International Women’s Day Lawyer Caroline Moore
On International Women’s Day 2018, I reflect upon the journey that has led to me establishing my own successful Law Practice. I actually wanted to be an artist, but my father persuaded me I’d end up penniless and I should look to other options. I had always enjoyed legal TV dramas, so settled on the law! I took my law degree, at Sheffield University, in the late 1980s.
I grew up in Manchester and was the typical prospective University student, wishing to have more freedom away from home but not be too far away to get back for some home comforts. Sheffield was perfect for that and I loved the village feel of Sheffield straightaway. I had three very happy years in University halls. I had lovely long hair at the time but perms came in-what a disaster –see photographic evidence!
In those days, when in your second year of studying, you were expected to make way for new students but Sorby kindly made an exception for my resolute refusal to vacate.. I really didn’t fancy living in a- draughty old house after the experience of a cosy room in Halls, with the excitement of many other students around. I kept in touch with my old friends, made new friends and stayed away from any arguments about washing up, cleaning and bills!
After the fun of University, I moved back home to enable a one-year study period at the College of Law, in the beautiful City of Chester. My family were at that time living in Lymm, Cheshire, which was only 25 minutes away. I stayed at home and drove to college each day, sometimes staying overnight with my newfound friends in Chester for parties! This year was intensive for everybody, but I finally found my feet in terms of studying and properly applied my mind. I actually really enjoyed this year. However, I do recommend staying at home for this year, if possible, because I observed that those away from their families often struggled emotionally to cope with the demands of this part of the training.
After this 4 year period, the training was still not over. It was time to commence the old-style Articles for two years where you gain practical experience in four different areas of the law working with a law firm. A Jewish firm, Maurice, Rubin & Clare, on St John St in Manchester, took me on. I had hand written over 50 letters of application, with typed CVs and recall I was offered three interviews in total. My first interview was with the firm that took me on, so thankfully I didn’t have to go through any more. I remember I was very nervous, but I put a good front on it and imagined that the partners I was sitting before, were all wearing pink tutus!
The first skill I learnt on the job was taught to me by the Articled Clerk, who had already clocked up one year of his Articles – the fine art of properly flicking an elastic band with force. We would take aim at each other quite frequently, when we didn’t have enough to do. I often left work with red marks on my forehead – thanks Andrew!
I remember we had an exciting visit together once to a deceased client’s house to collect his vintage stock of spirits and liqueurs. My father was (still is) quite a wine buff and I was delighted to see bottles with names on that looked very impressive and rare to me. I told my father the story of having to store this precious, expensive stock in the (very dusty) basement of the law practice. I do not know what came of it thereafter, however, I’ve often wondered who drank it all in the end!
I was lucky to be taken on as an Articled Clerk in the first place. However, I’ve always been lucky in my career, I feel. More luck came with the merger of the firm with a very well-known London practice, Davies Arnold Cooper, during my second year. I had some excellent and kindly given training from litigators who came up from the London office at the time of the Hillsborough Inquest. Incidentally, I had lost one of my friends from Sorby Hall in the Hillsborough tragedy. My Articles were soon to come to an end. Time to get a permanent job.
My parents were planning on moving to Guernsey and had bought a property there. My father sold to me the idea that it would be much better for me to practice law on the Channel Islands, where lawyers were in high demand. I spoke French quite well at the time and there was a requirement for a six months training period in France to qualify as a Guernsey Advocate. This didn’t seem beyond me. Therefore, I secured a position in Guernsey, with a firm called Collis, Day & Roland. This was a fabulous experience, although going to the Island in September wasn’t the best time of year. Guernsey is fantastic in the summer, with warm weather, a beautiful marina, lovely beaches etc.
The working atmosphere in Guernsey was so lovely. Island life must have something to do with it – the people were warm and welcoming, everyone was treated with the same degree of respect, regardless of their position in the firm and I had excellent mentoring from various partners, who gave me interesting work to do that I thoroughly enjoyed.
My particular recollections are of going on a site visit in a neighbour dispute with Mark Ferbrache (a young qualified advocate at the time, who is still practising with a formidable reputation). I helped him to measure up in a muddy field which was good fun, nice to get out in the fresh air! I undertook a lot of basic Company work for another partner. I enjoyed getting to grips with that and doing a good job of it. I also assisted on a criminal case. I was entrusted to visit a 19-year-old client who was in detention. I did this with some trepidation as this was my first experience of criminal law in practice. To date, this has been my one and only experience in that field.
The young Scot had been sentenced to a total of 15 months for smuggling cannabis. He had swallowed it to try and get it into Guernsey to sell to his mates and attend a party. He was immediately taken into custody when he got off the ferry. Inevitably his body started to expel the illegal items after some time. Unfortunately, he had a knee-jerk reaction to this expellation and tried to reinsert some of the stash! However, he wasn’t a stupid lad (well, not entirely) and immediately recognised he was being very silly. He held his messy hands up to it, calling the guards and confessing all.
I researched the law and felt that our client should appeal his sentence, as he had received a nine-month sentence for possession and intent to supply but a further six months had been added for “impeding the search”. I did think this was rather unfair, it was his first offence and it was clear he was very, very sorry when I met him and he was very worried about his poor mother back in Scotland. He told me he had learnt his lesson and I’m delighted to say that the Partner who presented his Appeal was successful — the six-months was to run concurrently with the nine months, rather than on top of it. I wonder if he has stayed out of trouble since?!
I was doing very well in Guernsey and could have had a great career there. There was a four-month trial period and the Partners wished for me to stay. I felt quite bad to let the firm down and return to the mainland but true love had gotten in the way. I had been on a cruise with my parents for their 25th wedding anniversary and fallen in love with a man working on the ship as a photographer. My boyfriend came to join me in Guernsey and tried to find work but it proved impossible with his dual nationality, both South African and Portuguese. The only work available on such passports at the time was in the kitchens of hotels, as a waiter, or working in the greenhouses in tomato production and the like. I didn’t much fancy going back to Manchester but still remembered very fondly my time in Sheffield, so we moved back there in 1992.
Luck worked in my favour again. I wrote to about twenty-five firms and secured two interviews, one with Stephen Sly at Russell Creswick. Stephen is an incredible commercial litigator and a senior partner now at DLA Piper. He took me on as his assistant and I had nearly 7 years benefiting from his wisdom. A legal executive was taken very unwell and I was asked to take care of his caseload, as well as continuing my usual role.
Lady luck had put before me a case involving a baby who had suffered brain injury at birth leading to cerebral palsy. It would be unheard of these days for a litigator inexperienced in the medical field to be entrusted with such a high value and complex case. After I had settled the cerebral palsy claim in 1996, my mind was set that I wished to do more medical negligence work. During this time, I had obtained specialist status with the Law Society as a Personal Injury Panel member. I was initially rejected by the Panel and was very downcast about that for a few days. However, it’s important to pick yourself up at times like this, dust yourself off and fight harder to achieve your goals. I worked hard on appealing the decision and was successful.
I remember attending a Law Society annual dinner at Cutler’s Hall and I was shocked that there were only about three women present in the hall. Nowadays, the numbers appear to be equal at the annual dinner. I also remember having my bottom pinched quite a lot that night – I took it in good form but the reality of the lack of representation by women in the profession at the time hit home.
I wished for Russell & Creswick to invest in advertising, so I could expand the personal injury and medical work but respected the firm’s decision that they wished to promote the commercial side of the business. We parted very amicably and I spent two years at another firm in Sheffield, at the end of which I had achieved accreditation with the Law Society Clinical Negligence Panel. The work I have been doing had been successful and lucrative. The Legal Services Commission at the time had just announced that medical negligence work would only be funded publicly by specialist firms with a Panel member and I had achieved that status. This firm had been engaged in this field of work for some time. However, they did not wish to expand my hours from 2 days to 3 days per week. I just could not understand the decision and decided to leave.
Lady luck was watching over me again. I met Janet Baker , a formidable clinical negligence lawyer (I call her “The Guru”) when I offered to share a taxi with her after a training course in London to get us to St Pancras Station. We got chatting and she was incredulous that she had not come across me before, as she had been trying to recruit a panel member for nine months! I joined her at Keeble Hawson and spent a very happy six years with her.
The work was high-pressure although I enjoyed it. However, after 6 years I felt I did not have enough energy for my young son. I wished to cut back and finish at 3 PM each day. It was getting to the stage where I could barely croak out a bedtime story for him because I had been multitasking on 120 clinical negligence files and dictating all day. Janet supported my decision but the decision had to be made with other partners and flexible working was refused. I therefore gave into headhunting from Taylor & Emmet and spent six years there developing a clinical negligence department from scratch.
During this time, I had got married and had twins. The twins were coming up to school and I was conscious that I wanted to be able to take them to school feeling relaxed, not worrying about making the 9 AM deadline to the office. I had a light bulb moment one day when sat at my desk. I thought, “What is the difference between me doing this work here and now and doing this work at home?” and “What is the difference between me having set up a successful department and now setting up a law firm?”
Stuart Ward, a friend who had set up his own litigation practice some years before, kindly mentored me and the ever generous Stephen Sly insisted on meeting with me again to offer encouragement and words of wisdom. I spent a twelve month period making my plans in the evenings. Cash flows are entirely new to me but the bank would want these. I found this incredibly hard to get to grips with. Being a fee earner is one thing, but having a commercial grasp of the realities of running a law practice is quite another!
I’m very single-minded once I make a decision about something that I wish to achieve. However, once I made my decision public I had a lot of people commenting that I was very brave. Many of my friends and peers were genuine about this but a few times I caught a hint of a clear attitude that I was being rather stupid, not brave at all! Still, I pressed on.
Taylor & Emmet didn’t want to see me go. I am very happy that their clinical negligence department continues to thrive and went on to support other departments within the firm during the onset of the recession. However, I didn’t want to earn money for other people any more; I wanted to make my own and have time to enjoy my extended family. This isn’t something I feel I could have done any sooner. You must be well-rounded in your particular field before you can make a success of a law firm. In the medical field you pick up medical knowledge as you go along, case by case. It’s essential to have developed the instinct, that only comes with a great deal of time and experience, as to what may be a good case to pursue and the knowledge to effectively screen the case. You need to have developed close working relationships with a multitude of different speciality medicolegal experts who will do you favours in assisting you, without charge, with the screening process.
Taylor & Emmet agreed that the clients who wished to go with me could do so. My firm was “started with a bang” on Monday, 5 November 2009 (fireworks night). I had a trial in London six weeks after I set up involving an eighty-nine-year-old war veteran who had suffered an amputation. This injected some cash flow into the practice as we settled at the door of the court and the judge helpfully commented, in approving the settlement order, that 100% success fees were appropriate to the case. My surgical expert, John Scurr, took me out for a slap-up lunch to celebrate.
To be honest, although I have greatly enjoyed far more flexibility as my own boss, it’s not for everyone. The pay is unpredictable and a lot of people prefer to know exactly what they’re going to get in their pay packet at the end of each month. It’s stressful constantly managing cash flow predictions. You are only ever as good as your next eighteen months prediction. There was a cash flow crisis for a few months, two years after setup, but I have a better handle on cash flow now, thankfully. I learnt the lesson the hard way about planning for third parties letting you down unexpectedly in your cash flows! People management can be very time consuming and get in the way of what I really love to do, which is still work on progressing clinical negligence cases for my clients. I also love supervising our team of litigation assistants, feeding back to them in detail on their work–helping them to progress in terms of their legal qualifications and their skills in this specialist field.
I could go on but I had better end here, having written enough words already today – back to some fee earning work!