Interviewed by Aurélie Doré
This month, we had the pleasure of interviewing WIL member Mary Lawrence, Partner in Osborne Clarke’s commercial and regulatory disputes team and Head of Osborne Clarke’s health and safety practice. We discussed her work on advising businesses during the current unprecedented public health and safety crisis, and why it is so important to her to be involved in a network dedicated to female leaders.
Can you describe your current role as Partner in Osborne Clarke’s commercial and regulatory disputes team and Head of the health and safety team?
In my current role, I work alongside a fantastic team of other lawyers to help businesses understand their health and safety duties. My mission is to help them make their businesses safer and healthier places to work, as well as supporting them when something goes wrong and they are investigated by the authorities.
What do you enjoy the most in your current role?
I get to spend most of my time speaking to - and hopefully helping - people, which is what I really love about my role. I am lucky that I get to lead a team of eight lawyers who are specialised in health and safety.
Among them are some excellent women with whom I have worked for several years and whose development and progression I have championed. I am proud to work with these women, and especially proud to have gender diversity in the team.
I was lucky enough to join the team when we were much smaller. As the team has grown over the years, I have had the opportunity to mould and shape it.
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented public health and safety crisis. In this context, your role is more crucial than ever. How do you plan to help your clients navigate the challenges that lie ahead?
We have been hugely busy during the pandemic, helping our clients to navigate how to do business with all the restrictions that have been put in place. We have been running frequent webinars, or simply talking to clients about the issues to try and keep them abreast of what the rules are, and what the law is. Not only have we been helping our clients understand the current restrictions, but I have also been working with clients to help them think ahead and reflect on how this crisis is going to affect businesses of the future and shape things in the longer term.
One of the most absorbing projects that I have been involved in during this time is focused on helping one particular industry in the UK shape their industry guidance. This same guidance, which focused on how to operate safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, was then endorsed by the UK Government. It was interesting to watch how this played out, with the aim of helping businesses stay up and running.
Why is it important for you to be involved in a network dedicated to female leaders?
It seems to me that you have a different conversation when you are all women or when there are many women together. It feels safer, you can talk more openly, and I like that. I often work with men, so I am not afraid of that situation; however, I do relish the opportunity to gather collectively with a group of women from time to time.
I also believe that role models are crucial. Finding someone who has traits you admire and wish to emulate is so important. That is not just about looking up to people who are more senior than you but it is also about observing anyone you work with and seeing what you can take and learn from them.
Before joining Osborne Clark, I had reached a stage in my career in my mid-thirties where I really felt that it was important to have a female role model to look up to. I had worked with a female boss before and she was fantastic. When I interviewed for a position at Osborne Clarke, I saw the possibility to have another person above me from whom I could learn a great deal, and that was one of the main reasons why I moved to the organisation.
Role models are crucial.
Finding someone who has traits
you admire and wish to emulate is so important.
What advice would you give to your younger self and to the young generation of female leaders?
The best advice I received was from my Dad when I was starting out in my career. It was about authenticity, trusting your gut instinct, holding your values close to you and not letting them be impacted. This was at a time when I was a junior lawyer, or maybe just entering the profession. It is a time when you do feel constantly challenged and you are not sure if you are becoming the right person, the person you want to be. That advice really helped me navigate through a complex time.
When you are choosing a place to work, take the time to question if it is the right fit for your values, and if it is not, ask yourself if it really is the right place for you.
Of course, it is important to be challenged and to listen to other people, but I do think that being authentic is crucial. This advice from my father is still relevant to me and I would give it to people of a younger generation.
The best advice I received was about authenticity,
trusting your gut instinct,
holding your values close to you
and not letting them be impacted.
One of the big conversations we have been having recently is about the critical role of men in this conversation, and the need for both men and women to really support and champion those below them in their careers and actively provide opportunities to women progressing in their career. Whilst it is important to have groups which bring together women only, we must also look at what we are asking of men, and how they can help us.