equips them with the skillset that they need to win more business. And Nisha, along with the other fee-earners, has a hand in the management of key client relationships, they do the work or instruct juniors and win new instructions. Lawrence Stephens is always looking for bright, forward-thinking lawyers from all backgrounds. So, if you think that you would be a good fit, speculatively send a copy of your CV to firstname.lastname@example.org.