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Hilary Malcolm

Well, I remember reading the Ladybird book ‘The Nurse’ and my mum, who was a midwife and a nurse, says she helped me to consider a role in law instead of nursing. I initially wanted to be a barrister. ...

 

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Dear Future Self..

Remember to keep taking calculated risks – if there is an opportunity, do not be afraid to put forward your business case to say why you, why now and how it will benefit the business.

Tell us a bit about what you do? (job title, business, number of years of service, company).

My expertise is in legal risk management, including operational and general risk management. I use this expertise to provide advice to internal and external customers. Wherever I go, whether as a senior lawyer, a school governor or, as the chair for a charity and I put in place practical and commercial solutions. I am a Managing Legal Counsel, currently working at National Westminster Bank plc but I have had a number of different roles, including over 20 years as a finance lawyer managing multi-million pound projects and teams of lawyers which I gained in private practice and then in-house at various financial institutions. I used my MBA qualification in my role as a business manager where I helped set up a legal team in a new bank.

How have you been able to navigate your career as a Black woman in Britain?

Well, I remember reading the Ladybird book ‘The Nurse’ and my mum, who was a midwife and a nurse, says she helped me to consider a role in law instead of nursing. I initially wanted to be a barrister. I remember watching ‘LA Law’ and thinking, I would like to do what those lawyers are doing, but after a while, I realised I needed to look at shows like ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’ and ‘Crown Court’ to get a sense of what it might be like to be a lawyer practising under the English legal system. Now that I think back, I do not remember seeing any black actors and actresses in the British shows, but as I studied law in Birmingham and Manchester, there were a number of students from different backgrounds on the courses I attended, so I did not think becoming a lawyer, as a black female, was unusual, or that it would be more difficult than I expected – as I knew there would be barriers. For instance, whilst I was training to be a lawyer, I remember a fellow female student was reprimanded for wearing a trouser suit to work instead of a dress or a skirt suit. Also, obviously, I had been told many years before by my parents that I would need to work extra hard to succeed in my chosen role. I trained as a lawyer in a high street practice but when I qualified as a solicitor, I decided I wanted to work in a City law firm during the year the UK officially moved out of recession. For me, knowledge is power, so I took a variety of roles to ensure I stayed within the legal field. 1. First, I took a role at a Westminster parliamentary solicitors’ practice where I built on skills learnt whilst I was a trainee solicitor. 2. Then, I obtained a role at a City law firm where I worked as a Legal Secretary for the Tax Professional Support Lawyer. At the same time, I requested, and was approved, to attend internal and external training sessions for trainee and newly qualified lawyers. 3. In addition, the business case I presented in my first year was successful and I obtained funding from the law firm to study for an MBA to increase my management skills. I continued to work full-time whilst I was studying and I continued to study after I become pregnant. 4. After about 3 years, following another downturn in the economy, the City law firm were restructuring. I was too qualified to be given a role as a paralegal!! However, I had gained a number of allies, including senior partners, and my proposition to work for one year as a Legal Assistant to prove my legal skills and knowledge (kept up to date by attending the newly qualified lawyers training sessions) was accepted and at the end of that year I began working as a qualified lawyer in the City. 5. Although I did not know it at the time, I also had a few mentors who helped me to realise my aspirations. Despite my earlier aspirations, I realised I did not want to become a partner at a law firm. Also, after having my

second child, when the opportunity to work in-house at a financial institution arose, I decided to move. My aim at that time was to become a senior lawyer, which I am now.

 

 

What is one of the biggest challenges you've faced in your life or career and how did you overcome it?

One of the biggest challenges I faced was having to care for an ill relative and liaise with different medical professionals whilst I was pregnant and working full time in a fairly new role. I had a good support network which was invaluable; this consisted of family and friends, including previous work colleagues who had become very good friends and some of them provided practical, hands-on support at short notice. Also, speaking to my support network enabled me to de-stress and continue working to my full potential until I went on maternity leave. I also had a good senior ally at work who made themselves available to speak to me at work and whilst I was on maternity leave. This made me feel supported and that my role at work was one of the things I did not need to worry about.

 

Do you have any practical tips for girls/women interested in pursuing a career in your particular field?

Obtaining legal experience is a key ingredient to find out whether you want to study law, or become a solicitor, a barrister, legal executive or other type of legal professional and in what area of law. A number of law firms and other legal providers offer vacation schemes and open days, and voluntary work may be possible at a local law centre or through a legal firms’ pro bono scheme. Also, those interested in law will be able to speak to current legal professionals and aim to gain an insight into what they do.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

Do not limit yourself, be positive and do not let people put you down.

Our future starts now - with your experiences and everything you now know - what would you tell your future self?

“Dear Future Self….

  • Remember to keep taking calculated risks – if there is an opportunity, do not be afraid to put forward your business case to say why you, why now and how it will benefit the business.

  • Remember to champion your own abilities. Put yourself forward for a role you are interested in and be prepared to go beyond ‘just’ being suitable or ‘just’ qualified enough for the role.

  • Be proud of your achievements, especially when they encourage and inspire.

  • Realise when someone has become an ally or may be willing to sponsor you so that you can seek their advice and/or see if they will support you in your next steps.

  • You may come across a number of closed doors but keep knocking until one is opened. However, there is no point knocking to try and open a door unless you have the knowledge and experience to enable you to walk through the open door and take a seat at the table with everyone else, if you want to.

What resources or book(s) would you recommend to a young woman wanting to level-up in her personal life or career?

For a short easy read about change and the need to adapt I would recommend ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ It may contain obvious sentiments that we all already know, but it is a good reminder that the only thing constant is change and that there are different options available to deal with change which will affect different people in different ways – we are not all the same.

I also like reading sports biographies as all sports people need to have goals and you can read about what they have done to reach those goals, overcome barriers and sometimes inspire others. In some instances, they have effected change which transcends well beyond the sports field – two that stick in my mind which I have read are ‘Black Champion: The Life and Times of Jack Johnson’ and ‘The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World’. I also used to have a few quotes from Booker T. Washington on my desk where I previously worked including, ‘One man cannot hold another man down in the ditch without remaining down in the ditch with him’, ‘I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him’ and ‘There are two ways of exerting one’s strength, one is pushing down, the other is pulling up’.