Helen Burness

Supporting women in legal - She Breaks the Law

Scaling legal
March 3, 2020

Discussing diversity in legal is one thing; driving actual change is much more of a challenge. How did three women create a network that acts as a global platform for women in legal leadership?

Hi 👋 who are you?

Priya - I'm Priya Lele, one of the co-founders of She Breaks The Law. I was a corporate finance lawyer by background before moving away from practising law into innovating the practice and delivery of law. I’ve been at HSF for the past five years, working with clients to drive innovation in legal service delivery.

Helen - I’m Helen Burness. I started working with the co-founders as CMO when they launched She Breaks the Law, and towards the end of last year I joined the leadership team. My passion for innovation and empowering women in the legal industry was sparked through many years of working for Halebury, a women-owned law firm with a unique approach to the delivery of legal services.

Talk us through She Breaks the Law’s story - how did it all begin?

P - I attended a private dinner event hosted by Thomson Reuters, where I met [fellow co-founders] Christie Guimond and Nicky Leijtens. We happened to sit together and shared thoughts and ideas around career journeys and women in leadership. In one evening, the three of us had such enriching, inspiring conversations we decided to make this a frequent get-together. 

Soon enough, we expanded the get-togethers to our individual networks. We knew so many women like us, who were in traditional roles and wanted to innovate and break barriers. We created a network, mapped out priorities over the upcoming year - and She Breaks the Law was born. 

It was Helen's idea to soft-launch on International Women’s Day and share our stories. At the time it was such a daunting adventure, but it was incredible watching these stories gain momentum. It really highlighted the need for this kind of initiative.

Women in innovative, leadership roles can struggle to implement changes within the business, especially without a robust support network in place

What inspired you to found She Breaks the Law?

P - Women in innovative, leadership roles can struggle to implement changes within the business, especially without a robust support network in place. The main inspiration was to create a safe space for us to come together, be able to share and learn from each other, test out ideas, create new initiatives  and drive true collaboration within our legal ecosystem

H - We want to use the core of our network to break down silos - between lawyers and other professionals within the industry, between different disciplines, and also different geographies. We want to create a global community of women leaders to drive true collaboration. 

How does She Breaks the Law support women in the legal industry?

H - We have four strands that encompass the network’s initiatives: 

  • She connects: this involves strategic networking, allowing women to develop their support network and establish meaningful bonds;
  • She develops: this focuses more around personal development, offering opportunities for training and mentorship;
  • She shares: we never want a woman to look at another woman and say ‘I don’t know how she does it’ - it’s important to share opportunities and success stories, but also challenges and failures; and
  • She creates: we provide a platform for new ideas and initiatives, encouraging collaboration along the way.

How are you using technology to bring women together?

P - We’re a global community so our digital presence is important. Our main platform is LinkedIn, but we’re also exploring the use of live webinars and other digital content in addition to our face-to-face events, to keep everyone connected. Technology has its benefits, but for us it’s essential to strike a balance between our digital presence and physical presence. We’re keen to find people who are passionate about the initiative and network to ensure it lives on the ground first. 

H - The power of social media is so important for the network; it’s given us a safe space to connect and share ideas and a platform to raise awareness that has a global reach. 

Companies should address equal pay opportunities, offer training on unconscious bias, and create family-friendly policies that are applicable to both men and women

Who would you like to shine a light on today, as an example of a role model in this space?

H - Nicola Jones is a continuous learning consultant and cares passionately about breaking open the way continuous learning is perceived. She has formed a focus group within our membership who meet regularly to collaborate and innovate around continuous learning. The need to keep up and stay relevant in the legal industry is more important than ever and we love how she is driving change in this area.

P – Katherine Thomas is a female founder and created Free Range Lawyers a year ago. Her business connects lawyers with law firms and companies harnessing the power of flexible and remote working. Kathryn is a great advocate for change and innovation in the legal industry and is also involved in our focus group for how we can take direct action to better support female founders in the legal industry.

H - It’s also important to address the misconception around role models - there are so many different ways to be a successful leader and make a tangible impact. For example, you could be an innovation leader in your organization, a trainee experimenting with legal tech on the side, or a mother who’s chosen to work three days a week in order to spend time with her family. There’s no singular way to make an impact in the legal industry. 

What can companies do to better support women in legal?

H - We’ve made progress but there is still so much to be done. Companies should address equal pay opportunities, and offer training on unconscious bias. They can also create family-friendly policies that are applicable to both men and women. It’s rare to find a business that embraces a truly flexible working policy. 

I wish more companies had maternity coaching - helping women before, during and after their career break, to balance work with a growing family. Some of the law firms do it brilliantly, and it has an incredible impact. Many women still often feel like the work/family balance is unachievable, so any steps that can be taken to show that a senior role and raising a family is possible supports women in their career journey.

What does 2020 hold for She Breaks the Law

H - We’re launching ‘She develops’ webinars in March and April, in partnership with Thomson Reuters. We’re also planning a strategic refresh ahead of our one-year anniversary. 

We hope to deepen our strands and continue with the level of engagement to make it more meaningful and sustainable. This level of global activity will continue; there’s so much interest from people to get involved. One of our advisors referred to She Breaks the Law as “a little flame that became a fire”, and this is the perfect way to describe an idea that became a global movement!

Thanks, both!  

Follow She Breaks the Law on LinkedIn to find out more about how they challenge expectations of women in leadership roles.

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Helen Burness is Director at Saltmarsh Marketing and CMO at She Breaks The Law

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