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Lawyer stories:
Freelancing from a far-flung place

When Beth Onions was younger she dreamt of being an actress, dentist and engineer. Sometimes however, truth can be stranger than fiction – she’s in fact now an LOD lawyer working from Islamabad, Pakistan. Find out LOD has allowed her to be more than just a “trailing spouse” to a British diplomat.

Being a freelance lawyer based in Pakistan was not what I envisioned for my career when I was younger. Growing up I oscillated between wanting to be an actress with a Harley Davidson (don’t ask) and training to be a dentist. As I progressed through into my teenage years I became more fixed on engineering as a career path. A number of things got in the way of that, not least my lack of sufficient ability in maths and physics!. As a result I ended up at university studying law and human rights, mainly as a consequence of two years spent at Atlantic College, an international school with a strong emphasis on global citizenship.

Nevertheless, my interest in the built environment never quite left and after completing the Bar Vocational Course I contacted the in-house legal team at Arup, a global engineering firm, to see if there were any opportunities for a pre-pupillage barrister with a background in human rights law. Luckily for me there was and I spent the first six years of my legal life training, cross qualifying and practising as a specialist construction law solicitor.

Things took a somewhat unexpected turn in 2014 when my husband was offered a posting to the British High Commission in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Both of us having been to international school and with many of our friends scattered across the globe, living in different countries was bound to be on the cards at some point. However, Pakistan was not somewhere I had originally envisaged moving. All the same, I saw it as an adventure. It was probably for the best that I did not consider the ramifications of such a move too closely as I am not sure I would have done it. One of the key problems being the wife of a British diplomat in Pakistan, is that it is extremely difficult to find employment. I had to give up a job that I enjoyed and start thinking about how I would fill the next three years in a country where your life is quite strictly limited and you have to run everything past a security team first.

Fortunately, LOD came to the rescue! I somehow managed to convince the team in London that they needed a Pakistani-based construction lawyer and I started my first On-Call assignment in September 2015. The whole experience has been a huge learning curve. Starting from scratch, setting up a company, moving from a noisy open plan office to sitting on my own at the kitchen table has been a challenge. I have had to develop more confidence in my own abilities as I don’t always have a team of others to turn to if I have a question and have had to build up my own little know-how library from scratch. However, the LOD team has been absolutely fantastic in their support in getting me set up.

Other key positives that come from working freelance are an ability to dictate my own working schedule and continue working whilst overseas. I don’t have to feel that I am just a trailing spouse (although there really aren’t many of those about these days).

One of my favourite snapshots of being freelance is that I am able to write this piece from a little guest house in the Sri Lankan hills having just completed a long hike to Ella Rock. Provided I have my computer and an internet connection I am able to do my job. This was on my mind recently when commuting to a short On Site assignment on cold February mornings in London.

The last six months have really opened my eyes to the possibilities that are available if you are prepared to look outside the normal approach to a legal career. I have the team at LOD to thank for making mine a smooth transition to a freelance life and am very much looking forward to my next 18 months in Islamabad as a result!

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