To mark International Women’s Day this week, we chat to Amanda Stevens, Chief Executive of Hudgells Solicitor. We talk about her difficulties rising to the top of a traditionally male orientated sector, following her passions, putting children before her career, and how she now drives an inclusive strategy for the company.
Amanda, you are Chief Executive of a national law firm, have been President of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers and have a long background as a leading adviser on legal issues. Have you ever encountered a glass ceiling for women lawyers and have things changed over your career?
Sadly yes ( e.g. that training contract interview where I was accused of “pushing my luck” by seeking a career as a lawyer when my husband was also a solicitor so it looked like I wouldn’t even get on the starting rung !) There have been other instances too but, that is in the past and I do believe things are changing- I can’t really complain can I, now that I’ve made it to Chief Exec, I do sometimes get sad, however, when people take their new found freedom of opportunity for granted and don’t fully participate in making things easier/better for others who still lack some of those opportunities.
Over the course of a very successful career in the law and with many influential decisions to your name, what is your proudest achievement?
Oh gosh that’s hard, because a number of things have been very challenging to achieve! If it’s one case it would be Fifield v Denton Wilde Sapte – an RSI case on behalf of a very brave lady who dared to take her law firm employer all the way to the Court of Appeal where we won hands down on a CFA – the stakes were high ! Otherwise being APIL President as I was voted in by my peers from the grass roots and it was my first foray onto a more public stage- something I had thought would be terrifying before it actually happened !
Although the gender pay gap is slowly closing, very few female lawyers reach the top of the career ladder; in fact women account for less than a quarter of partners. How do you see this issue changing in the future and what can law firms do to help overcome this issue? How is Hudgells committed to diversity?
I am always nervous about statistics. Men and women are equal but not identical. I think the statistic would be more meaningful if it described those who had been turned down for promotion by gender and with reasons. I did lose a partnership opportunity because of wishing to care part-time for my children – I could have chosen not to or my husband could have chosen to do that caring bit instead of me but he was already a partner and it would have meant him giving that up . Exercising that choice was difficult for both of us at that time. It hurt a great deal and, sadly, did set me back in my career but, I wouldn’t have missed that time with my children for the world. I don’t think it has to be an either/or situation and these days there are plenty of companies like Hudgells where working part-time to undertake caring responsibilities is not a blocker to career progression. But it taught me resilience. I firmly believe anyone who works part-time has to be considerate to work colleagues too, so that exercising that choice does not “dump others in it” in terms of workload. The debate should not be about gender but about flexibility and respect for colleagues so you all work together as a team giving a full 100% to both your clients and your business. At the end of the day it’s about having a “can do” mind set rather than rigid views based on stereotypes.
Have you ever encountered any difficulties rising to the top of Personal Injury world, a sector that has traditionally been very male orientated?
In some circles yes – in others I have been a “surprise” and people have described that as a refreshing change. I do find it surprising that I am only the second female solicitor to be appointed to the Masters’ corridor in QBD since 1875 ! But the JAC seems to have a real handle on diversity now.
How would you explain the culture at Hudgells and what makes your firm unique?
When Neil and I set out a strategy for the future in 2017 it was uppermost in our minds that we wanted the company to go forwards on a more inclusive basis – where all staff were actively encouraged to contribute ideas which we could take forward as appropriate- we thrive on new ideas. We don’t have the baggage of some of the more traditional partnership structures which cause delay and where the debate outlives the potential innovation! A holistic approach is also important – not just lip service, so free fresh fruit days, wellbeing seminars ,more flexible working, community volunteer days and more drinks parties (!) are all part of the package for staff just as rehabilitation is part of the deal for clients.
How do you unwind from the ‘day job’? What hobbies or interests do you have? With such a successful career and a family, is there any time for hobbies?!
Well not a lot of time it’s true, but I love being with family and friends, especially over a home-made candlelit supper- laughing out loud until it hurts ! And reading biographies ( the latest from Hillary Rodham Clinton is awesome), travelling to unusual places like Syria , Bhutan , Armenia etc , enjoying a simple life at our cabin on a lake in the middle of nowhere in Canada where I canoe/sail/ row /swim… oh and listening and dancing to my favourite music tracks– mustn’t forget that!
What did it mean to you to receive an Outstanding Individual Award at the Rehabilitation Awards. How important is it for you to be considered as a lawyer who fights for justice rather than for compensation?
It was an utter surprise but my life has been strange in that the loose threads of my early career as a hospital manager have somehow been woven into my subsequent legal career , without planning it that way, but simply by following my passions – rehabilitation means everything to me in the litigation context- what point is money without quality of life /help to rediscover a new and meaningful track even if your life will never be the same again.