Liz Ward is the Managing Partner of specialist law firm, Virtuoso Legal. She has joined us to talk about her career and how it all came together for success. She also has some great advice for younger, aspiring legal minds:
Hi Liz, how did you get into this career?
I actually studied Genetics and Cell Biology at the University of Manchester as my first degree. Then, I did some research but went straight after that into sales and marketing for some big pharma companies. It was an exciting time in the late 1980s, as there were lots of new drugs emerging into the UK market. I also learned a lot about business whilst in that industry.
After a successful career in the pharma industry, I decided I wanted to get into law. In order to qualify as a lawyer, I went back to college in the evenings and studied the CPE and then the Legal Practice Course or LPC in order to qualify as a solicitor. I went into law as I was fascinated by putting together arguments. I’d enjoyed debating at school, but did science A-levels. I never considered law until several years after my first degree. My science background meant I was totally suited to do intellectual property law. I spent 10 years in large law firms and then set out on my own as I believed that few law firms or lawyers really knew what business was really about.
What does a typical day currently look like for you?
There is no typical day! It could be a day in our Leeds office sorting out PI insurance and staff handbooks, or like today in my London office meeting clients and giving a talk. I still do some legal work and I’m often involved with strategy in bigger matters or for bigger clients. I do believe in taking time out to have a work/life balance, but law isn’t 9 to 5 Monday to Friday, so I don’t know what that looks and feels like. BUT, I think you should always enjoy your work. If you don’t it’s a chore. If you do then time flies by. I love helping people and I love solving problems. Yes, I work more hours than when I was in industry and working for someone else, but then I now have much more enjoyment, fulfillment and fun doing what I do!
What skills/qualities would you say a person needs to get to a similar level?
The best lawyers have great listening and analytical skills. Too many law firms don’t encourage soft skills nor do they teach critical analysis which is fundamental to strategic vision. Great writing skills are key to being a good lawyer. I see a lot of graduates who write very badly indeed – which is quite surprising for those who’ve graduated in any subject, let alone the law. However, life long learning is a skill EVERYONE should acquire.
What advice would you give to someone looking to move towards a role like this?
Moving into the law is a tough ask these days. You need top class academics, but you also need to be able to think on your feet, learn fast and analyse problems fully. An approachable personality is a key skill too. No one wants to deal with a lawyer who comes across as stand-off is or entitled.
If you could go back in time to when you first entered the legal industry, what advice would you give yourself?
I suspect like lots of young women I was probably too much of a people pleaser as my younger self, so I’d tell myself to toughen up! Having said that, many people drop out of law or at least get tarnished, jaded and worn out at a young age. In my view, that’s because they prioritise the law over their families and those they love. You have to take time out to smell the roses – why work hard if you can’t enjoy your free time.