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Lawyer stories:
Cruising the curvy career path

LOD lawyer Joanna hasn’t followed the traditional legal career path. With lots of curves in the road (from international tax in private practice to a PhD in criminal law) she got to a stage where she just wasn’t sure what was next for her. Cue fellow LOD lawyer David telling her she really could work in the way she wanted to, because that’s what LOD did for him, and she started to recalculate her route. Two assignments in and she’s not looked back – read on to find out why.

‘So, what do you do?’ ‘Um, I’m a lawyer, kind of?’ I’ve always dreaded that question and am never sure how to answer it. I mean, yes, I am a lawyer, but I’ve never been totally sure that that is what I am or (more accurately) what I want to be. I’ve struggled with trying to figure out this question of what I am and what I want to do for years now and seem to have bounced all over the place. After starting in private practice working mainly in international tax, I then flirted with academia for a while, teaching at my old university in Cape Town, before moving to the UK to do my masters. Then, into an in-house role at a large construction consultancy for several years. Then back to academia, to do a PhD in criminal law at Oxford, researching counter-terrorism legislation, followed by time at a research consultancy working on projects related to privacy and data security.

And after all of that, I was struggling more than ever with knowing what I should be doing. I had just received a job offer for a lectureship in criminal law, which should’ve been the dream after finishing the PhD, but I was struggling with the idea of accepting it. Moaning and feeling confused over brunch one morning with my friend David, I half-jokingly said, and feeling a little embarrassed: ‘All I want is a job that I can go to, do the work and not feel completely stressed out and work ridiculous hours, get paid a decent amount, be able to travel often, and not get bored after 6 months’. To which he replied, ‘but that’s my job’.

David had been with LOD for years and I remember being very envious of his life of assignments interspersed with regular periods of travel. Yet, for some reason, it didn’t occur to me that I could also do this. I think having had such a strange career path up to then, and having been out of the ordinary world of lawyering for so long, I had just assumed LOD wouldn’t be interested. But the more I thought about it and the possibilities for working in a different way, the more I thought why not? I had been engaged in legal research, writing and work of some sort since completing my law degree. Add to that, all the moving around had given me a pretty broad range of experience, and, I now realise, the adaptability to be able to go into different roles at different companies and not find that a terrifying prospect.

From the moment I met Carly (LOD HQ) I thought ‘this feels different’. For the first time in an interview setting I felt I could be honest. I said things that you are told never to say – that I get bored in the same role, that a law career isn’t my great passion and I don’t have ambitions to move up in a firm or get involved in caring about a company, that I secretly wish I could be a jeweller… It was a relief to be so frank. And more of a relief when Carly said she enjoyed a challenge and agreed that they would take me on.

Within a week, I had my first interview for a position at American Express. With no experience working in payment services, I was nervous, but they were open to taking on someone with an unusual CV and I ended up staying with them for a year. My first assignment, and experience of life as a commercial lawyer again after so long, was fantastic. It all happened so seamlessly, it took me a while to realise that I was actually working in the way that I had jokingly said would be my ideal. Even better, I was working four days a week, which meant that I finally got to try the jewellery making dream. I did a one-year jewellery and silversmithing course. I went to my classes every Monday and this completely transformed my week. But, I’m still the person who gets bored, so after a year I spoke with Carly and Nadia and said I thought it was time for a change. I had also been thinking about working remotely so that I could travel and work at the same time. This is the ultimate goal really, to be free to work from anywhere. Again, I wasn’t sure it would happen and again it did! I’m now on assignment with a global transport business and am typing this from Spain. I work and walk in the mountains and at lunchtime I stroll through olive groves and lemon trees, I swim, I explore, and I have to keep reminding myself that this isn’t holiday, this is my life.

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