Emma Gill is a top divorce lawyer and head of the Manchester office for family law firm Vardags. She talks about working her way from the bottom up, balancing being at the forefront of business with being a mother, and remaining focused on the task at hand.
Describe your role in no more than a hundred words:
For me, my role falls into four categories. Firstly, for clients, it’s about finding creative and intelligent solutions to their financial problems and driving a case (and therefore the client’s life) forward to the start of their new financial future. For my staff, it is essential that I provide a positive and encouraging atmosphere, which allows both intellectual and personal development. It’s also about showing that Vardags has a place in Manchester, we’re not just north shoring London work but offering a quality bespoke service to high net worth individuals in the north west. Finally, but importantly, it is about giving a living example that women with children can drive the business forward and that having a baby doesn't put you in the backseat. My job allows me to be a role model and demonstrates that you can be at the forefront of business without feeling that it is at the expense of your personal life or career.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far where did you start? How did you move on?
I will have always been and will always be a Manchester girl. I read Law at the University of Manchester and graduated in the early 00s. I knew I wanted to make a career in Manchester, so once I’d graduated, I obtained a paralegal position with a well-known Manchester ‘high street’ firm whilst waiting for my training contract to start. I began my training at the Manchester office of a national firm where I qualified, being made associate partner in 2010 and equity partner in 2013. I joined Vardags in 2016 and from the start I knew Vardags was the perfect fit for me in every way.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
To be a great leader you must have patience. Patience with your staff, patience with other businesses and patience with yourself. You must also lead by example, there is no room in any business for the head of the team to be ducking out. This means you being fully involved and present before your team arrives, as well as, being there after your team leaves. This doesn't necessarily mean being sat at your desk but certainly that you are available. The hard work that you put in will be noticed and then replicated by your wider team. I have no doubt that I have the hardest working team in Manchester, largely because I’m probably one of the hardest working directors in Manchester.
What have been the biggest challenges in your current position?
I think the biggest challenge initially was making our name, Vardags, recognisable in the city as we were so unknown in Manchester. There was a lot of scepticism of whether the brand could work as well in Manchester as it did in London, and many wondered if the office was just going to be an off shoring of London work. We had the constant challenge at our onset of separating ourselves in a limited way from our London office. We were bringing London quality to Manchester and by recruiting a truly northern team we have completely changed both the professional and public opinion of Vardags in Manchester. We’ve had a surge in the number of clients which meant a significant increase in the number of staff. To put it into perspective, we outgrew a space in five months that should have been suitable for two years.
How do you mediate the stress that comes from your job?
I find that what works best for me is putting my entire focus on what I working on at that particular moment in time. I’m a huge fan of mindfulness. When I am at work I am 100% focused on work, taking each task in turn. Equally, when I am at home I am not checking my phone, emails or on my ipad. I allow myself to completely unwind and dedicate specific time to my family – particularly my very demanding two-year-old! By using this ‘full focu’ technique, I can do more as I am making the most of every moment I have.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was little I wanted to be a nurse like every other little girl. It wasn’t until I was about 10 that I decided I wanted to be a solicitor. When I played ‘The Game of Life’ with my family, I always wanted to land on the lawyer, it was my personal mission. I’m not sure where the idea came from but it has certainly stuck.
Do you have any pet peeves in the workplace? If so what do you do about them?
I have milk issues. I cannot stand milk being used out of date, letting the older bottles moulder for it to go to waste. I issued a milk directive at the office about where it is supposed to be placed in the fridge so the order is clear.
Where do you see the company in 5 years time?
Looking at what Vardags has done in the last five years, growing from a team of 4 or 5 exceptional individuals to where it is now - who knows, there could be a Vardags in every city in the UK.
What advice would you give for an aspiring business leader?
Don’t sweat it. Good things come from working hard. Work out your non-negotiables and stick to them.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
If you are on the right track, it doesn’t matter if you wander off the path briefly, you will come back eventually. If it is the right career fit for you, you will get there and no one can take all the things you learned along the way away.