In this episode of Lessons I Learned in Law Scott Brown speaks to Alex Wilson, EMEA Legal Director at CBRE. Alex trained at Osborne Clarke in Bristol, before working at Carey Olsen in Guernsey and Foot Anstey in London. She also worked as an in-house lawyer at News UK. She is also the Solicitors with Disabilities representative on The Law Society Council.
Alex shares some of the lessons she learned in law including:
· Focus on a life-work balance, not a work-life balance; life very much coming first!
· Networking isn’t just wine and nibbles. It’s actually really crucial to build real and authentic working relationships.
· A diverse and inclusive workforce is not a tick-box exercise. It’s actually the most important and powerful tool the legal team or business can have.
Alex also reveals her passion for rowing. She even gets up very early every weekend to row at the docks in South East London, no-matter the weather! Alex also reflects on her diagnosis with MS and what businesses and legal teams can do to be more inclusive.
Follow Heriot Brown:
This episode of Lessons I Learned in Law is brought to you by Beamery.
Beamery is an AI-powered talent platform, designed to hire candidates faster, develop the skills of your workforce, and increase employee retention.
Find out more at Beamery.com
Scott Brown (0:00)
Hi, I'm Scott Brown. And welcome back to another episode of lessons I learned in law. This is the podcast brought to you by Heriot Brown In-House Legal Recruitment. We're specialists in placing lawyers in house in what we hope are fulfilling legal careers. Now, if you're new to the show each week, I'm fortunate to be joined by leading mind from the legal profession. And he'll walk me through the top three lessons that they've learned from their career to date. Coming into the legal profession and working as a lawyer in private practice, I often felt quite lost and had a bit of a lack of guidance and lack of role models that were further down the career path. And I think I would have massively have benefited from some of the conversations that I'm exposed to on a regular basis in my job today. Hope that these lessons leave you feeling inspired and motivated in your own career journey, and you can take something from each of the episodes. My guest today is Alex Wilson, EMEA Legal Director at the commercial real estate giant to CBRE welcome to the podcast, Alex.
Alex Wilson (1:07)
Thank you very much, Scott. Great to be here.
Scott Brown (1:09)
Great to have you. I'm really looking forward to hearing more about Alex's career. I actually reached out to her after seeing her post on LinkedIn about running for the Law Society council as a representative for solicitors with disabilities. This was off the back of our guests last series Colleen can so really looking forward to hearing more about that and and your your career as a corporate lawyer before moving in house, Alex?
Alex Wilson (1:32)
Scott Brown (1:34)
We'll jump right in and get started with the lessons if you don't mind. If Could you share Lesson number one please?
Alex Wilson (1:40)
I can. So my first lesson is that we should focus on a life work balance rather than a work life balance life very much coming first.
Scott Brown (1:50)
Right? Where did you first get this perspective?
Alex Wilson (1:53)
I think work life balance is a is an expression that's touted around a lot. It's I think since COVID. And since lockdowns is something that people are prioritising even more so than before. So people talk about this work life balance, obviously making sure that you make time for yourself, as well as your career and as well as your working life. But to me, some people live to work certainly some people do. In my experience, and people that I've met through work and people that I've met through friendship and through through university, very few people actually would say that they live to work, I think more people work to live, we hopefully everybody has a career that they find fulfilling, and they enjoy doing their work. But at the end of the day, life should come first for everybody above work. I think the reason why this has resonated more with me in the last couple of years is because with working from home far more, most people I think probably in the legal profession have a hybrid role now where at least some time is spent working from home. And I think reading legal press and speaking to different people there is therefore in some companies an expectation that you are on call for far longer, when you're working from home, then you would be if you're working in the office, or if you're working in more of an office type environment, which is wrong, I think it's we are still working to live. So I think it's this this separation is so important to me. And I think the first the first step in the separation to my mind is changing up the language. So talking about this lifework balance. I think with COVID, things become increasingly difficult for people to create the separation. As I say a lot of people are on call or feelers or they're on call, you hear that teams message ping, or you see that message pop up on your phone. And if you're just at home, and you're not really doing anything outside of the home, you're not doing sports or out with friends or out for dinner or whatever. There is this not necessarily an expectation from the business, but an expectation from individuals. Oh, I've heard that. So therefore, either I can't settle until I've responded to it. Or really, I should respond to it because I'm not doing anything else. So this separation, whether it's an actual physical separation, if people have a space where they do work, and they can physically close the door on that and say in the same way as leaving the office, and closing the door on my home office, therefore I'm done for the day, and I'll pick up again tomorrow. Sometimes that's not always easy when people have families all working from home, or flatmates or other people sharing a small space effectively. But I think there needs to be some separation even if it's just a symbolic closing the laptop at the end of the night or switching off the phone or shutting down the notifications. I think that's really really important. As far as I'm concerned. It was
Scott Brown (4:31)
really really difficult isn't it with the phone and everything being I guess COVID probably made work devices, your personal device as well and looking at having so much screen time. What do you do? Is there any habits or tips or any habits that you have for just ensuring that you have that separation or any habits you share with your team?
Alex Wilson (4:52)
I do always shut the door and I do close off this this part of the flat I do make it or leave it in darkness and if pretty much is that separation, I closed the blinds down, I shut the door. And it's that's that's as far as I'm concerned closed. I should say though, of course, the nature of the work that we have, it's never a nine to five career, we know that we don't go into law expecting that we're will always start at nine and always finish at five. We're not doing any doctors were not required to be on call 24/7. But there are obviously certain times where we are needed to work longer hours. So of course when that's required, that's absolutely understood that the the idea of a life work balance shouldn't be you individually putting somebody else's life work balance out of kilter, it should be that your team you collaborate and that when matters up do require you to work longer hours, of course, there is an expectation that you'll do that. Because it's just the nature of the beast really isn't it working in legal practice. But that separation, as I say, leaving leaving the room in darkness, closing the blinds closing the door closing off? Definitely. And if ever I do send emails out of hours or a weekend, it might be something that's just popped into my head. I try not to do that. Because I don't want people to see it in the team and think, Oh, I must respond to this immediately. It's coming on a Sunday afternoon. So I always try and head it up with do not respond until Monday at the earliest and make sure it's absolutely clear in the this is not for the weekend. It's just something that happens to have popped into my head. So I'm effectively getting it out of the inbox while it's while it's still fresh in my mind.
Scott Brown (6:27)
Yeah, I do the same sometimes. And I always think God, if I get a response from someone, again out of hours, it's Yeah, never the intention. I've seen people with the the sign off on their the footer of their email saying my working hours are irregular or if you receive this email outside of your normal working patterns and don't feel the expectation isn't to respond, which I think is good. Mostly use a thing called Boomerang, which is very good as a plugin to Outlook, which you can time when an email goes out or sent hit Send Later. In terms of your career, you worked in the Channel Islands and guarantee outside of cities in the UK, did that have any impact on your view on work life balance?
Alex Wilson (7:06)
It was very different. It was it's a strange place. Guernsey a beautiful place. And I absolutely love living there. But it's very strange that it's there's about 16,000 people live on a small rock that is seven miles long and three miles wide, the majority of whom are certainly a large proportion of whom are expats from the London legal market or financial sector of the UK wider. So it is a strange vibe that you have harbours that are beautiful and the beaches are stunning. But also you have this very corporate workforce in a lot of ways. The hours were were similar to London, really sometimes it was longer hours. And sometimes it was it was finishing a little earlier. But those evenings when I finished earlier, it was amazing to see people literally roll up their their suit trousers and go and walk on the beach. You just think it was it was such a strange, a strange vibe in that sense. So the work life balance was or the life work balance was different there. Because it's I mean, you're surrounded by beautiful beaches everywhere is really close. So, but it is interesting that a lot of expats do head to the Channel Islands, when I qualified to be perfectly honest, the intention was never to look straight away at the Channel Islands. The London legal market was very, very tight. We were in a downswing. And it was quite tight. But when the opportunity arose, looking at the Channel Islands, I thought this could meet with lots of my interests and beach life. And that way of living certainly would resonate with me and it was fantastic couple of years.
Scott Brown (8:36)
Yeah. Nice. And what do you do outside of work to strike that balance then? And then what are your priorities?
Alex Wilson (8:44)
Rowing? I think rowing comes first. In terms of hobbies and interests. I usually on my rowing machine in the kitchen, which is strict Mixbus and strange pitches on Strava and various social media networks or on the water. I wrote on City airport, there's a docks in front of the nifty City airport there where I go rowing. And I think that sporting hobby actually really helps with mental health and, and seeing people and yeah, it's something I really, really enjoy doing.
Scott Brown (9:17)
When did you get into ruin?
Alex Wilson (9:18)
I? Well, I was I wrote a university I went to Durham University, and I did row there for about a year and a half or so. And then actually, it was when I was so I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2016. Which I cheated I suddenly reflected on my life and I thought right I'm now going to do things that I can only do because of the MS. Not that I can't do anymore. Things that I can only do because of the MS. So immediately targeted, possibly in a slightly optimistic wait going into the Paralympics, which was a pipe dream, but I thought well, I've rode before. I'll try and get back into it and see see how it goes. And that's what took me to the club Curlew Rowing Club and Southeast London. So I haven't made it into the Paralympics. I am classified as a power rower, but not within the the Paralympics setup. I the Indoor Championships is the closest I've come. And I think fourth is nothing to shout about. We missed out on the industrial issues.
Scott Brown (10:18)
Right? There's that indoor rowing. Yeah.
Alex Wilson (10:20)
Yes. 2k on on the indoor rowing machine. And the last one I did actually was before COVID. So I haven't had a chance to try and improve on that fourth place. Maybe next time.
Scott Brown (10:37)
We'll move on Alex to lesson to share that.
Alex Wilson (10:39)
Yeah. So my second lesson is that networking isn't just wine. And nibbles is actually really crucial to build real and authentic working relationships.
Scott Brown (10:49)
Right? As a recruiter, networking is at the heart of of everything we do. So I'm interested to hear more about this. You mean, it's helpful for building those relationships?
Alex Wilson (11:00)
Definitely. Oh, yeah, some of the some of the events that I've been to that have started with wine and nibbles have certainly led to some very, very fantastic working relationships. And it's a way of getting people together. It can be generally from from the in house world, or it can be from the corporate legal world, I've been to events in the past, a shared something or shared interest or shared background, a shared type of job title, or a level of progression through the through the legal profession. And that's the starting point. So that's not to say at all that this isn't important. But I think, going to these events, sometimes I've come away, and I've thought I've not got much out of that. And therefore I probably haven't added very much actually, as an attendee, maybe it wasn't really targeted at me as it happens, but not particularly on the back of COVID. And the fact that we hadn't seen each other in person for a while. Networking doesn't have to just be in person, either. I think some of the informal networking is actually really important. And it could be when you're on Zoom calls, somebody's background could trigger something, it could be a picture, it could be a dog walking across the screen, we've all seen on Zoom calls. So it's it's different types of networking, but ultimately with the idea that it's to build those future, great working relationships. And I think the best networking events that I've been to, it's not just a talk, and then you go home, and I have been, I've been to a couple like that where it doesn't really work because you turn up and then you leave. And you think, Well, yes, I have some nuts. And I had a glass of wine. But actually, the whole point I would have thought was to talk and to meet different people. And it's amazing what one tiny seed of a conversation can lead to. And it can lead to really good friendships as well as working relationships. It's, I think, to me, the most important thing is authenticity. And I think sometimes when you are thrown in these groups, it feels at first a little bit non authentic. But actually, when you start having these conversations, I think it's really good. And you can meet lots of great people. And something else that I've definitely noticed throughout my career is that the legal world is very small. The degrees of separation are so few amongst lawyers, I suddenly see on LinkedIn that somebody has joined a firm that I used to work at or on US, UK where I worked for I was at CBRE and you think, gosh, you know, I haven't seen them for years. And now they've, we suddenly have similar interests. Again, we're aligned again. So it was well as building relationships on common interests and common ground, actually, you get remembered. So you want to be remembered by people for being authentic and being your real self rather than doing something stupid at a networking event or you know, not not bringing your full self or worst of all, being one type of character that you think you should be. And then further on in your career being something different. And you think, well, you somebody meets that same person, and it's a totally different character change. So authenticity, I think really drives the idea of important and relevant networking.
Scott Brown (14:07)
Yeah, no, I think you've touched on a lot of a lot of good, a lot of good points, I think is essential for any career, like legal, legal, or otherwise. And I think the in house legal profession does it very well in paying it forward and not not necessarily going to an event looking for anything because everyone's in the same boat. And it is more of a community compared to I think you touched on the, I guess the lecture type format, where it's very much showing them perhaps from from a service provider showing you that you they know something that might be of interest, and it's it's a marketing thing then but I think the authenticity that you spoke about is is pretty key and going to an event expecting anything is probably the wrong approach. Then you're taking your authentic self if you're just being open to everyone in this room has six degrees of connection. I want to tap into those and you never know where it's gonna go. I think that's the nice Think about it. And it's often comes back around what's the biggest win that you've had, or the biggest sort of thing that's that you felt has happened as a result of prior networking?
Alex Wilson (15:11)
I think, certainly with diversity, equity and inclusion groups, you can come across people, and you start speaking about things. And suddenly you have this shared interest, like I talked about the MS suddenly comes up in conversation somehow. And then in those events, it's Oh, actually, we have the share, we both have the same barrier to the profession one way or another. And it's you start that conversation. And you can then build on that and use it to help your own workplace and your own, the way you see things. I think that's, that's really important. Seeing things in a different way, is so important. And that's what comes out when if you're sat around a smaller table, where there's fewer people in a networking setting, and people contribute their ideas. So if a question is asked, sometimes this is a really effective tool that I've seen on in networking events, there's an overall topic. But of course, you go off in all these different tangents. And suddenly someone says something and you think, Oh, I hadn't thought about it that way. I come away with lots of virtual notes from events like that. It's almost a smaller group, a smaller conversation, I guess. But actually, you get to meet each other on for longer and have a longer conversation, which is really interesting. Great.
Scott Brown (16:22)
Congratulations on your election to the position on the Council for the Law Society that happened recently.
Alex Wilson (16:28)
Yes. So we have the change of presidency. The last AGM, which was October, the new cohort of council members stepped in, at that point,
Scott Brown (16:37)
fantastic, keen to hear more about what they're all included, but intent on the networking pieces. They're networking specifically for lawyers with disabilities and people with that comment, those common challenges?
Alex Wilson (16:48)
Yes, there is. Absolutely. And I think that's something that I'm really keen to explore. Our first meeting is on Wednesday, actually, virtual meeting, but our first meeting is Wednesday. So we'll get to speak to the wider Council. But that is a council meeting, and I am the only representative of solicitors with disabilities. So going back to the group of lawyers with disabilities, and that network is, is really important, because obviously, I'm going to listen to their ideas, listen to their input, listen to their concerns, and then take those forward as in my role as a council member. So yeah, really, really excited to get started with that. Yeah.
Scott Brown (17:26)
So how often does the council meet
Alex Wilson (17:28)
its quarterly meetings, although there's one next this week, rather, which is our induction meeting. And then there's the December meeting. So there's a few front loaded, which is fantastic, because it's all very new to me. In fact, I've never even been in the Law Society. So I'm really excited to step foot into the building the the the huge, amazing architectural beasts to meet people. So yes, that regular meetings, and obviously then, in amongst that feeding back and picking up ideas of people who are in my constituency. Yeah.
Scott Brown (18:04)
Have you held a position similar at CBRE or are in previous roles?
Alex Wilson (18:08)
Yeah, we have actually CBRE is really fantastic at different networks representing different underrepresented groups, one of which is the ability network. So we have various events and various initiatives. And I'm on the committee for that group. One of the initiatives that I was involved with this year was the reasonable adjustments programme. So what we have to do for individuals, but most importantly, what is the right thing to do if somebody comes and has a concern about their working day, or working patterns or the actual equipment that they use, making sure that we have a very structured programme to address those concerns and questions. So it's a very active committee, very active network generally. And we also have spotlights on different disabilities so that everyone can learn more about what people actually experienced.
Scott Brown (19:06)
Lesson number three.
Alex Wilson (19:08)
So my third lesson is a diverse and inclusive workforce isn't a tick box exercise is actually the most important and powerful tool the legal team or business can have.
Scott Brown (19:20)
Great. What do you feel are the biggest challenges on DNI in the legal profession? I suppose as a as a starting point.
Alex Wilson (19:28)
I think there's a few concerns, really, I think the first thing that springs to mind is that companies now feel like they have to do more, and they have to do more in a very quick space of time. And I think in addressing that, the message is lost sometimes. So actually, it could be that a company thinks we don't have a women's network. So let's send an email out on International Women's Day. invite everybody for that one, the wine and nibbles and then suddenly that's it you get the one email and the one event in a year and then suddenly, that's it that very much is box exercise. that I refer to. And I think because companies feel they need is a knee jerk reaction to try and do more very, very quickly. They don't think it through, take a step back and think well, yes, of course, we want to be doing more and to, I guess, to be seen to be doing more early on, but actually what is going to have the biggest impact on the workforce on the company on the community? That's something definitely I've seen different places very much not at CBRE as I said, we have the networks that do meet regularly and we have lots of events. But you you see people thinking companies thinking, we need to think of how this is going to look and therefore missing the mark. Really with with the approval. Takers.
Scott Brown (20:44)
Yeah. You said 2016. You were diagnosed with MS. Yes, that's right. Yeah. How's that changed your your viewpoint on what businesses are doing right and wrong, I guess,
Alex Wilson (20:55)
is interesting with a condition like Ms. Because in my case, I mean, this is a very much it's a spectrum of impacts and symptoms and side effects. In my case, though, it's not visible, it's visible when I tried to get into the boat, because everybody needs to hold the boat down for me and I'm I have balance issues just getting on the water. But day to day, it's invisible. And I think that applies to so many conditions that apply to neurodiversity, different neuro diverse conditions that applies to various neurological conditions like Ms. So sometimes programmes and inclusivity and inclusive initiatives that target disabled lawyers or disabled employees or disabled recruitment missed the mark that actually there were also invisible conditions. And I think therefore, having a reasonable adjustments programme in place at CBRE and it's all companies it's a legal requirement. There are things that people might not think about. I mean, a lot of people might think, okay, so we could have mobility impaired employees, so therefore, we need a way for them to actually get into the building. Or we could have death of employees who wouldn't hear a necessarily hear or hear very clearly, an alarm sounding to a smoke alarm, fire alarm sounding. So we need to do something about that. But it's the invisible conditions that are sometimes missed. And it could be a case of other people in the EMS world. It's a case of may have issues walking, can walk without a mobility aid, but might have issues walking down 10s and 10s of flights of stairs if there is a fire drill or a fire alarm that goes on. So thinking about where they may be best placed in the building, things like that. And there is a certain amount of if this is you, and this is your condition, you have to think about for yourself what will help you but very much the onus is on the company to to come up with solutions that might help you as well. So it's the invisible disability, employees with different invisible disabilities may well be missed and questions might not be asked that offer the best support.
Scott Brown (23:01)
Yeah, makes a lot of sense. And like I said with Kareem, that was a guest last few years, it's for those that don't have those disabilities or have very little view of them or or see it in their day to day. Yes. It's great to hear about it. And I guess it's on there. Get it on there, have it on the agenda as a piece your lesson there. It also spoke about the most powerful tool where have you seen that in action.
Alex Wilson (23:27)
I think another issue and drawback that companies seem to be proving is that as well as trying to act very quickly, there's sometimes quite artificial percentages that are put in place. And I am very much for promotion based on on ability and on suitability to a particular role and also recruitment to a particular role that is suited, but also mindful of the fact that you need a diverse workforce. But anything where it's very much calling individuals who don't meet a certain characteristic, I think is wrong. And I've seen examples of this in the press where it's very difficult to go from a board that might be 15 white men, all from privileged backgrounds, or from Eton College or harrow college to suddenly a more diverse group of people trying to do that overnight, I think as well is not the right approach. I think it's important that we get to a place like that. And certainly that companies have a plan. So that if they are questioned and no doubt there will be if they have that group representing the business as a whole, showing that you are taking steps as a business to work towards that but not in an artificial way. And I think disability is one area which is missed. I think it's companies are addressing that board thinking we need a more a better balance of racial backgrounds. We need a better balance of genders. Sometimes disabilities are missed off because well certainly if they're not visible, it's something that's not necessarily addressed. And another area that I think is missed quite a lot is socio economic background. You can have aboard, where two people look quite similar, but actually have very, very different experiences. And I think that's why an inclusive and diverse workforce is so important. Everybody brings a different approach. No, no two people have had exactly the same experience. So it might be that two people look quite similar. And they both have have positions on the board. But when you get into conversations, and they bring themselves to the table, they have a very different viewpoint. And they come with very different experiences.
Scott Brown (25:28)
There's lots to think about and discuss. Is there any company or anyone you see kneeling, kneeling, that or as a leading example?
Alex Wilson (25:36)
Well, I think when you look at CEOs now and when you look at heads of departments, and you see a much more diverse mix of people, I think that's really, really fantastic. Certainly the presidency of the Law Society has had very diverse candidates in the last couple of terms, which is fantastic. People are making steps, businesses are taking action as they should be, rather than just doing things to tick boxes. Yeah, we CBRE, we have something that we call diversity dialogues. And it's where you invite, we invite all of the legal team to calls on a particular topic or particular aspects of diversity. And people have permission to get it wrong. Because sometimes people trip themselves up with the language they use. And sometimes, the way they describe something, we all do it, I certainly do it myself. And I sometimes corrected myself and think, oh, I don't think that was the right term to use. So people might think I'd rather not say anything at all rather than say something and get it wrong. And that's why this inclusivity is so important that people have these conversations, and really shine a spotlight on making sure everybody is their true selves, bring themselves to work.
Scott Brown (26:44)
Yeah, space to make the mistakes and chat about it. That sounds like a great initiative. I've been finishing the podcast each episode this series Alex asking my guests what lesson they wish they hadn't learned in law school, maybe that led to a mistake or something they've learned that was that created a bad habit, or what stands out for you?
Alex Wilson (27:03)
When I was at university, it was very much drummed into us that being a lawyer is very lonely and very competitive. You're out for yourselves. Everybody has to compete with everybody else if you're in a cohort of trainees or if you're on a mini pupilage if you're going down the barista route. And in fact when I did a few mini pupilage is because I was initially planning to become a barrister. It did feel quite lonely, but actually from from the outside looking in, but when you speak to the barristers and speak to solicitor, certainly and then become a solicitor, you realise it's a very collegial and collaborative working environment. It's not competitive. It's not Wolf of Wall Street is not, which actually may also be more collegial than it comes across in the investment banking world. But it's very much team driven, rather than individual focused, I would say,
Scott Brown (27:54)
good. Well, that's, that's good that that was proven wrong. And you've learned you've learned that lesson those that we're all pulling in the right direction. Well, thank you. Thanks for sharing those with me, Alex. It's been great to chat and hear more about your experience and your lessons.
Alex Wilson (28:08)
Yeah, brilliant. Thank you very much, Scott, thank you for having me.
Scott Brown (28:11)
If people are interested in hearing more about your position on the Law Society Council, how can you learn more?
Alex Wilson (28:17)
Probably LinkedIn is the best place to start. If you find me on LinkedIn, it lists actually on LinkedIn now that I have a council member so it should hopefully be quite easy to find. But yeah, always, always very open to ideas. Absolutely. The more the merrier.
Scott Brown (28:30)
Great, or share your link to your LinkedIn on the show bio. But good luck with that. Good luck with that new position and everything you're doing at CBRE as well, thank you for thanks for joining me. Thank you very much.
Thanks again, Alex. That was Alex Wilson. Emea Legal Director at CBRE. If you enjoyed that conversation with Alex then why not check out the earlier episode that we plugged in that chat with Alex. I sat down in series three with Kaleem Khan, who is also known as The Legally Blind Guy. He's a fantastic individual, and shared a lot of the hardships and challenges that he faces as as a registered blind lawyer currently working at Taylor Wessing in the tax team. So go back and search for that. You can get that on Apple podcasts, Spotify and all those other podcast listening platforms or simply head over to heriotbrown.com/podcast. In the show with Alex there, we also mentioned a lot around networking. If you're interested in hearing more about that. Please join our community led by the fantastic Emma Bower who's organising a host of events going into 2023. To register please drop us an email with your name and email address at community at heriotbrown.com And remember after listening to the show, please subscribe To the podcast where you don't miss out and while you're at it, please leave us a star rating and a review. The podcast really relies on word of mouth. So pass that on to some of your friends in legal profession. If you got any feedback or you'd like to appear on the podcast, or if you'd like to suggest someone that I could have a chat with, then drop me a line, Scott@heriotbrown.com Or come and connect with me or Heriot Brown on LinkedIn. That's it for this week. Catch you next time.