Maternity leave: My perspective as a deputy senior partner

I find myself in an unusual position. I am the deputy senior partner at Charles Russell Speechlys, where I have worked for more than 16 years, first as an associate and then a partner in the construction, engineering and projects team. I am fortunate to love what I do and where I do it; I really value the satisfaction, stimulation and relationships my career brings. Throughout my career, I have worked hard to balance its demands while maintaining a fulfilling life outside the office. 

Fiona Edmond

I am now entering an exciting new chapter in my life. I am expecting a baby – somewhat later in life than most – and while this is an extremely happy and exciting time for my husband and me, it has been interesting to map my own response to it. First, the questions. Primarily and perhaps most understandably, what will it mean for my practice? Then, how will clients and colleagues react? How much will everything have changed when I get back?

Happily, sharing my news was an overwhelmingly positive experience that helped to put those questions in perspective; yes, one or two looked a little stunned (that’s fine, I am not the usual age profile for maternity leave) but everyone was genuinely delighted. I found the reactions from clients, colleagues and intermediaries alike really affirming. It brought home to me that relationships underpin my daily experience of work and my wider career – they are fundamental to my enjoyment of it, as well as to the ‘doing’ of it.

Going back to those questions, what I got back from the firm – instantly – was encouragement to take the time I needed and wanted. I was encouraged not to make any promises to anyone and just to see how I felt. An incredibly human response and, as I have come to realise, very good advice.

As lawyers, we tend to be focused, driven and client-centric. Those traits are somewhat at odds with the idea of slowing down. The biggest challenge has been managing my own expectations that I could carry on at full throttle and then head into maternity leave without having to slow down. Not so. Accepting that does not come easily, but it is coming. Thank goodness for good advice.

Then there is the relinquishing of control. The thought of stepping away from the coal face for a significant period of time is a little unnerving. What about all those potential new opportunities? Will financial hygiene slip? Preparing for maternity leave has been a really good antidote to those nerves, and shown the importance of having the right teams and structures in place to enable a smooth transition for clients, me and the business.

It has taken wonderful medical advice to get my husband and me to this point. No need to dwell on the IVF, but as you would expect it is pretty brutal. Going through it emphasised to me that having a baby is a big deal. That may seem like an obvious thing to say, but I still found myself tunnel-visioning on the practical – those questions again. But really, it should simply be a case of ‘this is my baby, this is my pregnancy, this matters most’. That was the clear line I was firmly encouraged to take and I would hope all women have similar experiences. I suspect not. They should and we should strive for cultures where that is the case.

I am extremely thankful to have a firm and colleagues to give me the time and support to fully enjoy my leave. As well as having a ‘family friendly network’, with people at all levels of the firm acting as champions, the firm has a range of great family-friendly policies and initiatives. Indeed, I am about to embark on parental leave coaching.

I am not sharing my experiences in the expectation that they will map on to others exactly. They are of course just that: my experiences. Despite having supported others in their parental leave, I will never know first-hand how an associate, someone on the cusp of partnership or a newly made-up partner experiences their challenges. I can only speak to my own experience as someone who is established in their career and has not yet had to juggle parenthood and a career. That will be the new challenge.

However, I know that, ultimately, I will come back fully supported in my transition and am grateful for that support. Irrespective of seniority or personal situation, all women deserve the same.


Fiona Edmond is deputy senior partner and partner in the construction, engineering and projects team at Charles Russell Speechlys

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