Inspirational Woman: Claire Clarke, Managing Partner at Mills & Reeve

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and what you do currently.

Inspirational Woman- Claire Clarke
Claire Clarke

I trained and qualified as an insolvency lawyer with magic circle law firm Allen & Overy at the time of the last recession. After five years with Allen & Overy I joined Mills & Reeve and retrained as a corporate lawyer.

The firm was forward thinking enough to promote me to partner while I was on maternity leave with my first child, and I took on my first leadership role as team leader of the Cambridge corporate team a few years later. I then led the firm’s corporate and commercial group until being appointed as the firm’s managing partner in June last year.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ll be honest, not really. I was drawn to the legal profession early on because I loved the fact that you could combine logic and critical reasoning, but also interact with people on real life situations. After I realised I definitely wanted to become a lawyer, my career just began evolving from there.

The trajectory from law student at Oxford University, to managing partner at Mills & Reeve, came about through very logical steps, but there certainly wasn’t one overall master plan – I think as long as you have a long-term goal in mind, sometimes it’s best to be led by the opportunities as they arise.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

Of course – many challenges. I try to be straightforward and honest in all of the challenges I face and work to find a solution that works for everyone. Some of the people challenges are often the most difficult, and empathy, listening, building trust and open conversations all help greatly in dealing with some of these issues.

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?

Go for it! It’s an exciting challenge where you have the opportunity to learn new skills. My advice would be make sure you listen enough – it’s an under-rated skill!

When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

I would look at chemistry, drive, cultural fit and particularly emotional intelligence – there are lots of technically able lawyers, but we want to recruit lawyers who can build and develop deep relationships with clients and deliver pragmatic solution- focused advice tailored to the client’s business.

How do you manage being your own boss?

I have a great team around me who try and help me manage the demands on my time, my diary and my client commitments. With four children, I also really try and make sure I don’t drop the ball at home either!

Any boss is only as good as their teams, so I take pains to be visible and accessible to all employees, and present quarterly staff briefings across all our six offices, giving staff the opportunity to chat with me directly.

I believe in leading by example and ensure I take the time to meet all the new starters at our firm on a one-to-one basis, and provide personal feedback to all solicitors seeking promotion to principal associate.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

Work commitments permitting, I usually drop off my two eldest children at school before heading for the office. I try to be at home before my youngest is asleep and will do any further work later with my laptop on the sofa.

What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?

Be yourself. Don’t be afraid to take hold of and own your own career. Do look for mentors and supporters around the business who can give you advice and support.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

I had some really helpful coaching discussions around whether I should stand for election for the managing partner role, which really helped me get my thinking clear on what was for me a very important decision. I chatted the issues through with some very supportive individuals within the office, but an external coach also helped as they had the advantage of complete independence from the firm and could perhaps ask the more challenging questions.

I am very supportive of the benefits coaching or mentoring can bring in terms of encouraging people to realise their potential and think through what they want to achieve from their career.

What does the future hold for you?

We conducted a review of Mills & Reeve’s strategy for 2020 this year and the firm has a strong sense of direction, there is great ambition and energy and it is well placed to capitalise on some of its key differentiators – its collegiate culture, strong client relationships, collaborative approach and commerciality in delivering practical solutions-focused advice.

We have an ambitious plan to increase turnover to more than £100 million, develop a reputation for innovation and be viewed as a truly national leader with a global reach. We’ve just finished a very strong year for the firm, so are well on the way to achieving our goals.

For me personally, I’m very much looking forward to tackling the challenges and seeing the benefits of creating a working environment and culture which attracts the highest quality recruits, and enables them to really thrive and develop for the benefit of themselves, our clients and our business.

Read the other Inspirational Woman profiles here.

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