Inspirational Woman: Sophie Lalor-Harbord | Partner, Stewarts

Meet Sophie Lalor-Harbord

Partner, Stewarts

Sophie is a Partner at UK law firm Stewarts and specialises in complex commercial litigation. She has particular expertise in the media and technology sectors.

Sophie advises clients in handling corporate crises, including advising on reputation management strategies.

Before joining Stewarts, Sophie spent seven years at Olswang LLP. Sophie has spent time working in Singapore and at global technology company, IBM.

Sophie enjoys ballet, scuba diving and skiing. 

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am a Partner and lawyer specialising in commercial litigation and media disputes at Stewarts, the UK’s leading litigation-only law firm.  I am also a mother of three.

I help clients to handle complex litigation and other issues relating to their contracts, information, business relationships or reputation. My work has sent me all over the world to locations such as Lebanon, Singapore and Kenya, but I am mainly based in London. I work a four day week.

I was drawn to a career in law because I love listening to people’s stories and problem solving. I am from a family of journalists – if I hadn’t gone into law, I’m sure I would have followed the family tradition. 

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I think it is very difficult to plan your career as so many factors are out of your control but I always knew that I wanted to work my way up to become a Partner.

Describe your career path and some challenges you have faced.

I started out my career at another City law firm and had a ‘work hard, play hard’ lifestyle – it was great fun at the time.  

I moved to Stewarts seven years ago and since then have got married, moved house three times (soon to be four), earnt two promotions, and have had three babies. It has been the most hectic time both personally and professionally, and whilst I wouldn’t change it for the world, I wouldn’t mind a bit more sleep!

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Getting promoted to Partner earlier this year, especially as I was promoted whilst on maternity leave with my third baby.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Aside from some brilliant mentors along the way, I think a combination of being incredibly hard working and organised has got me where I am today.

If you are flexible with your time when you can be, it makes it much easier to say ‘no’ when you really need to get to a sports day or nativity performance.

It is really important to me to keep my non-working day as work-free as possible and I am lucky to work with an amazing team of people who help me make it work.  

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How do perceptions of maternity leave need to change to move closer towards Gender Equality in the workplace?

It is no secret that law firms struggle to retain mothers the more senior they get. It is unfortunate that the time you are expected to go for partnership tends to be the same time you want to start a family or have very young children. There is still much to be done in the legal industry to recognise that career paths don’t have to follow a straight line and we need to be more flexible to retain the best talent.

I don’t like the phrase ‘having it all’ because, in reality, most of us with children constantly worry that we don’t spend enough time at home or at work. Instead, I think we need to encourage parents to develop their own definitions of personal and professional success and ensure we respect and support that.

Stewarts has taken positive steps in this direction. For example, we have just introduced a new policy whereby chargeable hours targets on return from maternity leave are scaled over a three-month period. We are also much more flexible about allowing people to working from home.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

I would tell myself not to worry about when the right time to have a baby is – there is no right or wrong time. And I would also say, don’t look to others to judge where you should be and what you should be doing – follow your own path.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My challenge for the next few years is to stay happy at work and keep everyone happy and healthy at home. Someone once told me that you’ll be a great lawyer one week and a great mum another week but you’ll never be great at both jobs in the same week. I would like to prove them wrong!

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