Lawyer of the Month: Nina Taylor

Lawyer of the Month: Nina Taylor

Nina Taylor

Growing up, Nina Taylor had no thoughts about becoming a lawyer. The first in her family to go to university, she’d started life above the Rainbow Café in Coatbridge, which was run by her Italian father’s family, and wanted to become a journalist.

Having just taken up the chairmanship of Lindsays, the Edinburgh-headquartered firm she joined as an associate 11 years ago, Ms Taylor admits her route to the top job has been unconventional – but, then, convention is the one thing she wants to prove shouldn’t apply in the law.

“I have an odd background in that my father was from an Italian family that emigrated to Coatbridge and my mother is Norwegian – she arrived in a strange country but to an Italian family,” she says. “I was interested in becoming a journalist – I went to visit the Evening Times and got a tour of the printing press – but someone said to me that law might be a good route into journalism so I went to Strathclyde University straight from fifth year and did a law degree and then followed the path to becoming a solicitor.”

After training with a high-street firm in Airdrie, Ms Taylor and her husband – also a lawyer – decided to start a family and she put her career on hold to bring up their three children. She hadn’t particularly wanted to put her career entirely on hold, only to slow it down a bit, but the firm she worked for at the time was a traditional one and she was given no choice.

“In those days there weren’t many nursery places,” she recalls. “I was keen to go back to work but the firm I worked for didn’t offer part-time […] so I was out for about five years. When my youngest child had a nursery place I went back part-time, as an associate at Thorley Stephenson, and I was part-time until I moved to Edinburgh 11 years ago.
“I’m always keen for others, particularly women but men too who may have taken a career break for caring responsibilities, to know that there is a route back. I remember when I took my career break thinking I’d never get back – where I am now shows that you can. No one should be afraid of taking a break, for whatever reason. You can manage your career to suit yourself.”

Though she went full-time when she joined Lindsays, Ms Taylor says one of the things that attracted her to the firm was the fact it did not take a traditional view about the hours people worked and how that might impact on their career progression.

“When I came to Lindsays there were people who worked four days a week and it wasn’t necessarily for traditional childcare reasons,” she says. “Maybe they had outside interests or they just wanted to work four days a week for their work-life balance. That’s much more conducive to a good firmwide environment.”

Though she started out doing general litigation work, Ms Taylor later moved to focus on family, something she says “gives a good mix of court-based work but also allows you to use softer skills for negotiation and ADR [alternative dispute resolution]”.

“You’re not a counsellor but you need soft skills to be able to be able to empathise with clients and to understand what they want to achieve rather than saying ‘these are your legal rights, plough on’,” she says.

“You have to understand what they want to achieve and how they want to achieve it. Many people just want a compromise in a family situation. There are wider issues than in many other forms of litigation […] There have been cases in which the client has been on the verge of giving up, sometimes in child-contact cases, where they have felt that they may as well not try to see their child because it’s so difficult. If handled appropriately you can sometimes get very satisfactory results – the parent can establish a relationship with their child or, even better, both parents can manage to have some kind of a working relationship.”

Having replaced Peter Tweedie, who served for eight years, as Lindsays chair at the beginning of this month, Ms Taylor says she felt compelled to stand because she believed those softer skills could be put to good use in the role.

“I’ll chair the partnership meetings but I’ll also be a conduit between the management board and the partnership – soft skills can be important in that regard,” she says. “I’ve always made a point of visiting the different offices and getting to known people and that’s good for the chair role too – you need people to know you’re someone they can trust and who can feed things back to the management board.

“There’s a consensus that the challenge for us now is to try and take forward flexible working, which is now pretty uniform in most firms, but take it forward in a way that suits all the different disciplines in the firm while managing to maintain a firm ethos and a team spirit. That’s a challenge. If some people are working mostly from home how do they feel part of the team? How do people who are working in a flexible way still feel part of something bigger? We have to do more than just pay lip service to it. If we truly believe in diversity, and it’s really important, we have to embrace all kinds of hybrid working.”

Ultimately, what Ms Taylor wants to focus on is ensuring that people working for Lindsays, and those who will go on to join it, don’t feel constrained by tradition but are given the freedom to take control of their own career paths.

“When we’re hiring we emphasise the importance of work-life balance – all firms do that but at Lindsays we genuinely mean it,” she says. “People don’t work late here – we don’t expect anyone to and if they are it’s up to management to notice and do something about it.

“When we’re interviewing for trainees we make a point of looking at people with unconventional routes into law. People used to look very strictly at educational qualifications but now we try to look more holistically at the person. They all have law degrees – we need to look more widely because that way you get better talent. We used to look at how many highers they got at school but what does that matter? We look at the person because so many have things they can bring that they maybe don’t even realise themselves – if you’ve taken time out to care for a sick relative you’ll probably have good client skills.

“You have to be allowed to develop your own career and it’s important that people aren’t pigeonholed. If you start in office services you might want to go into a secretarial role. One of the secretaries in our family law team is training to be a family law paralegal. We need to nurture talent and bring out the best in people.”

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