The Hot 100 career quiz: Browne Jacobson's Mark Blois – The Lawyer

“I came to understand that at the level of the business of law perfectionism is far from conducive to innovation and entrepreneurialism.”
Name: Mark Blois
Organisation: Browne Jacobson
Role: Partner and national head of education
Based: Nottingham
Trained at: Browne Jacobson
Year qualified: 1998
Read his Hot 100 profile
What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?
I was very fortunate with the experiences I had as a trainee, not least because I was able to have the benefit of two secondment arrangements, in the first year a placement in a Chicago law firm working on the trial of a major piece of antitrust commercial litigation and in the second year a placement as a Judicial Assistant at the Court of Appeal.
However, probably my most vivid memory from being a trainee, albeit with the benefit of hindsight as to how important this was to be in terms of the future direction of my career, was my involvement in a small team supporting a Local Education Authority (as it was then known), in relation to a class action brought by a group of parents who were suing the council for allegedly failing to identify their children’s special educational needs.
At around the half way point of my training contract the outcome in the case of the Phelps v London Borough of Hillingdon case was handed down, which was the breakthrough case in the emergence of a new area of tort law that became known as ‘failure to educate’ claims. These were professional negligence claims in which claimants typically alleged failures by those involved in their education to diagnose their special educational needs and to put in place appropriate support leading to compromised life chances.
While Phelps was not a Browne Jacobson case, I had the opportunity to be at the forefront of advising on these new types of claim. I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of working in an emerging area of the law but, in particular, I found the range of education professionals I got to meet to be a hugely rewarding group to work with. It was the values of these education professionals and the importance of their work improving the life chances of children and young people that then inspired me to become an education lawyer. It is also this that has sustained my ongoing commitment to the education sector over the years that have followed.
What is the thing in your professional career that has terrified you or taken you out of your comfort zone the most?
If I had to pinpoint one thing in my career that has terrified me or taken me out of my comfort zone the most then looking back to the earlier days of my career I would probably identify the first few times when I was forced by circumstances outside of my control to allow my periods of serious ill-health to become visible to others.
Happily today Browne Jacobson is a forward thinking law firm that is embracing diversity and inclusion in a proactive and authentic way but when I entered the world of work, like many people with invisible or hidden disabilities, I initially felt a fear of how other people would respond if I disclosed my condition. I was intensely private and concerned that I might become defined by my disability when my mission was to become known for my qualities and contributions as a lawyer.
I therefore tried hard to make my health condition as invisible as possible from both colleagues and clients in order to escape what I feared would be challenging questions and judgments. However that wasn’t always possible because sometimes the need to be hospitalised would make my condition overtly visible to others. Those periods when I had visible health struggles and setbacks felt to me personally to also be periods when I might be demonstrating professional incapability or even incompetence. I think levels of anxiety tend to correlate to how much you care about a specific task or outcome and, as an ambitious young lawyer who naturally cared very deeply about his work, the vulnerability to and anxiety about the adverse judgements of others that I felt during those times certainly sometimes felt frightening.
Today my memory of that feeling is what drives me to advocate for equality of opportunities for disabled legal talent.
What is the wisest thing anyone ever said to you (and who said it)?
Perhaps rather oddly given that perfectionism and attention to detail tend to be virtues that are highly prized in law firms, the wisest thing ever said to me was advice that ‘if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly’.
This maxim was originally said by G. K. Chesterton but the first time I came across it was when it was said to me by the partner for whom I worked at Browne Jacobson in the first few years of my career. He was a very talented and young litigation partner who would frequently don his wisdom hat and deliver pithy dictums at opportune moments with a view to reinforcing his points.
As I recall it the advice had been given to me to in relation to a detailed report I had been charged with preparing for a client and I have to confess I was initially completely confounded by the advice. I can remember reflecting and puzzling over it for some weeks after it was first said, because surely being a good lawyer was all about impeccably high standards of analysis and brilliance of communication?
But, as with so many words of wisdom, the meaning of the advice I had been given and its importance increasingly came into focus as my career has progressed and the dictum has ultimately been a real enabler for me. At the level of the provision of legal advice a focus on excellence should be a given but perfectionism can frequently be a stalling tactic and the enemy of action, delivery and value.
Later, once I had started to seek to build an education practice at Browne Jacobson, I came to understand that at the level of the business of law perfectionism is far from conducive to innovation and entrepreneurialism. In my experience those who pursue perfection most determinedly are also often those who are impacted the most by the fear of failure and fear of failure can unfortunately sometimes become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?
If I was to offer any advice I would do so with total humility as I have made many mistakes and wrong turns in my career to date. However, without taking a contrarian approach to this question my advice would probably be to identify the often cited career advice that I would encourage aspiring lawyers to ignore, namely that if you choose a job you love then you’ll never work a day in your life.
I would advise that there is an important distinction to be made between finding work that engages and motivates you and having a job that you love because you derive consistent happiness from it. In the context of the legal profession it is important to understand that you can love your job as a lawyer but still experience the day to day process as very hard work.
We are often told in life to focus on enjoying the process, not the outcome. Obviously the more you can enjoy the processes of being a lawyer the better but aspiring lawyers should be under no illusions as to the stresses, challenges and sacrifices associated with doing the work itself. And because of this I would always advise young lawyers to choose an area of law and a client base or sector that will enable them to feel that while the process may sometimes be hard they can still gain enjoyment reward and satisfaction from doing their work well, and from the positive impact that their work will have on their clients. As an education lawyer I am fortunate to have always had the benefit of that perspective.
What’s your best friend from law school doing now?
I had a number of close friends at law school in Oxford. One particularly close friend who I used to give a lift to the law school every day was a mature student and former prison education officer. Studying the criminal law modules at law school in her company was particularly fascinating because my friend sometimes knew the individuals involved in the cases we were learning about. That left a lasting impression on me that behind every piece of case law in whatever area of the law there are nuanced and complex human life stories.
After law school my friend pursued a successful career in prison law, spending years travelling around the UK’s jails, visiting clients and attending hearings. Her main focus was on representing and raising awareness of prisoners who maintained their innocence. She frequently pursued judicial reviews against the Home Office as part of her mission of fighting miscarriages of justice. She is now retired but had an extraordinary career as a solicitor during which her commitment and loyalty to her clients coupled with her wider efforts to encourage society to critically evaluate its sometimes stubborn belief in the infallibility of the judiciary was inspirational
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