Bird & Bird Celebrates International Women's Day

08 March 2017

Today is International Women's Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, which has been observed since in the early 1900s.

As a firm, we're committed to a diverse and inclusive environment. We've also been recognised as a leading firm for female talent, winning six awards at Euromoney's most recent Europe Women in Business Law Awards and three prizes at its Asia Women in Business Law Awards.

To mark the day, we spoke to five of our female partners – Michelle Chan, Maisa Nikkola, Pauline Kuipers, Anna Wolters and Frédérique Dupuis-Toubol to learn more about their practices and the advice they'd give to aspiring female lawyers.

Michelle Chan

Michelle is a partner in our Commercial Group based in Hong Kong. Her sector specialism is in the areas of technology, media and telecoms.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

My greatest achievement is to see trainees and junior associates whom I have worked with closely developing into experts in their field and getting recognition from clients and colleagues alike.

What is your one piece of advice for a female wanting to progress their legal career?

It is possible to have a fulfilling career and a family at the same time. I have a female associate whose mother used to be a doctor – the very busy type. By the time she retired, she was in a top leadership role in a leading hospital. My associate is one of her three children and I know the relationship of this family is close and strong. The path, of course, is difficult. However, instead of concentrating on the perceived "unfairness" of the situation, treat walking down this path as a challenge, a challenge that can only be uniquely enjoyed by female lawyers.

Maisa Nikkola

Maisa is a partner and Head of our Finnish and the Nordic Employment Group. She has been central to the establishment and development of our Finnish Employment Group.

How did your secondment to London come about?

Ian Hunter (Co-Head of Employment) and I were looking for a way to collaborate more and came up with the idea of me spending six months in London. The secondment was an extremely positive experience for me, allowing me to build and deepen my contacts in the London team, whilst experiencing a more agile way of working. I still worked with colleagues in Helsinki and with our Finnish clients while I was in London, so I could continue to provide seamless client service. The firm was very flexible with my arrangements and my husband and two children were able to come along with me and enjoy living in a new country. My children joined a school in London, which was a fantastic experience for them. Overall, the secondment was positive for both my working life and family life.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

My greatest achievement is my children, who still think mummy is the best! I'm also very proud to be recognised as a "leading individual" by international ranking institutes (such as Chambers & Partners and Legal 500). I have also been awarded as the "Lawyer of the Year" in Finland for Employment (2014) and for Outsourcing (2016) by The Best Lawyers.

What is your one piece of advice for a female wanting to progress their legal career?

My advice to women pursuing a legal career is to believe in yourself and be proud of who you are. Be authentic; don't try too much to fit the mould!

Pauline Kuipers

Pauline is a partner in our Commercial Group based in The Hague. She leads our Competition and Public Procurement practices and co-heads our Media Group in the Netherlands.

What is your one piece of advice for a female wanting to progress their legal career?

Be bold in your ambitions but realistic in your expectations. There is no doubt that you can reach the top and nothing needs to stop you but you will need to make choices in order to obtain the balance in your personal life and your career. You cannot achieve a 100% in every aspect of your life, so stop trying. Decide which things matter most in your life and be critical if you find yourself trying to be perfect in other things.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given as a woman in law?

Only care about the opinions of people that really matter to you in your personal life and your career, as you can never please everyone, but do take time to listen to them. Whatever the neighbours, your in-laws, your friends, the school etc. think of you doesn't matter if you are levelled / balanced with your partner and able to get the best out of yourself.

Anna Wolters-Höhne

Anna is a partner in our Intellectual Property Group based in Germany. Her focus is on patent and pharmaceutical law.

Tell us about a typical day in the office

My typical day in the office does not start with a coffee – I already had one at home. I have composed my virtual priority list on my way to work. So far, so organised.

Arriving at my desk, I have a quick glance at my paper priority list and it seems that there is sufficient consistency with my virtual one. Pleased with this and full of energy, I start to work on action no. 1 on my list. After 7 minutes, I receive an email or a phone call with an extremely urgent matter, which needs immediate attention. I start to run a conflict check, at the same time check whether the relevant patent is in force in Germany (it actually always is) and start reviewing the relevant patent and documents.

I am sending holding emails to the client so that he feels all is in good hands. Conflict discussions with other colleagues can start. A couple of emails and telephone calls later, I am ready to catch up with the client. Conflicts are clear. The client wants a protective letter to be filed within a couple of days? No problem. Discussing the scarce arguments with my team members does not make them much stronger, but so be it - anyone can win easy cases. Let’s be creative!

Already lunch time, I have a quick sandwich and a pleasant chat with a colleague – now it's time for a coffee. Coming back from lunch, a lot of new emails and a couple of documents from the court are competing for my attention. What about my priority list? This morning’s no. 1 has dropped down to at least no. 4. This is fine as there is half a day left to get everything done. The rest of the afternoon is blocked by a client meeting, which I'm attending by phone.

The client has gathered about 15 people in a conference room. The first 15 minutes I am listening to them fetching cookies and coffee. Someone near the microphone has a bad cold. There is a strange echo when somebody talks. The moderator suggests that we all dial in again. 6 minutes of listening to music follow – at least a pleasant melody. Over the next few hours, I almost crawl into the phone to hear what the client’s technical people are explaining about the composition of their products, trying to ignore the background noise and the echo (which is actually still there, although everyone pretended that it would be better after re-dialling in…). At the end of the conference I summarise what I think I heard and more importantly, what I hope to be an accurate summary of what I am supposed to do. Luckily, it is all confirmed.

A couple of more emails to respond to, a draft submission to review and then I am off on my way home. After I put my children to bed, I continue my day in my home office, which is typically my sofa. Now, I can finally deal with what I wanted to do first thing this morning…

What is your one piece of advice for a female wanting to progress their legal career?

Be the best and communicate this in an elegant manner – showing off is certainly not everyone’s preference, but being the best without anyone noticing does not help either. Be authentic – sounds stereotype, but it is true – the habit of a senior male partner on the verge of retirement might not fit too well for a 32 year-old female lawyer. Stay cool and give the client the feeling that all is in good hands and that you are very well capable to deal with their urgent matter even in a ridiculously short timeframe – you will find a solution!

Frédérique Dupuis-Toubol

Frédérique is a partner in our London office and specialises in the area of Tech & Comms. Frédérique works in our Strategy & Development team, leading on large projects across the firm.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

Leading our French offices and making Bird & Bird the only international law firm in France to achieve real “gender equality”, which came naturally thanks to a great team of partners and associates.

What is your one piece of advice for a female wanting to progress their legal career?

A lawyer is cautious by nature and a female lawyer can be even more cautious. A female lawyer can often spend some time considering a fantastic business opportunity before accepting the offer, wondering if she has all appropriate skills instead of just accepting it. My advice when you are in such a situation is to trust the gut feeling of those who offer you this new position. This is particularly true when the offer is to become a Partner or the Head of one of our groups within Bird & Bird and the offer is coming from David Kerr!