Clare Beresford (CB): When did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?
Claire Jeffs (CJ): I started thinking about becoming a lawyer while I was at school and eventually applied to do law at university. So this path was set pretty early on. I remember I did a summer work experience placement in a small solicitors’ firm in my home town which made a very positive impression on me and helped me decide to do a law degree. Of course the work I do now is nothing like that but there was something about the legal process which caught my imagination. Then when I was at university I did the usual round of vacation schemes in London which cemented my plan.
CB: What route did you take to qualification?
CJ: I did a Masters in European Law in Brussels and then did law school and my training contract with the European Fast Stream of the UK Civil Service. This gave me great training in public law issues but my plan to go to work for the European Union was stymied by a hiring freeze which was in place at the relevant time. I also started to feel that a more commercial environment would suit me better. So I moved to Slaughter and May after I qualified and have stayed here ever since, dividing my time between various stints in our Brussels and London offices.
CB: Competition law is known as where all the smart people end up – that’s my view anyway – why did you choose Competition?
CJ: I would love to think that is true but I am not so sure! In any event, for me Competition was a natural next move from studying European law and working for the Civil Service. Now I deal with EU and UK competition regulators on behalf of companies. I was also keen to continue working in both Brussels and London and Competition was the perfect way for me to do this.
CB: Looking back at times in your career that you have faced challenge and adversity, what helped you?
CJ: I think the winning combination for me has been a combination of determination, resilience and support both at work and at home. If I had to pick one I would say it is resilience which is really key. There are always going to be times of challenge and adversity but they do pass and if you stick it out things have a way of coming right again. It is also important to think about career and life as a long-term game – where do you want to be in ten-twenty years? Or even forty years? What are the positive and negative trade-offs from the choices you make? These are complex decisions and sometimes it is best not to rush and just keep your options open.
CB: How is it changing in terms of younger lawyers learning the ropes in Private Practice?
CJ: I think the environment is now more complex – the projects are bigger, the teams are bigger. But at the same time we have better systems in place to deal with this. For instance, there are now much more extensive support systems in terms of sponsorship, mentoring and feedback than was the case when I was starting out.
CB: What advice would you give to your younger self?
CJ: Stress less and enjoy work more. And be yourself – there is no need to fit into a particular mould and it is important to express yourself, also at work.
CB: What does sponsorship and mentoring mean to you?
CJ: I have benefited enormously from support from more senior colleagues over the years although it was never formalised as sponsorship or mentoring. Now I really enjoying my various sponsorship and mentoring roles with people at different levels. It is so inspiring to get a different perspective, to hear people’s enthusiasm for the law and just have a bit of a chat with somebody who is at a different stage of their career.
CB: If you can change one thing in 2021 relating to Diversity and Inclusion for all, what would you change, and why?
CJ: I have always been very motivated by effecting social change through diversity and inclusion, and that continues to be the case. Organisational measures are important but at an individual level I do feel that we can all make a contribution by looking for ways to have an open conversation about the pressures colleagues are under and their feelings about this. You need to understand how it feels to walk in other people’s shoes to make real change.
CB: How do you keep a work/life balance or flow?
CJ: I like to organise and plan things so I diarise home activities to make sure I give these enough priority and attention. I have come to realise that you have to make sure things are OK at home as well as dealing with the latest work crisis. Put another way, I can’t do a good job dealing with the latest work crisis unless I know the home front is also in hand.
CB: What is your favourite part of your job?
CJ: Still the underlying law I think. It changes all the time and is always fascinating. In fact it is extra fascinating once you have lived through quite a lot of the change. I think I will never lose my interest in this. I also love devising solutions to problems and getting to the best possible result for my clients.
CB: We see real progress being made in terms of inclusion across the legal profession and the data is showing a positive move forward. Yet in my business we are approached regularly by associates and senior associates who want to move from private practice into in-house roles, and in particular it seems to be more women than men. What kept you in private practice?
CJ: I was really motivated to succeed professionally in my chosen area of practice – that kept me going. While in-house roles offer many attractions, there are also real upsides to being in private practice in terms of the range of clients and situations you get to deal with. It is important to make an informed choice – and then, even more importantly, to make the best of whatever you chose.
CB: You are a particularly modest individual and I know that you would never rush to claim the spotlight so I know you will find this question difficult. What are you most proud of professionally?
CJ: Getting to the level I have while also raising my beloved boys. I am so glad I have both a career and a family. I definitely think it was worthwhile even if some days it didn’t feel that way.
CB: If you had a magic wand and could go somewhere for the day where would that be?
CJ: A beautiful tropical beach sounds really good right now – it is a dark and rainy lockdown day where I am. I am starting to dream about being sat by a bar by the sea!
CB: Thank you Claire for your honesty and insights. It has been a pleasure talking with you today.