Mother, wife, family law specialist and chair of thriving Lincolnshire solicitors Andrew & Co LLP, Julie Bailey describes herself as a well-practised ‘plate spinner’, with her passion for her career intrinsically balanced with unbreakable commitment to client care and deep set family values.
Within minutes of meeting her, it’s easy to see why she considers herself a ‘people person’.
Raising a family while climbing the ranks at the firm is something Julie has taken in her stride, attributing her can-do outlook to her own parents. “They were inspirations growing up,” she said. “My mum in particular, she had aspirations for us all and was the catalyst for me being the first of us to go to university.”
Since qualifying in 1988 with a law degree from Sheffield University, family law has been central to her practice. Julie believes the diversity of the area and the relationships she has with her clients, combined with a knack for numbers, has put her in good stead for management. “It seems a lot of firms have family lawyers who are managing partners,” she said. “It must be something about their personalities.”
Julie hit the ground running in ‘88 when she moved to Lincoln and began her first trainee job at local firm Sills & Betteridge. Very soon she found herself among the partners. After 17 years however, and a growing scepticism of how legal aid and its decreasing eligibility rate was impacting her work, it was time for a change.
“I suppose the biggest reason I moved to Andrew & Co in 2004 was the way legal aid was going, the kind of work you did when you were a legal aid family lawyer, I really wasn’t particularly enjoying it.
“Andrew & Co didn’t do legal aid, they were one of the first firms to decide there wasn’t really a future in it, and as it turns out there isn’t because now the government has done away with legal aid for family work largely.
“The move was a big thing for me. The children were quite young, but I haven’t really looked back. Sills & Betteridge are a great firm, I got great training, but sometimes you have to move on. I came to Andrew & Co as a very different person to the young trainee who went into Sills & Betteridge.”
Steering the ship
In 2005, Julie was appointed as head of the family law team at Andrew & Co, based in Lincoln and Newark, and by December 2008 she was the firm’s managing partner.
“I stayed in that role for about four years and then we looked at how we were managing ourselves. I’ve always kept a client caseload as well as being managing partner and that got intense at times. For a couple of years we had a consultant CEO and that helped me to step back and think about how the structure of the firm would work. When he left, I went into the new role as chairman.
“When I was managing partner I was doing all sorts of things from low level to high level. Now the role is much more overseeing everything, helping the partners set the strategy and making sure it happens. We have seven practice areas and then we have a management team consisting of three. So my job is to make sure they’re doing what they should be doing and it’s all going the way it should.”
Now captain of the ship, Julie says she is proud that the team at the 184-year-old business saw qualities in her. While she admits it has not always been plain sailing, she says stepping into management as the recession took the bottom off the market turned out to be the “perfect storm” for both her career and the flourishing firm.
“We’d just moved into our Lincoln premises off Nettleham Road when the recession hit,” she said. “I actually think it was really helpful to me though. In some ways it’s easier to manage when times are tough because people are prepared to do things differently, or the alternative is probably not very pleasant.
“We were very lucky in that we didn’t have a round of redundancies. We did ask staff to go along for the ride with us and that was one of the first things I had to go round and talk to them team by team and that has definitely been part of the policy, to include staff and let them know why we are doing things.”
While the business has taken on many incarnations, adapting with the ever evolving legal sphere, a lawyer’s office in Julie’s eyes is also a very different place from her fledgling days. “The firm is always evolving and I think it’s important that you do that too. You can’t just be the same forever.
“The law has changed massively in that in the good old days, as long as you were a good lawyer people came to you. There wasn’t a lot of client care necessarily. You went to a solicitor because you needed legal advice. Now though, it’s much more like any other business. It’s about serving your customers, evolving and making sure you give them what they want. You still have to have the technical expertise but it’s also about delivery.”
The days of male dominated board rooms are also a thing of the past and, certainly as far as recruitment goes, the firm seees that in some areas there are more women queueing up for a desk than there are men.
“For a long time I was the only female in the partnership at Sills & Betteridge and probably in some places, especially in the commercial world, you are faced with rooms full of men. Personally I have never found it a problem. I find it as easy to interact with men as with women.
“I think you just shouldn’t try to be one of them. You know you’re not a man. Occasionally there will be conversations that you find incredibly tedious but you still have common connections whether you are male or female.
“Interestingly when I came to Andrew & Co there was much more of a balance. There were a lot more females in the partnership. I don’t think it was a conscious decision. I am seeing more and more women are staying in the profession and there are lots more options and opportunities nowadays. Coming back after having my daughter was a challenge but I just made sure I was adaptable and I don’t think it held me back.”
Plans for the future
For Julie, leadership has come with great networking opportunities and freedom to think innovatively. As one of the founding members of Lawnet, a network of firms nationwide who are committed to quality service, the group taps into a wide range of assets. This focus complements development and ongoing training of the team of staff at the firm’s two ‘centres of excellence’ in Lincoln and Newark.
A key strategy for the business, which has a current turnover of £3 million and a workforce of just over 60, is for significant presence in the two hubs. “We don’t want to go across the county as some practices have. We want to focus on the depth of experience we now have in these areas and expand on our fantastic client base.”
With a June relocation of the Newark office to a London Road unit on the horizon, the firm is looking at increasing its flexibility and permanent presence in the area. The investment of almost £50,000 will streamline connections between the two centres.
“Would we open another office?” Julie considers. “Yes potentially. Our strategy includes looking at opportunities for a merger, and if it was the right location we would certainly think about it. Areas we would look into would possibly be down the A1. There would be a natural connect in that direction.”
Getting it right for the client
Born in Nottinghamshire and spending a short while in Derby before studying for her degree, Julie made the move to Lincoln 30 years ago and now considers herself, her postman husband and two children, 22 and 18, a true ‘yellowbelly family’.
“Family is a big thing. I think it helps, the fact I’m married and have had a family. It helps you realise the stresses and strains there are and it helps you appreciate the types of things people are going through and understand their situation.
“I suppose one case I took particular satisfaction from was a client who had separated and divorced about 10 years ago and never had the financial arrangements sorted out. Life had gone quite differently for both of them and she had dependent children. She had been to other people and they had all said ‘no, sorry you’re too late’. I said ‘well I think there is something you can do’, and it was successful. It was out of the ordinary, she was up against it leaving it for ten years, there was real law in it and it was a good outcome.
“The fact I’d said yes when everyone else said no was really satisfying. From a personal perspective that case was definitely one of the highlights.
“You’ve got to trust your instincts,” said Julie, as she explained it’s her boldness and confidence in decisions that break the mould that have paid off in the long run.
While she can, Julie is still managing her own share of cases, and admits that she wished she’d kept a tally of how many people she has helped over the years.
“I still do the family work. That’s what I trained to do and what I like to do. I like the combination of getting to know people really well, you know a lot about them, and it’s a very personal thing that you’re dealing with.
“There may come a point where I will have to dedicate my time to the management. I would be happy to do so if that’s what the firm needed, but I would be a bit sad to let the client work go.”
This feature interview was first published in issue 76 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.