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#BusinessTalks: An interview with Karen Holden

Karen Holden took part in #BusinessTalks – a series of presentations by top professionals and part of The University of Law Business School’s unique pledge to bring business into the classroom.

She studied the Legal Practice Course (LPC) part-time at our Guildford Campus, graduating in 2013. She worked as a senior manager in the public sector during her studies and after graduating, she went on to work at an international law firm in The Strand. Since then she has become the founder behind family-friendly practice, A City Law Firm.

As the director of her own firm, Karen champions causes such as widening access to the legal profession, flexible working and LGBTQ rights.

I chose to study at The University of Law (ULaw) as it was offering part time weekend courses. That permitted me to carry on working at the same time, which was exactly what I needed.

I never intended to be my own boss, it honestly was never on my radar. I wanted to take the plunge, disrupt the industry and do it my way. Now I know it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

The idea behind A City Law Firm was to set up a firm to disrupt the normal way of working. I wanted entrepreneurial lawyers who cared about their clients; who offered commercial awareness and sensitivity; and who worked as a team. Happy people has made it a great place to work and clients thrive on this atmosphere also. We don’t just offer legal advice out of a text book, we adapt it to the client’s needs and work with other parties so we cover off not just the legal aspects but all the other nuances as well. More importantly we don’t sit on the fence, we support, advise and direct the client as much as they require. I think having set up the firm myself and having come across all the pitfalls, made all the mistakes and embraced all the opportunities that an entrepreneur would face, it has made me a better lawyer. Now I can offer practical and commercial advice to clients, so that they can avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made.

One of my career highlights was recently being invited to number 10 Downing Street for an award. Subsequently I have asked to give a talk at the House of Commons. This has been an amazing and exciting achievement

A typical morning starts with me taking my little boy to school, which is the highlight of any mummy’s day. I grab a coffee and plough through my hundreds of emails on the train, so I am already set up when I walk into the office. From then on, no two days are ever the same. I could be in court, meeting new associates or clients face to face, giving strategy advice to the lawyers, drafting articles and blogs, or interviewing for a magazine. I could be giving advice online over video conferencing, commercial drafting, or having a litigious debate with another solicitor over a client matter. Alongside my legal work, supporting the solicitors and generating new business, my role is also to oversee the marketing team, budgets, cash flow, invoicing and coordinate events. The day concludes with me speaking at an event, attending a networking event, working late, or if I’m lucky, reading bedtime stories to my little boy. Although it’s called work the variety makes it interesting and fun.

If you want to stand out during the interview process, you need to be confident. It’s very important as it shows that you’re able to maintain relationships with clients. However, it’s equally as important to make it clear you’re willing to learn and be guided by your colleagues, as being a team player is key in any growing business. It’s amazing how firms have to apply a dress code, graduates should understand that presentation is essential as you only get one opportunity to make a good impression. I also find it impressive when graduates have prepared questions for the interviewer, as not only does it look like they are interviewing the firm, but it also shows they have done their research.

Students aren’t going to know, during their studies, what area of law they will really enjoy, so they need to keep their options open. Whether working in house, for a large magic circle firm or a smaller firm, they are all very different; try and experience all the variations so that you can to make an informed decision. Understand that each type of sector and employer has negative and positive offerings, don’t just assume that small firms don’t have the high-level work or the salary, but likewise don’t expect a large firm to give you the initiative and freedom that you may require. Assume nothing, try everything and keep your options open.

In the future I plan to continue developing my team, from within, whilst bringing in new entrepreneurial lawyers and staff. I hope to still be able to quality assure the work leaving my practice, maintain a friendly committed team, as well as still reacting and adapting quickly to the ever-changing market.

Before becoming a solicitor, I was criminologist profiling criminals, including serial rapist and killers. The analytics, social and cultural issues fascinated me, and my coordination of operations led to a number of convictions I’m very proud of.

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Information on the #BusinessTalks series is available here: www.law.ac.uk/business/events/