The Birmingham legal sector is a close-knit community and after several years working in the sector and moving firms, you’ll inevitably come across people you know and ex-colleagues.
Changing roles in law is an accepted part of some people’s career progression and, naturally, everyone’s careers take different paths. However, alongside changing just about everything we took for granted as normal, the pandemic has also posed some interesting challenges when it comes to considering changing jobs. What’s it like to go through an entirely virtual recruitment process? How do you get to know a new team when you can’t meet face to face?
Below, four solicitors based in the Birmingham office of international law firm, Penningtons Manches Cooper, who made the leap mid-lockdown, share their experiences.
Lisa Page, Associate Director – IT, IP and Commercial
I am an IP lawyer with a background in the pharmaceutical industry and academia and I joined the life sciences practice at Penningtons Manches Cooper in September in the middle of a global pandemic! There is a real growing cohesion and strength in the health technologies sector here in the Midlands and in my role both here at the firm and as a director of the WM Health Technologies Cluster Organisation, I am focussed on delivering the specialist legal support that this sector needs.
Recruitment by Zoom call was an interesting experience but thankfully I had at least one face to face interview before my appointment. Walking to that interview in heels after five months at home was a bit of a struggle.
The biggest challenge after starting was setting up my home-based equipment and my dual monitors. Who knew that lockdown would turn us all into IT techs!
The firm has a real focus on mental health and wellbeing, which is needed in these times. I have attended a number of training and drop-in sessions already which have provided practical tips and support. I was also really impressed with the webinar on “Inclusive mind-set for committed allies” that the firm used as part of its Black History Month series of events.
It has only been six weeks since I joined but I already feel like part of the firm and that is testament to the people here who have picked up the phone/Zoom and made me feel so welcome. My practice area is different from my Birmingham colleagues, but pumpkin carving and the Birmingham Law Society quiz has allowed me to get to know them on a personal level, which is fantastic.
I am really looking forward to finally meeting my colleagues in person when that is possible, fingers crossed before Christmas.
Gemma Faulkner, Associate (FCILEx) – Employment
I joined the firm as an associate within the employment team in May 2020 when people were still adjusting to the new normal. I deal with a range of contentious employment matters, and have particular expertise in discrimination, whistleblowing claims and regulatory issues.
Prior to starting, I was perhaps naive and unprepared; I hadn’t given a great deal of thought to starting a brand new job, in my spare room, all alone – 9am on my first day became that reality. I was petrified to think not only have I got to overcome the challenges of starting a new job, I have to get to know my new colleagues and receive training all over a laptop screen. At the end of my first week, my fears had become allayed; I could not have felt more at home. I had already met all of my team over Zoom, I had been given all the training I needed to be up and running. Starting a new role, from the comfort of my own home, was informal and less pressurised. It was also comforting to see colleagues over video call in their own homes…. you tell a lot about someone through their taste in décor!
More generally over the last six months, the firm has totally embraced working from home. We have regular check-ins with managers, even if it’s just to say hello and how are you. Instead of meeting up for a coffee with colleagues, we have a coffee ‘randomiser’, where we get selected to have coffee with someone you ordinarily wouldn’t get to chat to – great for socialising.
Since moving, I have learnt to get out of your social comfort zone, put yourself out there and go meet people you wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to see if you were tucked away in an office in another part of the country… don’t let technology be a barrier to that – it’s also done wonders for my IT skills!
Sonia Gaddu, Associate – Employment
I joined the firm as an employment associate in August 2020 specialising in contentious matters.
My interviews took place at the start of the pandemic, and consisted of two Zoom calls which felt strange at the time. When I was offered the position, I remember thinking that the pandemic may be fine by the time I started and I never thought I would start a new role working remotely. When it became apparent I would be starting my new role remotely I didn’t know what to expect, and my main concerns surrounded how the training would be conducted and how would I be able to have the same level of support if I wasn’t sat in the office. However, a few days in to my first week those concerns were eased. The training ran smoothly, Zoom was the main communication method so I felt like part of the team. My colleagues were helpful in assisting with any queries I had. Even getting used to the IT systems was made simple which is always the main hurdle.
The firm has been very encouraging and supportive about working remotely during the pandemic and I’ve not felt any pressure to return to the office. I have regular check-ins with my manager, whether that is to discuss work-related matters, or to have a general catch-ups. I tend to have catch-up meetings with colleagues just to have a general chat so I can still have the social aspect of work and build relationships with my colleagues. So far I’ve only met my colleagues via video conference, but I definitely feel part of the team! The firm does still arrange social activities via Zoom in order to maintain some ‘normality’ which has been great. Although I do miss the social aspect of working in an office, I have enjoyed the new way of staying in touch via video call and speaking with colleagues whilst they are in the comfort of their own homes.
Starting a new role during a pandemic is certainly daunting, but the firm eased any concerns I had prior to, and during the first week of starting my role. Its feels like ‘normal’, except the only difference is I don’t have to leave the house to start work!
Rose Klemperer, Senior Associate – Housing Corporate and Governance Team
I trained and qualified at my previous firm so, after a number of years there, it took me a while to conclude that I was ready for a new challenge. Typically, everything aligned just after the first lockdown was announced. After handing in my notice via Zoom (which was very odd in itself!), I felt a bit like I was free-falling into the unknown. However, just over four months since I joined the housing corporate and governance team at Penningtons Manches Cooper the best learning I can share is to trust your gut. It’s a bit cheesy but I knew I was ready for a change and I had to listen to that above the noise caused by the pandemic – there’s some great opportunities in the sector.
I specialise in social housing and primarily act for housing associations and community-led housing providers. Penningtons Manches Cooper has a strong reputation in the sector with a large team based across various UK offices. Thanks to virtual working and the flexibilities afforded by the likes of Zoom and Skype, I’ve met and chatted with many more colleagues from the across the firm than I would have done if I had had to travel to the different offices. I felt immediately supported through a range of things including regular wellbeing initiatives to support mental, physical and financial wellbeing. The technology has been seamless and there’s larger team meetings held regularly to check-in on everyone. I feel like I’ve been welcomed with open arms, albeit virtually. Similarly, catching up with clients has been straightforward via virtual means.
It’s been great to be part of the Birmingham office growth and get to know amongst others, Lisa, Gemma and Sonia. Together we’re forging an office atmosphere virtually and have taken part in virtual office socials including pumpkin carving! I, Gemma and our colleague, Ellen Damlica have also founded the Birmingham office’s ‘Corporate Social Responsibility Committee’ and we’re looking forward to giving back to the local community through pro bono initiatives and helping with community projects. Alongside this, I’ve also been able to get involved in the firm’s internal ‘Mental Health and Disability committee’ which is thriving in light of the ease of virtual meetings.
Penningtons Manches Cooper is an international law firm operating across a variety of sectors, find out more here: https://www.penningtonslaw.com/. Its Birmingham office opened last year and continues to expand. Get in touch with Gemma Bell or Joel Kordan if you’re interested in finding out more.