Karen Holden of A City Law Firm interviews Laura Tweedy for International Women’s Day 2022. Read the interview below.
How did you start out in the legal profession?
I was the first in my family to go to university and had no family or friends in the legal profession but I always knew that I wanted to be a barrister. I’m not totally sure why I always knew this would be the career for me but I was absolutely adamant from about age 10! I started doing mini pupillages from about the age of 14 and was absolutely doggedly determined. I studied Law, did a Masters degree and then got pupillage. I then moved to Gatehouse Chambers, which I absolutely love. It is such a supportive environment and full of wonderful women!
Is this a professional you recommend to the future generation?
The reason why the job is perceived to be particularly difficult for women, is that it is still the case that most women still bear majority of the childcare and home life burden, whether we want that to be the case or not, that is still the reality for most. Life at the bar can be intense, lots of travel, unpredictable long hours and financial insecurity, so it is not always easy to juggle domestic responsibility with practice. I have made it my mission to show the next generation of female barristers that it can be done. I am still the primary carer for my children and I still have a successful practice. Being self-employed gives more freedom and I took long maternity leaves and came back to lovely clients and great work. It is possible but it requires determination and an independence of mind to do the job in a way that suits you, rather than how the majority do it (long hours and weekend working).
What would you alter about your journey to where you are, if anything?
If anything, I would have travelled more. I would have taken a gap year and explored the world. I was practising at 23, even in trials at that age. It was amazing experience as a barrister but I do sometimes regret not having a bit more time off before I came to the bar. Although, in my 20s I used to take three or four weeks off and go backpacking, although this time with the income of a barrister not a student! I probably would also have travelled to more places before I had children if I’d known how difficult it was to holiday with kids!
What would you tell your younger self at 18 if you could travel back in time?
At 18 I was doggedly determined that I would become a barrister. I wasn’t really apprehensive about it or worried about not getting the job, I just always knew this is what I would do. At 21 I even took out a huge loan to put myself through bar school. Looking back, it was so risky, but it paid off. I think I would probably tell myself to work a little bit harder at university! Having a foundation in law is pretty important (whether law degree or conversion) and perhaps I could have gone to a few more lectures and drank a little less Chardonnay! Although, my 18-year-old self would have taken no notice of this whatsoever!
What do you want to achieve in the next 5 years?
I am a really interesting point in my career, I’ve been practising for around 14 years, I have finished having babies (although my children are still very young) and blocks of maternity leave off work and I’m wondering about the next direction of my career. There is no doubt that I will continue to be a barrister. I am having a year of exploration in my career, taking on all different sorts of residential and commercial property and social housing work to see where my true passions lie. I am also particularly passionate about mediation, and really enjoy acting as a mediator. I am training to be an arbitrator too so excited about that. So the next five years for me and my career really will be focusing on the particular direction I’d like it to go in. I think it’s important to understand your goal, and at the moment I’m not entirely sure what my goal is! Hopefully by the end of this year I will know more!
What makes you passionate about International Women’s Day?
It is really important that we highlight where the inequalities still lie between men and women. Women are not paid the same as men. Maternity pay prevents some women being able to have time off with their children. Childcare costs prevent women from going back to work. Flexible working isn’t yet where it needs to be. Many women still have primary domestic responsibility even if they are also the primary breadwinner. The planning and emotional burden of family life still mostly falls on women. These issues cause massive mental health problems among women and this is still not talked about enough. Change is needed. I’m particularly passionate about women being able to get help with all of these roles. I think it is really important that women don’t feel that they have to do do everything alone: look after the children or elderly parents, school run, healthy meals, look after the house, do the washing, do the washing up, work a 40 hour week, 70 hour week, a 20 hour week or whatever it might be…. without assistance. I don’t want women to feel like they are failing somehow by getting help: help is the only way to keep things moving and preserve mental health in my opinion. We should band together, normalise how difficult it is and help each other find the correct support and balance that is needed for each individual family.