Florence Brocklesby is a solicitor, entrepreneur and mother of three. With a background in the City, she launched a specialist employment and litigation law firm, Bellevue Law, after her children were born. She kindly took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about her experience of setting up her own business and to let us in on her version of the work-life-parent juggling act…
Photography the phenomenally talented Demelza Lightfoot © | See Demelza Lightfoot Photography
Thanks so much for talking to us Florence. Tell us about your current role and how you got there?
I am the founder and principal of Bellevue Law, a boutique law firm specialising in employment law and commercial litigation. We have a small team of highly experienced ex-City lawyers and our business model enables us to provide cost-effective, bespoke advice to individuals and businesses.
I followed a very conventional route to the law: a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford, law school in Birmingham, training at Freshfields and a decade in City law firms. So setting up my own firm in 2014, initially as a sole practitioner, was a big change! We now have a team of five lawyers, all with similar City backgrounds, and our clients include individuals, employees, owner-managed businesses and multinational corporations. The firm’s aim is to give our clients a high quality bespoke service and our lawyers a greater degree of flexibility and control over their working lives.
“The cliché that ‘if you run your own business you can never switch off’ is often true.”
When did you first become interested in law?
Like many lawyers, I was an argumentative child, so I was probably always destined for a legal career! I have always loved practising law – the intellectual challenges, the details, the strategy and the commercial side.
“The scale of the problem is shocking and future generations will look back on it in disbelief.”
Having worked in large City firms, the idea of setting up my own specialist practice came to me while I was on maternity leave after my first child was born. I read an article about a lawyer who had left the City to set up her own practice and realised that I could do the same. Five years, two more babies and a lot of research and planning later, Bellevue Law was born!
Did you take time off work when you had your family?
I had my children pretty close together – three pre-schoolers at one point! I had a temporary career change during this period, and spent a few very enjoyable years teaching at law school before launching Bellevue Law. Careers don’t have to be linear, and that time doing something different allowed me to work part-time for a while, keep up to date and learn a few new skills before returning to legal practice.
What do you love about your role? What are the challenges?
I love the satisfaction of helping clients resolve their problems and grow their businesses, developing the firm and being my own boss.
Challenges: the cliché that ‘if you run your own business you can never switch off’ is often true.
What has motherhood taught you?
Like so many female entrepreneurs, having children was the catalyst for establishing my own business. I wanted a greater degree of autonomy than was possible in a big firm, but without compromising on quality or challenge.
Having children also sparked my professional interest in the discrimination so often faced by working mothers. I have had clients whose jobs have simply disappeared while they were on maternity leave, who have been dismissed after making flexible working requests, and whose managers have told them that, as mothers, they were not able to be committed to their jobs. The scale of the problem is shocking and future generations will look back on it in disbelief.
How do you manage your work around the children?
In professional services, the reality is that we have to be available when our clients need us, and the days of fixed office hours are well and truly over. Additionally, I have the responsibility of managing the firm, which can be pretty time-consuming. So, like all lawyers, some days I work very long hours!
But the same flexibility and technology allows me to work whenever and wherever I like. So I can often take my children to school then work at home, rather than commuting into the City, and if I don’t have meetings or calls scheduled I can take a break to spend time with them when they get home in the afternoon. We also have a wonderful au pair.
No two days are the same, and it is really important not to try to do everything, but overall it is a pretty good balance.
What are your best tips for other working mums about to re-enter the workforce?
Most importantly, believe in yourself! Sadly many mothers lose their professional confidence when they have a career break. However, not only have you not lost the abilities you had before children (even if you may need to refresh them), but you will also have gained some new organisational, management and negotiation skills.
What are your mornings like?
I am definitely an early bird. I usually get up pretty early, either 5.30 or 6.00, make a very large coffee, plan my day and get some work done while my house, phone and emails are all silent. With three children, the second shift, from 7.00-9.00 is quite busy! Every day is different, but I usually take my children to school before the working day starts in earnest.
My working days are varied: a mixture of client meetings, legal work and managing the business. The lawyers who work for Bellevue Law can choose where they work, and if I don’t have external meetings I often save myself the commute and work from the studio office at the bottom of my garden or my kitchen table.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
I think “work-life blend” would be more accurate than “work-life balance”. I work really hard, but very rarely in one 9-5 block.
Who lives in your house?
A lot of people! My husband and I live near Wandsworth Common with our three daughters aged 9, 8 and 6, our fabulous South African au pair and our dog.
Describe your approach to health and well-being.
I love my exercise: I see a personal trainer twice a week with my husband, and I also enjoy spinning and boxing. I also cycle almost everywhere, including into central London for meetings – by far the best way to travel!
Name 3 things you can’t live without in the day
Industrial quantities of coffee, Radio 4 and my iPhone. Not very rock and roll!
Do you have a recent discovery that you love?
Not even slightly work related: a completely addictive exercise class called Swedercise (or Friskis & Svettis (healthy and sweaty) in Swedish!). I can only describe it as an old-school aerobics class with happy music and whooping. It takes place in my children’s school hall, costs £6 a session and everyone leaves smiling.
What has been your best career moment to date?
Building Bellevue Law from scratch.
Do you read for leisure? Name a favourite book.
I am a massive fan of the Audible app, and I love listening to all the books I don’t have time to read while travelling and walking the dog. I have just finished Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays, which is set in California and Las Vegas and is beautifully written and compelling, if incredibly bleak.
“Know your worth. And speak up for other working parents.”
Ideal holiday destination?
It has to be California for the sunshine and sheer friendliness, together with the happy mix of beaches, culture, food, fun and people watching.
We also decamp to the Kent coast for the whole of August. I have some time off and also do some work from the seaside – a major perk of being self-employed and having great technology is that I can work anywhere.
What are your top tips for other working mums?
For working life: Prioritise. Know your worth. And speak up for other working parents.
For home/family life: Prioritise some more. Don’t do everything yourself: some things can and should be done by your partner, nanny or children, and yet others don’t actually need to be done at all.
What do you wear to work?
While reasonably imaginative for a lawyer, I’m afraid these are objectively not very exciting: for work I am a navy trousers, sparkly top/black suit for Court/decent dress kind of person. I regularly cycle to work in my work clothes (including my heels!)
Photography © Demelza Lightfoot | See Demelza Lightfoot Photography