Elizabeth Woodman of Cornerstone Barristers
Elizabeth Woodman of Cornerstone Barristers catches up with BQ as part of our Meet the MD series to talk leadership and how risk-taking sometimes pays off...
What does your role involve?
I am chief executive of Cornerstone Barristers. We provide legal and strategic advice and representation mostly in the fields of planning, property, housing, licensing, public law and commerce. We do interesting, high profile work and have a good blend of experienced Queen’s Counsel and talented juniors.
My role is to ensure our clients, whether they be solicitors, companies or individuals, experience our barristers and service as professional and expert yet friendly and unstuffy. I help develop client relationships and, behind the scenes, to make life as smooth as possible for our barristers so they can work undistracted for their clients.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I originally qualified as a solicitor, but have spent most of my career in senior roles in businesses providing products and services to law firms and large corporates. It was a gamble moving away from a safe career as a solicitor, but I had the opportunity to help build a new business that combined law and technology and that was the start of my management career.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
The people around them. Successful leaders hire people who share their values and work ethic, but otherwise have strengths and skills that they do not have.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Keeping morale up and client service unaffected while our premises were undergoing a complete six-month refurbishment. Mixing builders, electricians, plumbers and decorators with a group of people doing highly cerebral work and requiring calm and quiet could so easily have been a recipe for disaster.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I work with colleagues who know what they are doing and are prepared to pitch in to help when needed. When times are difficult, I discipline myself to see problems in perspective. Deliberately making time to focus on other things and people outside work helps me with that.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
This is embarrassing, but I told my headmaster I wanted to be Prime Minister and this was written in my final school report. Nowadays I have no political aspirations whatsoever.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
I can get irritable if people want to focus too much on the granular detail of a project. It’s important to have a plan but in a small business you also need to be flexible and ready to adapt.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
We currently have a real focus on the Midlands and see the area as a big opportunity. Many of our barristers already work on projects and with clients based in and around Birmingham, but we are not as well known in the region as we should be given our reputation and expertise.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Surround yourself with people who are better at doing their jobs than you would be and learn from them.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
That not everyone likes change as much as I do.