The Hot 100 career quiz: Travers Smith partner Polly Richard – The Lawyer

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“In everything we do in our professional lives we should put our own personal wellbeing, professional integrity and reputation first, the firm’s interests second, and the clients’ third”.
Name: Polly Richard
Organisation: Travers Smith
Role: Partner
Based: London
Trained at: Travers Smith
Year qualified: 2011
Read her Hot 100 profile
What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?
I had only been at the firm a few weeks and hadn’t yet worked out the do’s and don’ts of office life. Like any new trainee, I was desperate to make a good impression. I woke up one Monday morning and couldn’t stand up with stomach pain. Embarrassed that I might’ve eaten a dodgy prawn and not wanting to look “weak” in my first seat, I came into work anyway. My roommate took one look at me and told me to “get checked out”. I dutifully abided and said I’d be back asap.
I was new to London, hadn’t registered with a GP yet and didn’t know where the nearest hospital was (or that the firm provided private medical care) so got the central line to a drop-in centre at Liverpool Street. They sent me to Whitechapel hospital – I took the tube doubled over in pain…! After being screened at Whitechapel they immediately gave me morphine and got me in a theatre gown ready to have my appendix out. I suddenly panicked that I hadn’t told anyone where I was (this was pre-Blackberry days). So doped up on Morphine I attempted to call my then supervising partner (who happened to be very senior at the firm). In a dozy state I just about managed to spit out that I was at hospital and hung up.
Unbeknown to me at the time, that partner (who’d only known me for a matter of weeks) was really worried about me. From our first few encounters he’d managed to ascertain that I lived with my boyfriend “David” who worked at Deloitte. He then spent the rest of the afternoon attempting to track down a “David” at Deloitte … (there were hundreds!)
I look back at that situation in horror. Your health should always be your number one priority.
What is the thing in your professional career that has terrified you or taken you out of your comfort zone the most?
Returning to work (or rather, the build up to returning to work) after my first maternity leave is definitely up there as being one of the most terrifying moments in my career. I was a senior associate in the thick of a very big case when I went on maternity leave. Overnight I replaced working life with looking after a tiny human. Conversations shifted from how many witnesses we were going to call at trial to how many naps / dirty nappies baby had done on a given day.
Instead of long days in the office, my daily activities now involved sitting on (cold) floors attending my 100th baby class and hanging out with new “mum” friends in any coffee shop big enough to house a plethora of enormous prams. I couldn’t begin to contemplate how I could merge my working life with my new family life.
The thought of “the big return” invoked a Pandora’s box of conflicting emotions. How would childcare work? What if I can’t actually do the work (is “baby brain” an actual thing?)? Do I even want to go back (because while it doesn’t sound glamorous, I actually really enjoyed maternity leave)? Will I miss my child too much (he was – and still is – very cute)? Will I be “passed over” at work?
While the transition wasn’t easy, it turns out I’d completely catastrophised my return (typical litigator). There were many positives to returning to work: regaining mental stimulation, re-establishing my identity outside of the parenting domain, reconnecting with my work colleagues and I enjoyed the “buzz” and social interaction that came with being at work.
So positive was the actual experience, I did it all again a few years later (this time, minus the “big return build up”)!
What is the wisest thing anyone ever said to you (and who said it)?
I have received many words of wisdom in my career but two pieces in particular stand out.
The first piece dates back to my first seat as a trainee at Travers. My then supervisor (Phil Sanderson, our ex-head of private equity) said to me in my review “Be you. Be Polly” That might sound really obvious or trivial but it made a huge impact on me at what was a very influential point in my career. What I took from that was that my difference (in background) was a strength and not a weakness. That really stuck. It encouraged me to be my true self and only by doing so have I been able lead a happy professional life.
The second was more recently from Stephen Paget-Brown who used to head up the disputes practice at Travers (spearheading the changes that have helped to bring us to where we are today). He said: “In everything we do in our professional lives we should put our own personal wellbeing, professional integrity and reputation first, the firm’s interests second, and the clients’ third“. Our tendency is to have this the reverse way round.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?
This job is a marathon not a sprint and you cannot sprint a marathon.
Don’t let the job consume you. Maintain outside interests. Keeping a balance in your life is absolutely crucial to longevity.
Do you! Don’t pretend to be anything you’re not.
What’s your best friend from law school doing now?
She works in-house at Sony Music. She’s based within one of Sony’s labels and is responsible for all legal and business affairs relating to the artists on their roster including drafting recording agreements for new signings and branding deals. It’s fair to say her role is more of a conversation starter at a dinner party than mine!
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